LEXINGTON, Ky. – Despite a strong effort from junior pitcher Sean Hjelle, who threw seven innings and allowed four earned runs on just four hits, the No. 6 University of Kentucky baseball team dropped a 9-4 series-clinching setback to No. 1 Florida on Friday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
Hjelle, who pitched a scoreless first before allowing a run on a sacrifice fly in the second inning, had just one hiccup in the game with the highly ranked Gators posting three runs in the third inning. The native of White Bear Lake, Minn., had not walked a batter in over 30 innings pitched before walking three in the third that led to the bases-clearing triple by Florida’s Wil Dalton, who finished 2-for-5 with a triple, home run and six RBI.
After the long ball by Dalton, Hjelle settled down by retiring 10 straight batters before allowing a single in the sixth inning. Hjelle finished the game with five strikeouts and three walks and received the loss, moving to 5-3 on the season.
Freshman Jimmy Ramsey replaced Hjelle to start the eighth inning and allowed three earned runs on three hits with a strikeout and two walks before Carson Coleman came on and struck out two of the three batters he faced to conclude the eighth inning. Brad Schaenzer pitched the ninth inning, allowing two runs on two hits with a strikeout.
Offensively, the UK bats were quiet for seven innings before coming to the life in the eighth and ninth. The Wildcats scored three runs in the ninth inning against Florida closer Michael Byrne, who entered the game having pitched 32 total innings on the year and allowed just three total runs. Kole Cottom led UK by going 2-for-4 with a home run and two RBI, while Luke Becker, Tristan Pompey and Luke Heyer were also 2-for-4. Ben Aklinski was 1-for-4 with an RBI.
Junior pitcher Jackson Kowar earned the win to move to 7-1 on the season posting five strikeouts and allowing just five hits across seven innings. Jordan Butler came on to start the eighth inning and allowed one run on two hits in 0.2 innings pitched before Byrne tossed the final 1.1 of the game, allowing three runs on three hits with a strikeout.
Top 2nd – The Gators scored first in the game getting a leadoff double from JJ Schwarz down the rightfield line. Schwarz moved to the third on a sacrifice bunt and later scored when Brady Smith hit a deep fly ball to centerfield. UF 1, UK 0
Top 3rd – The Gators took a 4-0 lead in the top of the third inning thanks to three walks from Sean Hjelle – his first walks in over 30 innings pitched. After a leadoff walk to Nick Horvath, who advanced to second on a wild pitch, Hjelle got a strikeout for the first out but would walk the next two Florida batters to load the bases. Will Dalton took advantage with a triple over Aklinski’s head in center to clear the bases. Hjelle got out of the inning with a strikeout and a groundout. UF 4, UK 0
Top 8th – The Gators extended their lead to 7-0 in the top of the eighth inning after a three-run homerun by Dalton. Nelson Maldonado walked to start the inning and advanced to third after India doubled down the leftfield line. Dalton then followed with his three-run homerun. Ramsey struck out a batter before giving up a double to right center which lead Carson Coleman to come in for relief. Coleman gave up a walk but struck out two batters to end the inning. UF 7, UK 0
Bottom 8th – The Wildcats scored thanks to a fielder’s choice which allowed Luke Becker to get home from third. Becker singled with one out and moved to third after a Kole Cottam double. Luke Heyer was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Ben Aklinski narrowly avoided a double play that scored Becker. Shinn walked, but Ryan Johnson flied out in his pinch-hit at bat with the bases loaded. UF 7, UK 1
Top 9th – The Gators scored in their fourth inning of the night off their second homerun. Maldonado singled to start, and Jonathan India homered to rightfield to bring him home. Schwarz walked with one out but no more damage was done. UF 9, UK 1
Bottom 9th – The Wildcats continued to battle until the end, as they scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth. Pinch hitter Brayden Combs was hit by a pitch and advanced to second on a Tristan Pompey single. Troy Squires grounded out to advance Combs and Pompey before Combs was brought home on a wild pitch. With two outs, Cottam homered to leftfield to bring home Pompey. Heyer popped out in the next at bat to end the game. UF 9, UK 4
- Several Cats extended impressive reached base safely streaks …
o Senior INF Luke Becker has reached in 38 of 39 games.
o Junior OF Ben Aklinski has reached in 33 of the last 34 games, including 16 straight.
o Junior C/1B Kole Cottam has reached safely in eight straight games and has hits in 13 of the past 15 games.
- Senior INF Luke Becker went 2-for-4 with a run.
o Becker has reached base in 38 of the Cats’ 39 games this season (and 82 of 83 including 2017 summer ball).
o Becker now has 13 multi-hit games this season and 39 for his career.
- Senior OF Luke Heyer went 2-for-4 in the game.
o Heyer has now recorded a multi-hit game 15 times this season and 19 times in his UK career.
- Junior C/1B Kole Cottam went 2-for-4 with a run, two RBI and a walk.
o Cottam has reached safely in eight straight games and has hits in 13 of the past 15 games.
- Offensively, Kentucky scored three runs in the ninth inning against Florida RHP Michael Byrne, who entered the game having thrown 32 innings on the season and only allowed three total runs.
- The 9-4 loss to Florida marks the first time this season the Wildcats have lost a series at Cliff Hagan Stadium. UK had won five straight home series dating back to last May vs. Georgia.
The Cats and Gators complete the three-game series Saturday at 1 p.m. ET . The game will air on 630 AM WLAP for radio and be broadcast online through computers, smart phones and tablets on SEC Network+.