Tristan Pompey's two-out grand slam in the fourth inning helped Kentucky overcome an early deficit and sparked the Wildcats to a 12-4 win over Florida on Thursday in the opener of a three-game series in Gainesville with SEC championship implications.
The win helped force a three-way tie between No. 5 Florida, No. 6 LSU and No. 7 Kentucky atop the league standings with two games left in the regular season. The Cats are chasing their second title in program history.
Kentucky (38-16, 19-9 SEC) pounded Florida starter Alex Faedo, who is expected to be a first-round MLB draft pick next month, for seven runs on 13 hits over 5.1 innings. The Gators' junior right-hander entered the matchup with a 7-1 record and a stellar 2.33 ERA.
The Cats' starter, Sean Hjelle, wasn't his typically dominant self, either. The 6-foot-11 sophomore right-hander gave up a pair of unearned runs in the first inning and another run in the second inning as he battled control issues and saw his pitch count swell.
But Hjelle (9-2) continued to battle and seemed to gain a second wind after Pompey's go-ahead grand slam in the fourth. He finished his night having allowed only one earned run on five hits and five walks over 5.2 innings.
From there, UK relievers Zack Thompson and Colton Cleary worked the 3.1 innings, giving up only a lone run in the ninth, to secure the victory.
Florida (38-15, 19-9 SEC) was led by three hits and two RBI from Jonathan India, but the rest of the Gators' lineup combined for only five hits.
The Cats recorded their second game with 20 hits this season in SEC play. Seven of UK's nine starters had multi-hit games, led by three apiece for Evan White, Riley Mahan, Marcus Carson and Kole Cottam. Mahan also hit his team-leading 14th home run of the season.
Kentucky, the SEC's top offensive club, is hitting .415 (78 of 188) as a team over its last five games.
The series resumes Friday at 7 p.m. ET with the Cats needing a win to clinch the SEC East.
- Kentucky’s 38 wins on the season are the most since the 2012 team won a school-record 45. It’s also the sixth-most in school history.
- UK’s 19 SEC wins are the second-most in school history, just one shy of the 2006 team’s 20 victories in league play.
UKhas 17 wins against ranked teams, second only to the 20 the 2006 team had. The Cats are 17-10 vs. ranked foes this year.
- Hjelle has allowed one earned run or less in six of his last seven starts.
- White has multiple hits in six of his last eight games.
- All nine of Pompey’s home runs this season have come in SEC games.
- Mahan has an extra-base hit in seven of his past eight games, including a home run in six of them.