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It had been more than a month since Tommy Mace had taken the mound to open a series for the Florida Gators but the fourth-year junior didn’t disappoint. Mace threw 6.1 innings, allowing three runs and striking out 10 Bulldogs as the Florida Gators (34-15/16-9 SEC) bested Georgia 4-3 to take game one of the weekend.

Mace was a good teammate when asked about losing the Friday night role saying, “Every day on the weekend is important. If it’s Friday, Saturday, or Sunday we have to go out and compete and try to give our team the best possible chance to win. I didn’t even think about it too much.”

Mace’s last Friday night start came against Tennessee on April 9. He had been lights out in his last couple of starts and earned the opportunity to get back out there on Friday nights. He came out of the gates hot, recording four strikeouts within his first six outs.

“I thought he threw the ball really well, about as well as he’d thrown it all year long,” Kevin O’Sullivan said.

In the second inning, Kendrick Calilao became the first player to hit a home run to dead center field at Florida Ballpark. Despite a crosswind coming in from right field that killed balls all night, Calilao’s 105 exit velocity was more than enough to cut through the wind and put Florida up on the scoreboard 1-0.

Florida’s defense didn’t do Mace any favors in the following half-inning. A routine ball hit to third base was thrown well wide of Kendrick Calilao’s outstretched glove at first, allowing Cole Tate to reach and advance to second on the error. A walk and single later the score was tied. Mace gave up one more run on a sacrifice fly, as the Bulldogs took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the third.

Florida’s offense picked him up. Sterlin Thompson led off the inning with a double and was sacrificed over to third by Cory Acton’s bunt, which allowed Thompson to score uncontested on a ground out to second base.

Georgia would retake the lead in the fifth inning. Mace retired the first two batters on just nine pitches and seemingly got out of the inning inducing a routine ground ball to Josh Rivera at shortstop. Rivera, however, didn’t know the speed of the Josh McAlister took his time fielding and throwing, allowing the Georgia second baseman to reach first for an infield single. McAllister stole second and scored on a Conor Tate single to right field. Mace got out of the inning without allowing any more damage but was visibly frustrated.

Cory Acton singled with one out in the bottom of the frame and scored on Jacob Young’s double to left center. Acton and Calilao have played sparingly this season but both players have gotten hot at the right time and are giving the Gators a spark.

“I think they’ve given our team a bit of a spark to be quite honest with you,” O’Sullivan said. “The season hasn’t quite gone the way they both had hoped but that’s where the maturity maybe separated them from some other guys where they’re able to have these types of moments at this point of the season. Certainly, they’ve put themselves in a really good position and we were successful up in Kentucky because of them and tonight they had big roles as well.”

Josh Rivera walked to the plate 0-3 on the night with a strikeout and a line out double play. The Gators and Bulldogs were tied at three but Florid had the winning run just 90 feet away on third. Rivera quickly fell behind in the count 0-2.

“The biggest thing for me was just getting something I could handle to drive the run in,” Rivera said. “I was just saying to myself, get the run in, that’s all that really mattered in that moment.”

Rivera shortened his swing, widened his stance, and took out his leg kick to simplify the approach. He fouled off three straight pitches to stay alive before smacking a single to left field to give the Gators a 4-3 lead.

Jack Leftwich came on in the eighth inning and closed the game out for the Gators. Leftwich struck out five of the eight batters he faced on the way to his seventh win of the season. Leftwich is really settling into his closer role with the Gators and solidifying the bullpen for Florida.

“It’s just a one-two punch right there,” Mace said. “That’s all I gotta say.”

“He’s just really confident right now,” O’Sullivan said of Leftwich. “He’s executing pitches at a high level and I think maybe early in the year in a situation like that he may have maybe been a little too fast. He’s slowing the game down. It’s obvious he’s having a lot of fun. I’m just really, really pleased with how he’s been able to solidify our bullpen on the back end.”

The Gators will look for a series win on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. with Hunter Barco taking the ball.

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