Gators drop series opener to Auburn

Florida has come out of the gates slow for most of its Southeastern Conference series this year.

That trend continued on Thursday.

The Gators’ offense was limited by Auburn starting pitcher Cole Lipscomb, and Florida’s defense broke down when two outfielders collided and allowed two runs to score, helping the Tigers to a 4-1 win in the series opener on Thursday. The Gators fell to 3-7 in SEC openers this year.

“We’re facing good pitchers,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I didn’t think we came out flat. I don’t think we didn’t come to play. I don’t think we didn’t have a good approach against their pitcher. It was just one of those nights where we just got beat. It’s as simple as that.”

Florida held a 1-0 lead after five innings, and starting pitcher Logan Shore was cruising on the mound. However, he allowed a leadoff walk in the sixth inning and the runner moved to third base with two outs. After a pitch hit Tyler Deese to give the Tigers runners on the corners and two outs. Melvin Gray hit a fly ball into right-center field.

A collision between Florida center fielder Buddy Reed and right fielder Ryan Larson allowed the ball to drop and both runs scored, giving the Tigers a 2-1 lead. Reed got up immediately from the collision, but Larson was down on the field for five minutes before being helped to his feet and staying in the game.

“Obviously the turning point was when we had two outs in the sixth and collide,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s unfortunate, but you can’t have those kind of mistakes this time of year. You just can’t. It was obvious watching the play they either called the ball at the same time and neither one heard each other or Buddy called a little late. I don’t know, I don’t want to speculate.”

Larson came out of the game for a pinch hitter in the seventh inning, but O’Sullivan said he was fine. Larson and Reed hit knees on the play, and Larson’s knee was starting to swell.

Florida threatened to get the game back in its favor in the seventh inning. The Gators loaded the bases with one out for Dalton Guthrie, who singled in the first run of the game for Florida. Guthrie crushed a line drive right at Auburn third baseman Tyler Deese, who caught it and stepped on third base before Florida first baseman Pete Alonso could get back to the bag to end the threat.

That inning looked even worse after Florida relievers Bobby Poyner and Eric Hanhold combined to allow two runs in the eighth inning, pushing the Auburn lead to 4-2.

The Gators try to even the series on Friday at 7 p.m. Florida will send sophomore left-hander A.J. Puk (7-3, 4.73 ERA) to the mound against an Auburn pitcher that hasn’t been announced. Florida was in good shape for a national seed coming into the weekend and needs to win the next two games to earn one in the NCAA Tournament.

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