Georgia outlasted second-ranked Florida 2-1 in 12 innings Thursday in front of 3,256 at McKethan Stadium.
Georgia (21-18, 7-9 SEC) improved to 7-9 against the top 25 this year including 3-1 against a team ranked No. 2. It was the first series-opening loss for the Gators this season as they dropped to 34-6 overall and 11-5 in the SEC.
Senior Heath Holder notched his first career win as he provided 3.2 innings of scoreless relief after junior Robert Tyler held the Gators in check through 8.1 innings. Tyler and junior left-hander A.J. Puk, both projected as premium picks in the upcoming Major League draft, were locked in a duel for much of the night. Tyler allowed one run on eight hits with a walk and nine strikeouts. Puk was lifted in the seventh after giving up just one run on three hits with 10 strikeouts.
Florida pushed across a run in the first and that looked to be enough until the seventh when Georgia tied the contest. With one out in the first, Florida’s Deacon Liput lined a double to right field and scored on a two-out, RBI-single by JJ Schwarz. Georgia threatened in the first, putting two runners in scoring position but came up empty. Senior Nick King (3-for-6, RBI) led off with a base hit and eventually made his way to third on a couple of stolen bases while Skyler Weber singled and stole second. However, Puk battled back to strikeout freshman Michael Curry to keep the Bulldogs off the scoreboard.
Puk had retired 18 in a row until junior Trevor Kieboom led off the seventh with a double. He got Keegan McGovern to pop out and struck out Curry to bring up senior Daniel Nichols. On a 2-2 offering, Nichols tied the game with a ground-rule double to right. In the ninth, Kieboom led off with his second double, but the Bulldogs could not bring him home as Florida’s bullpen combination of Kirby Snead and closer Shaun Anderson combined for two strikeouts and a groundout to keep it tied. The Gators had a chance in their half of the ninth, putting two on with one out as Tyler exited in favor of Holder. The right-hander came on registered a pair of strikeouts to send it to extra innings.
“Both starting pitchers were outstanding in front of scouts from every Major League team, and I’m proud of my team for hanging in there and coming through with a big win tonight,” Georgia’s Ike Cousins baseball coach Scott Stricklin said. “Our backs were against the wall, and this was a huge opening win in the series. We’re excited tonight, but then we have to turn the page and get ready for game two and a chance to win a road series.”
Georgia finally broke through in the 12th after having the leadoff batter reach in the ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th frames. In the 12th, junior Stephen Wrenn reached on an infield single and took second on a base hit by freshman LJ Talley. Both Bulldogs moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt by Mitchell Webb. King followed with an RBI-single to center to put the Bulldogs in front 2-1. In the bottom of the inning, Holder (1-2) pitched around a leadoff strikeout wild pitch to retire the next three Gators and notch his first career win. Gator reliever Frank Rubio dropped to 3-1.
The game lasted 4:05 and marked Georgia’s sixth game this year that has eclipsed the four-hour mark. The Bulldogs are 4-2 in extra innings while the Gators are now 2-2.
The series continues Friday with first pitch scheduled for 7 p.m. on the SEC Network. Georgia will start junior left-hander Connor Jones (5-2, 5.08 ERA) and the Gators will counter with junior right-hander Logan Shore (7-0, 2.50 ERA).