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Florida fends off Ole Miss, finishes sweep

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Ole Miss erased most of a five-run deficit Sunday, but not all of it.

The Rebels scored three unanswered runs in the later innings to claw their way back into the game, and had the tying run at the plate in the ninth, but couldn’t get it home and lost 6-4 to Florida in their series finale Sunday.

Florida capped a three-game sweep of Ole Miss (29-20, 11-13 Southeastern Conference) with its ninth consecutive victory. Coupled with Kentucky’s 6-3 loss to Georgia on Sunday, it vaulted the Gators (35-13, 16-8) in front of the Wildcats (32-16, 15-9) for first place in the SEC East.

“It was a really complete weekend,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We played good defense, we swung the bats well against the best pitching staff top to bottom, statistically, in the league. We put ourselves in a nice position.”

Ole Miss dropped to sixth place in the SEC West, three games behind fifth-place Texas A&M and five behind division leader Mississippi State with six conference games left.

The Rebels finish the regular season with a home series against Texas A&M and a three-game road set at Auburn.

Ole Miss blew a four-run lead in losing game two of the series with Florida, and couldn’t come back from a similar deficit in game three.

Florida took a 6-1 lead by scoring twice in the fourth inning and three times in the fifth. Nelson Maldonado singled in one run and scored another, Ryan Larson hit a solo home run and Christian Hicks an RBI double to key the surge.

Tate Blackman led off the sixth inning with a home run to get one run back for Ole Miss, and then led off the eighth with a double to start another rally. Blackman scored on a triple by Colby Bortles, who in turn scored on a groundout by Tim Rowe to cut it to 6-4.

Thomas Dillard led off the ninth inning with a walk to bring the tying run to the plate for the Rebels, but they never succeeded. Florida closer Michael Byrne coaxed three straight fly ball outs from the Rebels to end the game and earn his 13th save of the season.

Byrne tied Florida’s single-season school record for saves.

Jackson Kowar (8-2) allowed two runs in 6 2/3 innings to earn the win. He walked one batter, struck out three, and gave up six hits.

Ole Miss starter David Parkinson (5-3) took the loss after allowing three runs in 3 1/3 innings. Reliever Greer Holston also allowed three runs, in only 1 1/3 innings.

Blackman went 2-for-3 with a home run, double, RBI and two runs scored for the Rebels, and Nick Fortes was 3-for-4 with two RBIs.

Larson and Jonathan India both hit solo home runs for Florida, while Maldonado drove in one run and scored two more.