Gators clinch outright SEC championship

Florida had every reason to come out slow on Friday. It clinched a share of the Southeastern Conference title on Thursday and celebrated with a dog pile on Tennessee's field. Instead, the Gators beat Tennessee 4-2 to clinch the outright SEC championship on Saturday.

After 13 conference games, Florida was 7-6. Friday's win completed a stretch with 14 wins in the team's last 16 conference games. The win clinched the school's 13th conference championship and the No. 1 seed in next week's SEC Tournament.

"I'm pleased with how we came out and played today, with our mentality today," Kevin O'Sullivan said on the postgame radio show. "We had every reason to not come out with enthusiasm, but they came out and did a nice job. A lot of guys contributed."

The most encouraging part of Friday's game came on the mound. The Gators continue to be without Aaron Rhodes (tendinitis), and there's no clear starter after freshman Logan Shore serving as the ace. Freshman left-hander A.J. Puk showed on Friday that he could be an important part of the postseason rotation.

Puk threw five innings, giving up one run on a solo homer while allowing three hits, three walks and striking out five hitters.

Justin Shafer tossed 1.2 scoreless innings before freshman Kirby Snead threw the final 2.1 innings to earn his second save in two nights. It was Florida's conference-leading 20th save, coming from eight different pitchers.

"A.J. gave us a great start," O'Sullivan said. "His fastball had a lot of life tonight and I love to see the progress of him going a career-best five innings. Shafer bridged the gap and we went to Kirby again and he did a really good job of closing out the game. It's great to see the young guys grow every time they step on the mound, and I like the way we are pitching as we wind down the grind of the regular season."

Florida got off to a lead after a two-out RBI double by Taylor Gushue in the first inning. Tennessee responded with a solo home run in the second inning.

The game stayed tied until the sixth inning. With runners on second and third with one out, Zack Powers grounded out to second to give the Gators a 2-1 lead.

Florida loaded the bases in the eighth inning with two outs, and pinch hitter Josh Tobias rolled a two-run single into left field, giving the Gators a 4-1 lead.

A win on Saturday would tie the school record of 22 conference wins, previously set in 2010 and 2011.

"It's a heck of an accomplishment," O'Sullivan said. "It's a heck of a year for us."

The teams will play the series finale on Saturday at 1 p.m. Neither team has announced a starting pitcher.

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