Too Little, Too Late for Gator Offense

It was too little, too late for the Florida offense. The Gators pieced together a six-run eighth inning, keyed by a Preston Tucker grand slam, to fight their way back into the game.

UCF closer Joe Rogers stopped the Florida (28-10) offense from adding any more runs in the ninth inning, and the Knights (24-14) recorded an 8-6 win over No. 5 Florida in front of a record crowd of 3,601 at Jay Bergman Field.

"Offensively, we have to do a better job early in the game of getting stuff going," Florida assistant coach Craig Bell said on the post game radio show. "It was very tentative early, and we took a bunch of pitches we should've driven. Their pitchers mixed really well, but we have to be mentally ready to hit. Tonight, early, we were not."

The Florida offense had only two hits in the first seven innings before the explosion in the eighth, and both were only singles.

With an 8-0 deficit, the Florida offense started to chip away at the beginning of the eighth. After an Austin Maddox single, Tyler Thompson launched a two-run home run to left field to make it 8-2.

With one out and a runner on first, a pitch hit Nolan Fontana. Bryson Smith lined a single up the middle to load the bases. UCF manager Terry Rooney went to the bullpen to get the left-hander Rogers.

Rogers hung a curveball, and Preston Tucker hit a towering grand slam to right field to cut the deficit to 8-6. Mike Zunino followed with a double to right-center field, but he would be stranded.

Thompson reached base on an error to start the ninth inning, but the next three hitters were set down by Rogers to clinch the UCF win.

The late-game comeback fueled some optimism as the Florida offense got going, but the individual positive came in Tucker staying hot. He hit two home runs on Sunday, including one grand slam then. If Tucker can get hit, he has proven in the past two years that he can carry an offense. That might be just what the Gators need.

"He's seeing the ball a lot better right now," Bell said. "We knew it was going to come, and he just needs to stay aggressive. When it's all said and done, he'll put up some good numbers."

On the mound, it wasn't pretty.

Tommy Toledo started the game and went two innings, allowing three hits and one run while recording a strikeout.

Alex Panteliodis relieved him, throwing two innings and allowing two runs while walking one and recording a strikeout. The Gators faced a 4-0 deficit after the fourth inning.

Anthony DeSclafani came in to pitch the seventh inning, but his struggles against the Knights continued. After recording the loss two weeks ago in Gainesville against UCF, DeSclafani gave up three runs on three hits and two home runs in the seventh inning. That pushed the UCF advantage to 8-0.

Seven of the eight runs for UCF came with two outs.

"You've got to close out innings and close out batters," Bell said. "We didn't do a very good job of that. We didn't mix early in the count to get them off the fastball, because they are a fastball hitting team and we knew that. We just continually threw fastballs in the middle of the plate early in the count."

Wednesday night was the final game of an eight-game road trip for the Gators. It ended with a 4-4 recording, and the Gators are 8-8 in their last 16 games. The positive comes in a seven-game home stand beginning Friday night at 7 p.m. when Florida hosts Alabama for the opener of a three-game series.

"It has been a long road trip for us, so we're really looking forward to getting back to The Mac and having some fans yell for us for a change," Bell said.

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