GAINESVILLE, Fla. – No. 24 Tennessee was unable to hold on to a big lead in the series opener against Florida on Friday night at Alfred A. McKethan Stadium, falling 10-9 to the Gators.
The Volunteers led 9-2 after a five-run fourth inning but did not score for the remainder of the game while the Gators continued to chip away at the lead. A four-run seventh cut the deficit to one run before Nelson Maldonado hit the second of his two home runs to give UF a 10-9 lead in the bottom of the eighth.
Maldonado finished the night with three hits, three runs and three runs batted in while leadoff hitter Brady McConnell also had three hits on the night to go along with an RBI and two runs scored to lead the Florida attack.
Alerick Soularie was one of four UT players to record multiple hits, finishing the night 3-for-5 with a pair of runs and two RBI. The Vols cranked out 13 total hits on the night but had just two hits over the final five innings.
Redmond Walsh fell to 0-2 on the year after giving up what turned out to be the game-winning two-run homer to Maldonado in the eighth. UT’s bullpen gave up four runs in the final two innings after the Gators scored six off of starter Garrett Stallings, who pitched better than his final numbers indicated.
The junior right hander finished the night with nine strikeouts, one off a career high, in six innings of work and walked just one batter on the night but allowed 10 hits as well.
The Vols took advantage of an error by the Gators to take a 1-0 lead in the top of the first. Jay Charleston and Andre Lipcius both singled with one out to put runners on the corners before Lipcius stumbled while attempting to steal second and was briefly caught in a rundown. Luckily for UT, first baseman Kendrick Calilao’s throw was errant, which allowed Lipcius to get back to first and Charleston to score from third.
Tennessee’s lead did not last long as Florida bounced back with two runs in the bottom of the first to take a 2-1 lead. Will Dalton brought in both runs with a base hit back up the middle that was part of a string of four straight singles off of Stallings after he struck out the first two batters of the inning.
The Big Orange struck for three runs in the third inning to retake the lead. Lipcius drove in his 48th run of the year with a sacrifice fly prior to Soularie and Jake Rucker driving in runs with a pair of two-out RBI singles to make it 4-2.
The Orange and White continued their hot hitting in the fourth, scoring five runs on six hits in the inning to extend their lead to 9-2. Charleston, Soularie and Evan Russell all had RBI hits in the inning as the Vols chased Gators’ starter Tommy Mace from the game after just 3.1 innings pitched.
Florida answered back with a run in the bottom of the fourth to cut the deficit to six runs. Jacob Young doubled down the left-field line and came in to score on an RBI single by McConnell later in the inning. A leadoff solo home run in the fifth by Maldonado cut into the Vols’ lead once again, making it a 9-4 game.
The Gators continued to fight their way back and cut the Vols’ lead to a single run with a four-run seventh inning. Stallings gave up back-to-back singles to start the inning before being pulled from the game in favor of Richard Jackson. The redshirt senior struck out the first batter he faced but hit the next two batters to allow a run to score. Andrew Schultz entered the game and walked the only batter he faced before UT elected to go to closer Redmond Walsh. Young lined the first pitch he saw from Walsh into left center to plate two more runs and make it a 9-8 game heading into the eighth.
Nolan Crisp retired the Vols in order in the top of the eighth to set the stage for Maldonado’s go-ahead blast in the bottom of the inning that gave the Gators their first lead since the second inning.
Tennessee made things interesting in the top of the ninth, getting the tying run in scoring position before Crisp got Ricky Martinez to line out to right field to end the game. Crisp earned the win to improve to 4-2 on the year after tossing two shutout innings.
TAKE A SEAT: Garrett Stallings got a lot of swings and misses on Friday night, finishing the game with nine strikeouts. The nine punchouts were a new career high in an SEC games for Stallings and one shy of his overall career high set against Louisiana Monroe earlier this season.
UP NEXT: UT will look to even the series with Florida tomorrow afternoon in game two of the weekend series. First pitch is set for 3 p.m. and the game will be televised live on the SEC Network. Fans can also listen live as John Wilkerson calls the action for the Vol Radio Network (FM 99.1/AM 990).