Rebounds runs have given Kevin O’Sullivan high blood pressure all season long and Friday night in Knoxville was another example.
Every time the Gators (20-10, 5-5 SEC) scored Tennessee came back and answered with runs of their own. The Vols (26-5, 8-2 SEC) were 5-13 (.385) hitting with two outs and scored four of their six runs with two outs.
“Honestly, we need to do a better job on the mound,” Kevin O’Sullivan said after the game. “We had a 25-pitch first inning. Nine out of the first 10 hitters hit with two strikes.”
Tennessee got to Tommy Mace early on in the game, forcing the fourth-year junior to throw 25 pitches just to get out of the frame. Mace was able to get out of the inning but got tagged in the third.
Logan Steenstra opened the inning with a double over Sterlin Thompson’s head and off the wall in right field. Liam Spence, who leads the SEC in hits, singled up the middle to give Tennessee a 1-0 advantage.
The Gators stormed back in the top of the fourth. Nathan Hickey and Kirby McMullen hit back-to-back home runs to give Florida the lead, but the story of the night — rebound runs — began.
Pitching with a lead, Mace couldn’t get out of the bottom half of the fourth without surrendering two runs.
Drew Gilbert singled to start the frame before a strikeout and a Luc Lipcius single gave the Vols two on and one out. Mace struck out Connor Pavolony for out number two but Tennessee’s situational hitting shined. Evan Russell launched a ball deep to right center field. Florida center fielder Jud Fabian gave chase and got to the ball after a long run but seemed to peek at the wall just as the ball was coming down into his glove. It bounced out just as Fabian collided with the wall and both Gilbert and Lipcius came around to score, giving Tennessee the lead back.
Fabian made up for it with a solo home run to start the seventh inning. Jordan Butler followed by reaching on an error and Kris Armstrong singled up the middle to put pressure on Tennessee starter Chad Dallas. With Jordan Carrion — Florida’s best bunter — up, Kevin O’Sullivan called for the sacrifice. Carrion bunted through strike two and Pavolony fired behind Armstrong at second, a pickle ensued by the Vols botched it. The play was reviewed with the safe call standing. Carrion wasn’t able to get the bunt down, missing on a 2-2 attempt before Jacob Young lined into an inning-ending double play.
“We’ve gotta be able to get bunts down in that situation. On the road as well. We almost made a base ruling mistake there in that bunt situation and we talked about that before the game, that the catcher was going to throw behind. We’re just still making mistakes that we’ve got to clean up.”
Evan Russell launched a solo home run off of Christian Scott to tack on one more insurance run in the eighth but it didn’t matter. Sean Hunley, who replaced Dallas in the eighth retired all six batters he faced to earn the save.
The Gators will look to even the series on Saturday at 7:00 p.m. The game will be broadcast on SEC Network.