Florida is playing to become the first team to win the regular season title and tournament title since it accomplished the feat in 2011.
"That was a great game. Kentucky has had our number this year," Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. We knew it would be a fight to the end, and I'm really happy with how our guys fought. We did it the same way we've been doing it all year long. Every starter had a hit, everybody contributed and did their thing."
Saturday's game had four lead changes with Josh Tobias delivering the final one on a two-out RBI single to right field. The junior third baseman lost his starting job earlier in the season, but now looks to have cemented the starting job heading into the NCAA Tournament. Tobias went 2-3 with two runs scored and one RBI.
His first hit was part of the inning Florida got on the scoreboard. After Buddy Reed led off with a walk, Tobias drove a double into the right-center field gap. An RBI single from Casey Turgeon and an RBI ground out from Richie Martin scored the two runs, cutting Kentucky's lead to 3-2.
The Gators looked primed to take the lead in the fifth inning. Back-to-back one out walks and a wild pitch put two runners in scoring position, but Martin grounded out to the catcher to keep a run from scoring. Harrison Bader, who is hitting .625 (10-16) in the SEC Tournament, lined a two-out single up the middle to score both runs and give Florida a 4-3 lead.
The Wildcats took a 5-4 lead, but Bader tied the game with an RBI single up the middle in the seventh inning before Tobias won it in the eighth.
"Guys are just trying to get their singles," Bader said. "We're not trying to do too much, just trying to get a good swing on the ball. As opposed to hitting it far, we're just trying to hit it hard. It's a simple approach, just stay through the middle and take the singles."
The Florida pitching staff was dominant at times. Freshman Brett Morales earned the start but lasted 1.1 innings, giving up three hits, two walks and three runs. O'Sullivan gave the ball to freshman left-hander Kirby Snead, who went 4.1 innings, allowing just two unearned runs.
When Snead hit a difficult spot in the sixth inning, O'Sullivan went to Eric Hanhold for his first outing of the tournament. He delivered with 3.1 innings, allowing just two hits while recording four strikeouts.
"Kirby Snead came in and settled things down. Eric Hanhold was really good at the end. I'm proud of how we handled today. We were able to grind this one out. We got down 3-0 after two, and now we've got a chance to play one more day."
"This is going to be a great game for us going forward," O'Sullivan said. "We need to play a great team like LSU, like Kentucky, like Mississippi State. We've played some really good teams. (Sunday's) atmosphere is going to be a very good one. They've got a tremendous fan base that has followed them here. We're excited to play."