LEXINGTON, Ky. -- No. 5 Florida (34-12/13-9 SEC) downed No. 7 Kentucky (36-10/14-8 SEC), 5-3 on Thursday night in the opener of a crucial SEC series between Eastern Division rivals.

With the victory, the Gators moved within a game of the Wildcats in the conference standings.

The Gators used a solo homer by Preston Tucker (2-for-4, two RBIs) in the first inning and a three-run third frame to stake Hudson Randall to a 4-0 lead. The right-hander (5-1) worked into the seventh inning before Steven Rodriguez hurled 2.1 scoreless innings in which he totaled three strikeouts and allowed two hits to register his first save of the season.

Tucker opened the scoring with a two-out solo homer in the first inning to right field off of Taylor Rogers (5-3). His 12th long ball of the season matched Mike Zunino for the team lead and was the third of his career against the Wildcats.

In the bottom of the frame, Thomas McCarthy had a one-out single up the middle but the Gators turned an inning-ending double play when Randall caught Luke Maile looking on strikes and Zunino threw out McCarthy attempting to steal second base.

The Gators plated three more runs on four hits and an error in the third to build a 4-0 advantage. Josh Tobias and Nolan Fontana began the inning with consecutive singles and were sacrificed into scoring position on a bunt by Daniel Pigott.

Tucker then delivered a single into left field that brought in Tobias and a throwing error on the relay by Zac Zellers enabled Fontana to score. After Rogers had Zunino fly out, Brian Johnson roped a two-out single into left field to drive in Tucker for a four-run cushion.

Randall had retired eight Wildcats in a row before Zellers led off the home part of the fifth with a base-hit up the middle. J.T. Riddle advanced his teammate with a sacrifice bunt and Cameron Flynn (2-for-4) put the hosts on the board with an RBI double off of the wall in right-center to narrow the gap to 4-1. Randall had Michael Williams fly out and Matt Reida ground out to complete the inning.

Casey Turgeon started the seventh with a four-pitch walk and Rogers (6.0 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 5 K) was taken out with a 2-0 count on Justin Shafer. Sam Mahar plunked Shafer for two Gators aboard and Tobias laid down a sacrifice bunt to push Turgeon to third and Shafer to second. Mahar jammed Fontana on an infield pop-up and had Pigott line out to right field to strand the runners and keep the Wildcats down by three runs.

Williams (2-for-4) brought Kentucky within 4-3 with a two-out, two-run homer in the bottom of the frame. Randall recorded the first two outs of the frame before Flynn punched a single up the middle. Williams connected on his second homer of the year to left field to cut the Wildcats’ deficit to one run and prompt a pitching change. Rodriguez took over for Randall (6.2 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 4 K, 1 BB) and struck out Reida.

Austin Cousino led off UK’s eighth with a single up the middle and was sacrificed into scoring position by McCarthy. Maile drew a walk for two runners aboard and Rodriguez struck out pinch hitter Lucas Witt. Cousino stole third for runners on the corners and Rodriguez came through with an inning-ending strikeout of Zellers to preserve UF’s slim margin.

Austin Maddox singled into left center to begin the ninth and was replaced on first base by pinch runner Connor Mitchell. Turgeon executed a sacrifice bunt to move Mitchell over and cause a pitching change. Tim Peterson replaced Mahar (2.1 IP, 1 H, 1 R) and Shafer came through with an RBI single into center field that scored Mitchell with an insurance run to give Florida a 5-3 lead. Shafer then took second base on the relay throw to the plate and advanced to third on a grounder by Tobias. However, Peterson had Fontana fly out to end the inning.

With the Wildcats down to their final three outs, Rodriguez had Riddle ground out and Flynn fly out before Williams singled into left field to extend the contest. The southpaw earned save by having pinch hitter Micheal Thomas pop up to first base to end the game. The Gators held a 9-8 advantage in hits and did not commit any errors.