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Kentucky Baseball: Wildcats Drop Game 2, Series To Florida with 9-4 Loss

Two big hits cost the Wildcats any chance in this one, as their hitting woes continue against the top team in the country.

UK Athletics

A pair of three-run hits from the Florida Gators’ slugger Wil Dalton were more than enough to defeat Sean Hjelle and the Kentucky Wildcats, as they won 9-4 on Friday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium.

The win gave them the series victory, following a dominant 11-2 win in the first game on Thursday, and sent Kentucky to their third consecutive loss on the week. It is their first series win in Lexington since 2012, as the Wildcats had taken the last two.

Kole Cottam went 2-4 with a two-run homer in the ninth inning, but he was outdone by Dalton, who went 2-5 with a triple, a home run, and six runs batted in.

It was the fifth time in six outings that the reigning SEC Pitcher of the Year has allowed four runs or more, as he has struggled to regain the form he had last season.

The towering sophomore Hjelle did not pitch poorly overall, but all it took was a rough third inning for the top-ranked team in the nation to make him pay. It started when Nick Horvath led off the inning by drawing a walk, following a nine pitch at-bat. After striking out Deacon Liput, Hjelle would issue consecutive walks to Nelson Maldonado and Jonathan India.

This brought up Dalton, who is as hot as anybody in the country. He made Hjelle pay when he sent a 1-2 pitch off the wall in dead center for a bases-clearing triple. Florida went up 4-0, after opening the scoring with a sacrifice fly in the second inning, and they would never look back.

After that hit, Hjelle looked like his dominant self again, as he retired nine straight hitters, and thirteen of the last fourteen that he faced. He would go seven innings, striking out five and allowing only four hits. However, his three walks issued were painful, and he threw nearly forty pitches in that difficult third inning en-route to a 113-pitch night.

However, Dalton put the game completely out of reach shortly after Hjelle left the game. After allowing a leadoff walk and a double to start the eighth inning, reliever Jimmy Ramsey served up a hanging breaking ball to the Florida right fielder, and Dalton crushed it off the left field foul pole to give the Gators an insurmountable 7-0 lead.

Dalton has now recorded an unbelievable thirteen extra-base hits in his last fourteen successful at-bats, including five home runs. He leads the SEC now with fifteen home runs on the year, and has driven in forty-five runs as well—nine of which have come in two games in Lexington.

The Gators would cap their scoring in the ninth inning, when India hit his thirteenth home run of the season, a solo shot that tucked inside the right field foul pole. The hitter, who is contending for a possible triple-crown title, got back on the board after ending his twenty-four game hitting streak on Thursday night.

Kentucky got a few consolation runs late in the game, but they will be left wondering what might have been. The Wildcats had a runner in scoring position with nobody out in both the first and second inning, and somehow failed to drive him in either time.

In the eighth inning, the Bat Cats were able to get on the board. With runners the bases loaded and only one out, they got an RBI on a fielder’s choice by Ben Aklinski to bring in their first run. Then, they were able to draw a walk to load the bases again with two outs. However, Florida brought in their closer, Michael Byrne, who was able to get an out to end the innings and leave the ducks on the pond.

That would loom large in the ninth inning, when the Wildcats were able to string together some offense. After pinch-hitter Brayden Combs was hit by Byrne to lead off the inning, Tristan Pompey was able to get a bloop single into center, and they were advanced over by the next batter. A wild pitch would bring in Combs to make it 9-2, and two batters later they would tack two more on the board with the Cottam home run.

The three runs allowed by Byrne in the ninth inning matched the total runs (three) that he had allowed all season long, so the Wildcats will hopefully take a bit of confidence from that. However, the wasted opportunities were magnified by the fact that they were able to get to him, and could have done more had they not gotten only the one hit in ten at-bats with runners in scoring position on the night.

Kentucky will look to stop the bleeding on Saturday when they close out the series at 1pm at Cliff Hagan Stadium. Kentucky will send senior Justin Lewis to the mound to try to get the first win of the week.