Gators trying to keep momentum against UK

Riding a six-game winning streak in conference play, No. 6 Florida enters an important weekend on the schedule.

With four weeks left in the regular season, there are five teams -- Florida, LSU, Missouri, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt -- within a half game of first place in the Southeastern Conference.

What makes this weekend so important is that the Gators get Kentucky (23-16/8-9 SEC) while the other four teams play each other. LSU and Texas A&M started their series on Thursday night while Vanderbilt hosts Missouri starting Friday night. While other teams beat up on each other, it’s a chance for Florida (32-10/12-6 SEC) to continue its momentum.

But Kentucky brings a hot streak of its own to Gainesville. The Wildcats have won four straight games, including a three-game sweep of Tennessee last weekend in Lexington. Kentucky’s resume is led by a series win at LSU -- the only series loss of the year for the Tigers -- four weeks ago.

It’s a dangerous Kentucky offense, one that ranks fourth in the conference in batting average (.301), third in on-base percentage (.389) and first by having 65 batters hit by a pitch, 19 more than second-place Texas A&M. Junior Ka’ai Tom leads the way with a .386 batting average, while sophomore second baseman JaVon Shelby is hitting .352 with a team-high five home runs.

Most of the production comes from the first four spots in the Kentucky order. All four are hitting over .325, but after that, the highest batting average from a regular is catcher Zach Arnold at .287.

On the mound is where the Wildcats have struggled this year.

Kentucky comes into this weekend 13th in the SEC in ERA (4.25), 12th in opposing batting average (.259) and last in strikeouts (278). The Wildcats have also allowed more home runs than any pitching staff in the SEC, and the Gators have hit the second most home runs of any offense in the league.

The Wildcats are 13th in the SEC with a .964 fielding percentage, while Florida leads the league with a .985 fielding percentage.

The series opens on Friday at 7 p.m. with Florida ace Logan Shore (6-2, 2.29 ERA) against Kentucky pitcher Zack Brown (3-4, 3.13). Saturday is also at 7 p.m. with Florida sophomore Dane Dunning (4-1, 3.02) facing Kentucky right-hander Dustin Beggs (5-2, 2.78). Neither team has announced a starter for Sunday’s finale at 12:30 p.m.

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