The winners of nine conference games in a row now, Florida fell behind Alabama 1-0 in the first inning before scoring seven unanswered to push them toward victory in the contest.
Maldonado would score again in the third. After a one-out walk, he stole second and reached third on a ground out. A wild pitch would cross giving allowing Maldonado to score and the Gators would lead 3-1 after three innings.
A two-out rally in the fourth was on tap as senior Ryan Larson singled up the middle followed by a bunt single from junior Dalton Guthrie. Junior J.J. Schwarz would walk loading the bases. Maldonado would strike again recording an infield single to short that landed two RBI as Larson and Guthrie crossed the plate.
Another two-out rally saw another run cross the plate as Kolozsvary reached on a walk and then stole second. Deacon Liput who has been struggling at the plate most of the season then singled through the right side scoring Kolozsvary and giving the Gators a 6-1 lead.
The Gators recorded their fifth scoring inning in a row when Guthrie took a 2-1 fastball over the left field wall to lead off the sixth inning and pushing the lead to 7-1.
Florida returns home to finish out the regular season with a huge three-game series against No. 8 Kentucky at McKethan Stadium. The Gators currently hold a one-game lead over the Wildcats in the SEC East division standings.
Sophomore pitcher Jackson Kowar started the game and after giving up the run in the first inning, he finished with 6.2 strong innings before struggling with the two outs in the seventh. A walk, hit-by-pitch, and a couple of doubles, the last of which was a three run shot by Chandler Avant, had head coach Kevin O’Sullivan heading to the bullpen. Nick Horvath would come on in relief and another run would cross the plate on an error and unearned.
The score went from 7-1 to 7-5 real quick, but the Gator bats reacted as well, like they have over the last several weeks of the season. In the eighth inning, Larson opened things up with a single through the left side. With one out, Schwarz would come up to bat and hit his ninth home run of the year to left field scoring Larson in the process. The Gators’ hottest three batters would all score as Maldonado got in the act as well with a solo shot to left field.
Horvath would go 1.2 innings before moving to center field with two outs in the ninth. Freshman Garrett Milchin would come on with two outs left and throw a strike out and force a line drive out to right field for the win.
Kowar, who moved to 9-0 with the win, battled throughout.
“I really thought that Jackson battled today, after giving up a run in the first he battled there and we played good defense behind him the whole day,” O’Sullivan said. “Just tried to get him through the seventh because I thought he earned the right to get through that inning and try to finish the seventh.
The Gators notched 12 hits and six walks on the day and the game marked the fifth time in the last seven games that Florida had double-digit hits in a contest. Larson led the gators with hits going 3-for-4 on the day, while Maldonado led in RBI with three going 2-for-3 on the day, scoring three times and also walking three times.
“The biggest thing of the day was the offense,” O’Sullivan said following the game. “We answered every time, gave up a run in the first and scored two in the second. The run in third and two runs in the fourth I think were two outs, nobody on. Then we gave up four in the bottom of the seventh and answered back with three more in the top of the eighth. We’ve just been swinging the bats really well.”
With the win, the Gators are alone in first place in the SEC. The 19-8 record gives Florida a game up on Kentucky and LSU at 18-9, two up on Mississippi State at 17-10, and three up on Arkansas at 16-10. The Gators have clawed, and scratched over the last several weeks to get to this point.
“It’s not easy to win this time of the year against anybody, let alone a SEC team on the road, O’Sullivan said. “We’ll pack up and go home, give the guys off tomorrow and practice Tuesday and Wednesday and get ready for a really good Kentucky team. Can’t ask for anything more, we’re playing for a chance to win the SEC regular season and we’ve got a one-game lead with three to go at home.”
The series with the Wildcats opens Thursday night at McKethan Stadium with a 7 p.m. start on ESPN. Game two on Friday is at 7 p.m. on SEC Network and the finale will be Saturday at 1 p.m.