Lexington, Ky. - No. 4 Florida used a dominant pitching performance from starter Jac Caglianone to take the series over No. 19 Kentucky and an eventual 2023 SEC Regular Season Championship with a 5-2 victory at Kentucky Proud Park on Saturday afternoon.
Caglianone was masterful in game three, firing seven shutout innings on just four hits and striking out eight. The seven innings marked a new career high for Caglianone. On the offensive end, Dale Thomas provided a clutch, two-run homer in the seventh inning for his first-ever blast as a Gator.
The Gators (42-13, 20-10 SEC) and Wildcats (36-17, 16-14 SEC) traded zeros through the first four innings, as Caglianone and UK starter Austin Strickland held the offenses in check. Caglianone registered six strikeouts through four, allowing just one hit and two walks.
Caglianone remained locked in during the middle innings, stranding two Wildcats in the fifth and retiring the side in order while notching his eighth strikeout to close out the sixth.
Florida broke through in the seventh, beginning with a leadoff walk and stolen base of second by Caglianone. After a sacrifice bunt from Josh Rivera moved him to third, Caglianone scored on a deep sacrifice fly to left field by BT Riopelle. Luke Heyman then singled home Tyler Shelnut with two outs while Thomas blasted a two-out, two-run homer to right-center to create a 4-0 Gator lead.
Caglianone returned to the mound in the bottom of the seventh and worked a quick zero to hold the score. That marked the end of his day, as he ceded duties to left-hander Philip Abner in the eighth.
Kentucky and Florida exchanged solo homers in the bottom of the eighth and top of the ninth. Grant Smith left the yard for the Wildcats to eliminate the shutout while Luke Heyman mashed his ninth homer of the season to bring the score to 5-1.
Kentucky plated a late run in the ninth to bring the score to its final tally of 5-2, as Ryan Church drove in Devin Burkes with a sacrifice fly to right field.
Caglianone (6-2) recorded his second victory in as many weeks with a career-high seven shutout frames. The southpaw gave up four hits and three walks while striking out eight.
Strickland (3-1) was saddled with his first loss of the season after allowing three earned runs over 6 2/3 innings. The right-hander allowed three hits and one walk while fanning seven.
- Florida's 42 regular season wins are the second-most in program history. The record of 44 regular-season wins belongs to the 2018 Gators (41-15, 20-10 SEC).
- The Gators receive a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament as a top-two seed. Florida awaits the conclusion of Arkansas-Vanderbilt to determine final seeding and a potential SEC Regular Season Championship for the Orange & Blue.
- Caglianone worked a career-high seven shutout innings.
- Thomas hit his first homer as a Gator with a two-out, two-run shot in the seventh.
- Heyman blasted his ninth homer of the season in the eighth. Heyman (2-for-4) was the lone Gator to record multiple hits in the victory. Florida has struck out 560 batters in 468 innings - translating to 10.8 per nine innings, which would mark a new program record.
- The Gators have 549 hits through 55 games (10.0 hits/game).
- The Gators have scored in 45.8% of batted innings (203 of 443).
- Florida is now 148-72-1 all-time vs. Kentucky including 64-39-1 in Lexington. The Gators are 27-21 in the series under O'Sullivan featuring a 13-11 mark on the road. Florida has won six-straight series against Kentucky.
Florida heads to the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala. where the Gators will receive a first-round bye as a top-two seed. The Orange & Blue await their potential opponent as additional games around the conference wrap up.