FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – No. 9 Florida (35-18, 17-12 SEC) led as late as the eighth inning, but fell victim to a walk-off winner by No. 1 Arkansas (41-10, 21-8 SEC) in the bottom of the ninth to drop game two at Baum-Walker Stadium.
Despite coming up short, the Gator offense came out firing on all cylinders following a one-hour and 15-minute weather delay by plating two early runs in the first inning. Nathan Hickey lined a single to right field to get things cooking and later advanced to third on a double down the left field line by Kris Armstrong. With two outs, Kendrick Calilao kept his hot streak going with a clutch, two-run single through the left side to drive in both runners.
Florida added to their lead in the third, as Sterlin Thompson led off the frame with a long home run to straightaway right field for his fourth big fly of the season. That would mark the extent of the scoring for the Gators, who were again blanked in innings three-through-nine for the second consecutive night.
With the Gators on top 3-0, Arkansas responded in the bottom of the second for two runs of their own. Christian Franklin hit a solo shot to right for the first run and Jalen Battles drove in the second with a sacrifice fly to left field.
Gator starter Hunter Barco had his swing-and-miss stuff working early, striking out two Razorbacks apiece through each of the first three frames to finish with six strikeouts heading into the fourth.
After combining for five runs across the first two innings of play, each offense remained quiet through the five frames to follow. Both pitching staffs produced scoreless frames in the third through the seventh innings, as the score held steady at 3-2 in favor of the Gators heading into eighth.
Barco was relieved by Jack Leftwich to open the bottom half of the seventh. Leftwich opened his performance by delivering a shutout inning to send the Gators into the eighth with their lead intact.
In the bottom of the eighth, Arkansas knotted the game up to bring an end to a Florida lead that previously extended all the way back to the opening inning of play. With two outs, Robert Moore hit a solo home run to right field to bring the score to 3-3.
With the game tied in the bottom of the ninth, Arkansas put the leadoff man on third via a double by Casey Opitz, who advanced to third on a fielding error in center field. After getting the first out on a pop-out to Calilao, the Razorbacks walked it off as Charlie Welch drove in Opitz on a double to right field.
Leftwich was saddled with the loss, pitching 2.1 innings and allowing two runs on four hits while striking out four. Barco worked six innings on the mound and allowed just two earned runs on four hits and three walks while striking out eight. The performance marked his third-straight quality start.
Arkansas starting pitcher Caleb Bolden lasted just four innings, surrendering three earned runs on four hits and one walk, striking out seven. Reliever Kevin Kopps earned the win, tossing one clean frame with three strikeouts.
Hickey and Armstrong were the lone Gators to register multiple hits, with both players going 2-for-4 at the plate.
* Barco has now struck out seven-or-more batters in eight starts this season and has notched a quality start in three-straight outings.
* Thompson launched his fourth home run of the season in the contest. All four of the freshman’s long balls have come away from Florida Ballpark.
* Florida falls to 7-11 on the road this season.
FROM HEAD COACH KEVIN O’SULLIVAN
On the way the game unfolded in the later innings…
“First of all, congratulations to Arkansas on the SEC Championship… I thought we played well. I really do. I thought we came out and swung the bats a lot more aggressively than we did obviously last night. Jumped out to a 3-0 lead and I thought we played well for nine innings. Credit [Robert] Moore. He ran into one slider… Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the other team. Obviously, with a runner on third there, we got the first out on the pop-up to [Calilao] and then we did the five-man infield. Tried to throw some sinkers down and in to try to get a ground ball to the left side of the infield. We got to a 3-0 count and we battled back to a 3-2 count and missed our spot there and he hit the ball into the air in right field.”
On Barco’s performance on the mound…
“He did a really nice job. I thought the home run, I’ll have to go back and watch it tonight, but I thought it was a good pitch. I’m not quite sure. The ball got really deep in the strike zone and I’m not quite sure how he got the barrel to it, maybe it was up just a hair. I didn’t think it was a pitch that was going to go out the other way. But, he certainly settled down after the second and really pitched well and gave us a chance to win.”
On Arkansas’ relief pitching…
“I mean, [Caden] Monke was really good. I think he had 22 appearances on the year and only 27 innings. At least the report said he was 88-93 and he just pitches 91-95 tonight. He’s probably the difference in the ballgame, certainly out of the bullpen. He pitched really well, and obviously the guy at the end especially to close it out.”
Florida and Arkansas meet for the third and final game of the series on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET with coverage streaming live on SEC Network+. Fans can also tune in on radio via 103.7 FM in Gainesville, 1010XL in Jacksonville and on any mobile device via the TuneIn app (search for the “Florida Baseball” station).