The Gators (17-3, 1-1 SEC) scored multiple runs in four innings and collected 12 hits while beating the Volunteers 8-3 to square the series at one each. The rubber game is set for 1 p.m. on Sunday.
“Tonight, we were much better,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We were much more aggressive. It was important for us to get on the board in the first inning.”
Florida wanted to get on the board early to erase the frustrations from Friday night, and it happened with a two-spot. Richie Martin reached on a one-out single and went to third on an error by Tennessee (8-7, 1-1 SEC) center fielder Brodie Leftridge. Harrison Bader drove him in with a sacrifice fly. Josh Tobias followed with a single and scored from first on a single by J.J. Schwarz.
The scoring continued with two in the fifth inning on a Martin RBI single and a long sacrifice fly by Tobias.
Florida added two insurance runs in the sixth inning. Buddy Reed led off with his first career triple, and freshman Mike Rivera followed with his first career home run, pushing the lead to 6-2 at that point. A two-run single by Dalton Guthrie in the eighth inning would cap the scoring.
“We played good today, but tomorrow it’s going to come back,” Rivera said. “We’ve got to be ready for tomorrow.”
Puk cruised through the first four innings, striking out six of the first seven batters he faced. His velocity was the highest it has been all season, and he located both off-speed pitches through the first four innings.
“He was mixing, he was locating,” O’Sullivan said. “The thing about this league is you better be able to mix. You just can’t go out there with a fastball. You’ve got to mix other pitches and locate. You’ve got to get the ball down. If you don’t get it down, the lineups in this league are going to do damage.”
In his previous four outings this season, there was also one bad inning that doomed his start. That inning crept up again on Saturday, this time happening in the fifth inning.
Puk hit Nathaniel Maggio with the first pitch of the inning and then walked Andrew Plunkett on five pitches. After a sacrifice bunt, Puk gave up a two-run double to catcher David Houser that tied the game. He pitched out of further damage but was lifted after throwing two balls to start the sixth inning.
Puk said his thumb and forearm were cramping when he tried to grip his changeup, so O’Sullivan elected to make the move. The sophomore was still happy with his outing.
“I felt really good,” Puk said. “I wanted to give my team a chance to win, and they spotted me two runs. I felt strong, and I was ready to pitch today.”
Bobby Poyner threw the final four innings, allowing one run and saving the load from the rest of the bullpen. Poyner will be unavailable on Sunday, but he’s the only premium arm the Gators have used out of the bullpen all weekend.