Gators defeat Wildcats in SEC Tournament opener
HOOVER, Ala. - Starting pitcher Tommy Mace churned out five innings of one-run ball and leadoff man Jacob Young homered on the first pitch he saw to lift No. 13 Florida (36-19, 17-13 SEC) to a round-one win at the SEC Tournament over Kentucky (29-23, 12-18 SEC).
As a result of the victory, the sixth-seeded Gators advance to play No. 3-seed Mississippi State (40-13, 20-10 SEC) on Wednesday, May 26 at 10:30 a.m. ET.
The opening game of the SEC Tournament began with the right-handed Mace showing some serious composure on the mound. After allowing the first two batters of the game to advance into scoring position on a hit-by-pitch and subsequent double, Mace proceeded to strike out the next three batters to follow to strand two and get Florida to the bottom half unscathed.
From there, the Gators kept the momentum going. Leading off the bottom half of the first, Young connected on the first pitch he saw for a solo home run over the left field wall, representing his fourth big fly of the campaign. Florida was not yet done in the opening frame, as Sterlin Thompson later made it 2-0 with a clutch, two-out RBI single through the left side to plate Nathan Hickey.
For Florida, that first inning would set the tone for the remainder of the game. Throughout the three innings to follow, Mace was in cruise control. The Gator ace registered scoreless frames from the second through the fourth for Florida, ending the latter frame with eight strikeouts on the day.
In the fifth, Mace surrendered his lone run as John Rhodes made it 2-1 with an RBI double down the left field line. Florida quickly answered in the bottom half of the frame, loading up the bases before Cory Acton put the Gators back up by two with an RBI single to right field. With the bags still juiced, Mac Guscette drove in another run with a fielder's choice to second, effectively making it a 4-1 ballgame in favor of Florida.
From that point forward, both bullpens held the score in check by delivering shutout innings from the sixth through the top of the ninth. Trey Van Der Weide came on in relief of Mace to provide the first 2.2 scoreless innings, scattering two hits and one walk while striking out one in the process.
In the eighth, Jack Leftwich relieved Van Der Weide in an attempt to nail down the game-one win for Florida. Leftwich used a strikeout to work the Gators out of the eighth inning before eventually navigating around a pair of ninth-inning baserunners to close out the game and polish off his fifth save of the season.
Mace (6-1) earned the win for the Gators, firing five innings and allowing just one earned run on seven hits and one walk with eight strikeouts.
Kentucky starting pitcher Sean Harney lasted 4.1 innings on the hill, allowing four runs (one earned) on four hits and four walks while striking out three.
Young and Acton both finished 2-for-4 in the victory, combining for two RBI and one run at the dish.
- Florida improves to 3-1 overall against Kentucky this season including three-straight victories over the Wildcats.
- With the round-one win, Mace improves to 6-1 on the season and 22-6 overall in his career.
- By striking out eight, Mace has now struck out seven or more batters in nine of his 13 starts this season.
- The Gators improve to 8-12 away from Florida Ballpark in 2021 (7-12 away, 1-0 neutral).
FROM HEAD COACH KEVIN O'SULLIVAN
On the first inning setting to tone for the rest of the game...
"Yeah, it really did. We could tell it was going to be that type of game. Tommy [Mace] started the game on an 0-2 count, they battled, got an inside fastball hit-by-pitch to start the game. Tommy made some big pitches. I don't think he was as sharp as he's been recently, but he made some big pitches when he needed to and Trey [Van Der Weide] came in and did a really nice job. [Jacob Young] got us started early. First pitch of the game hits a home run. We were pretty fortunate today. We made some big pitches when we needed to. Obviously, Jack [Leftwich] came in at the end and made some big pitches when he needed to."
On being more aggressive at the plate...
"Yeah, we've been talking about it. It's pretty simple. We struck out 16 times I think opening night at Arkansas. It's impossible to strike out with no strikes or one strike. But, I thought we were a bit passive. We got into a lot of two-strike counts..."
On how the lineup can improve from top to bottom...
"I don't know. I think we just need more. We've hit the last four-to-five, six weeks. We just ran into the best team in the SEC on the road. Sometimes you just have to credit Arkansas. They pitched well, they hit well and they played really good defense all weekend long. But to bounce back, it's been a long couple of weeks, traveling and everything, and hopefully the guys can take the rest of the day to get ready to go tomorrow morning again."
Florida advances to take on No. 3-seed Mississippi State on Wednesday, May 26 at 10:30 a.m. ET with coverage on SEC Network. Fans can also tune in on radio via WRUF 850 AM/98.1 FM in Gainesville, 1010XL in Jacksonville and on any mobile device via the TuneIn app (search for the "Florida Baseball" station).