Nelson Maldonado photo by Paige Santiago / UAA Communications

Florida Gators claim SEC championship with 6-4 win over Kentucky Wildcats

Cats miss opportunity to claim SEC title.

An afternoon of tough breaks, bad baserunning, and questionable calls culminated in a 6-4 loss for the Kentucky Wildcats as they narrowly missed a chance to win a share of the SEC championship on Saturday in the regular-season finale at Florida.

The Cats lost their starting pitcher, Justin Lewis, shortly after he was hit in the left shin with a hard one-hopper in the fourth inning. The sophomore right-hander had cruised through the first three innings but surrendered a three-run homer to the Gators' Nelson Maldonado shortly after he was injured. 

Kentucky's league-leading offense was held in check by Florida starter Jackson Kowar, who escaped several jams throughout his 6.1 innings on the mound. The sophomore right-hander allowed eight hits and walked two, but limited his damage. On two occasions, UK left the bases loaded without scoring. 

The Cats also aided Kowar (10-0) by getting a pair of runners picked off in scoring position -- one at second base and one attempting to steal home -- that proved costly for UK.

A missed call loomed large in the fourth inning when the Cats put runners at second and third with one out, and the ball got away from Florida catcher JJ Schwarz on a strikeout of Marcus Carson. The throw from home to first pulled the first baseman off the bag, but Carson was ruled out.

UK head coach Nick Mingione came out of the dugout to dispute the call, but it was not reviewable, and the Cats missed a chance to have the bases loaded with one out. With Connor Heady at the plate, a botched double-steal play backfired, and Troy Squires was easily thrown out at the plate.

Carson would later hit an eighth-inning home run to pull UK within two, but the Gators' Nick Horvath slammed the door with a 1-2-3 ninth inning.

No. 5 Florida (40-15, 21-9 SEC) clinched a share of the regular-season title with LSU.

Maldonado powered the Gators, driving in four of the six runs with a double and a home run. Blake Reese and Autin Langworthy also drove in runs for Florida. 

Evan White had three hits to lead UK at the plate. 

In Mingione's first season as head coach, No. 7 Kentucky (38-18, 19-11 SEC) missed only the second SEC championship in program history. The Cats still appear to be in line for a national seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The teams advance to Hoover, Ala., next week for the SEC Tournament. UK will be the No. 3 seed, playing at 10:30 a.m. ET on Wednesday, May 24, to begin the double-elimination event.

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