GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The fourth-ranked Florida Gators erupted for 13 hits and 10 runs through the first four innings, including seven consecutive hits in a seven-run fourth inning, posting a series-clinching 19-3 win over Kentucky, claiming the Southeastern Conference Championship with the win, on a hot Saturday afternoon in the season finale in front of 3,754 at McKethan Stadium.
Kentucky (25-30, 8-22 SEC) jumped out to an early lead after scoring in the top of the first inning, but the Gators responded with 19 unanswered runs, led by a seven-run fourth inning. The loss ends the season for the Wildcats, who fell just shy of claiming its first series in Gainesville since the 1999 season. UK posted a 14-1 win over Florida on Friday night, the largest win over the Gators in program history.
UK starter Corey Littrell (6-6) suffered the loss in his final start of the year, going 3.1 innings, allowing 10 hits and eight runs – seven earned – walking two and striking out two. The Wildcats planned to start sophomore right-hander Jordan Cooper in the game, but Cooper, along with home run leader Luke Maile and reserve infielder Tyler Townsend were bitten by food poisoning after a postgame meal on Thursday night, spending the game resting at the hotel in the season finale.
Alex Phillips replaced Littrell in the fourth inning and got two outs, allowing four hits and five runs. Walter Wijas came on in the bottom of the fifth inning and pitched two innings, allowing five hits and four runs, striking out three. Mike Kaczmarek got one out in the seventh, and Trevor Gott took over in the eighth.
UK was led offensively by senior shortstop Taylor Black, senior Neiko Johnson and junior outfielder Chad Wright, with the trio each charting multi-hit games. Black went 3-for-4 with a double, while Wright added a 3-for-5 game with a two bagger and Johnson went 2-for-5 with an RBI and his seventh double of the year. UK also got hits from Thomas McCarthy, Braden Kapteyn, Michael Williams, Lucas Witt and J.T. Riddle as part of a 14-hit game for the Wildcats. McCarthy extended his career-long hitting streak to 10 games.
Florida (41-15, 22-8 SEC) wrapped up a share of the SEC Championship with the win, joining Vanderbilt and South Carolina in the three-way regular-season title. The Gators were led offensively by Brian Johnson, who collected three hits and four RBI, including a home run, with Mike Zunino charting four hits, Preston Tucker adding five hits and Josh Adams adding four RBI. Austin Maddox hit a pair of homers, totaling three hits and six RBI.
UF starter Karsten Whitson (7-0) went five innings, allowing seven hits and one run. The No. 9 overall pick out of high school in the 2010 MLB Draft, Whitson struck out four without allowing a walk. UF used Tommy Toledo for a shutout inning, with Lexington native Nick Maronde, Steven Rodriguez and Anthony DeSclafani pitching in relief.
UK took an early lead, as Black doubled down the line with one out and Wright pushed him to third base with a single down the opposite-field line. McCarthy then scored Black with a groundout to second base, his eighth consecutive game with an RBI.
The Gators answered with a run in the second inning, as Johnson launched a solo homer of the rightfield fence, evening up the game at 1-1.
In the third inning, Zunino reached on a one-out single up the middle and Tucker doubled down the rightfield line to move Zunino to third base. Adams scored Zunino with a RBI groundout and Johnson singled home a run up the middle.
Florida broke open the game with seven runs on seven hits in the fourth inning, taking advantage of two UK errors and highlighted by a homer from Maddox.
UF added four runs in the fifth inning on four hits and a three-run home run from Maddox and two runs in the sixth inning on three hits. In the bottom of the eighth inning, UF added three runs.
The Wildcats mounted a rally in the ninth inning, plating two runs. Witt led off the frame with an infield hit, scoring after Johnson smacked a double down the leftfield line. After the second out of the inning, Wright singled, with Johnson coming around to score on an error.
GAME NOTES: UK senior shortstop Taylor Black made his team-leading 95th consecutive start at shortstop, Chad Wright his 62nd consecutive start and Braden Kapteyn his 50th straight start … Brian Adams made his first career start as the designated hitter … Black connected on his 16th double of the year in the first inning … McCarthy owns an RBI in eight consecutive games … McCarthy’s single in the fourth inning extended his hitting streak to a career-long 10 games … Wright extended his hitting streak to seven games … Wright connected on his 16th double of the year … T.J. Daugherty collected his fourth career hit … Johnson added his seventh double of the year.