It wasn't a slow start that doomed the Kentucky offense this time.
Junior catcher Luke Maile knocked in a run in the first inning to tie the Gators on Friday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium. A night after the UK offense struggled to find momentum against Florida, things looked different early.
But the Wildcat offense sputtered from there, as Florida (35-12, 14-9 Southeastern Conference) beat Kentucky (36-11, 14-9 SEC) 5-1. The Gators clinched the series and tied the Wildcats in the league standings with the win. UK has now lost five of six, including four in a row.
"It's obviously a rough stretch," Maile said. "But that's going to happen. You hope it doesn't happen more than once. You hope you can stop it sooner rather than later. All you can control is right now, and that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to control the moment."
The Gators entered the series in third place in the SEC, but have a chance to knock the Wildcats into third in the East with a sweep on Saturday. UK entered Thursday's game tied for first in the conference.
UK starter Jerad Grundy pitched 7.1 innings, giving up six hits and two runs. After the first inning, Florida wouldn't put another runner in scoring position until the eighth inning. Then second baseman Casey Turgeon tripled off the right field wall, scoring two batters later. Grundy had just two strikeouts, but kept the Gators off balance, throwing 57 strikes in 89 pitches.
"It was probably my best outing of the year," Grundy said.
Kentucky stranded 10 runners in the game. The Wildcats have stranded 54 runners over the last six games, dating back to a 10-2 loss at Louisville on April 24.
Senior catcher Michael Williams doubled to lead off the sixth inning for UK and advanced to third with no outs. But the Wildcats couldn't capitalize. He was called out at the plate, and UK failed to score another runner who moved into scoring position in that inning.
The offense went mostly quiet after that. The Wildcats were retired in order in the eighth and ninth innings as Florida pulled away. The Gators scored one run in the eighth, then added three more in the ninth to push the lead to 5-1.
"We're having guys get good swings on the ball," Maile said. "We had a couple guys step up and get two doubles in the beginning of innings. We just haven't been able to finish them. If we leave guys on base, that just means we could be hitting worse."
Maile led the offense, going 2-4 with an RBI. Sophomore Paul McConkey went 2-3 as the designated hitter, the first multi-hit game of his career.
Saturday, May 5, 2 p.m.
So., LHP Corey Littrell (6-0, 2.44 ERA) vs. Jr., LHP Brian Johnson (5-3, 4.50 ERA)
TV: Fox Sports Florida/Sun Sports
Radio: 630 AM Lexington, 1080 AM Louisville