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UF Baseball: No. 1 Arkansas Out-Pitches Ninth-Ranked Gators to Claim Series Opener

Photo by Walt Beazley

Courtesy of University Athletic Association

BY SULLIVAN BORTNER

No. 9 Florida (35-17, 17-11 SEC) grabbed an early lead in game one at No. 1 Arkansas (40-10, 20-8 SEC), but Razorback pitching rallied to produce seven consecutive innings of scoreless baseball and the Gators dropped the opener by a 6-1 score.

Staying red hot at the plate, Kendrick Calilao opened the scoring in the second inning with a solo home run to left field to put the Gators on top, 1-0. The home run marked Calilao’s fourth over Florida’s last seven games as well as the Gator first baseman’s 11th hit during that span.

Florida starter Tommy Mace cruised through the first two frames, facing just seven batters and striking out three. The Gator ace then ran into trouble in the third inning, as the Razorbacks loaded up the bases on a Casey Opitz double and pair of walks. Bearing down with two men down, Mace induced a lazy fly ball to Jud Fabian in center field to work Florida out of the jam.

Despite escaping unscathed in the third, Arkansas knotted up the game in the fourth inning on an Opitz RBI single to right. Mace stepped up and limited the damage, however, striking out three in the frame, including an inning-ending punch-out of Zack Gregory.

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Arkansas grabbed hold of the lead in the fifth, with Cayden Wallace sneaking a fly ball just inside the right field foul pole for a solo home run to make it 2-1. Following Mace’s exit from the game in favor of Trey Van Der Weide with two outs and two men on, the Razorbacks extended their lead thanks to an Opitz RBI single to left field.

Thereafter, the game held steady at 3-1 up until the bottom of the eighth inning. After getting two quick outs on just two pitches to open the frame, reliever Christian Scott ran into trouble. Arkansas put two on via a double and intentional walk before Wallace made it a 6-1 Razorback lead with his second homer of the night.

Mace was saddled with his first loss of the year, pitching 4.2 innings and allowing three earned runs on five hits and four walks while striking out eight batters. Van Der Weide provided two scoreless innings of relief, scattering two hits and walking one with three strikeouts to his credit.

Arkansas starting pitcher Patrick Wicklander earned the victory, tossing six innings with one earned run allowed on three hits and one walk, striking out eleven. Kevin Kopps was credited with the save, contributing three shutout innings of relief on one walk and five strikeouts.

NOTABLES

  *   Calilao’s second-inning home run marked his fourth big fly in Florida’s last seven games as well as his 11th hit and eighth RBI during that span. Over the course of those seven games, Calilao is slashing a team-high .458/.519/.958.
  *   Mace’s eight-strikeout performance represented his eighth start with seven or more strikeouts of the 2021 season. On the other side of the coin, his four walks were a season high.
  *   Second baseman Cory Acton extended his on-base streak to 15 games by drawing an eighth-inning walk.

FROM HEAD COACH KEVIN O’SULLIVAN

On the pitching the Gators faced in game one…
“We struck out, I think, 16 times tonight and obviously when you do that, it’s really difficult to string along any type of innings or any type of momentum. Credit Arkansas’ pitchers. They were really good tonight. I would expect us to bounce back tomorrow and have a better night offensively, but the amount of strikeouts didn’t help our cause tonight.”

On Mace’s ability to work out of jams early…
“I thought he pitched fine. Arkansas is playing at a high level. They battled with two strikes and they competed. We talked about that. One of the things coming into the weekend was Arkansas has probably been the one team in our league that’s figured out how to play as a group probably earlier than anybody else in our league. That’s why they’re in the position that they are. With the same token, coming in we were 11-4 over our last 15 in the league and we were playing well, too. And we are playing well. We just got beat tonight.”

On the impact of the lively Arkansas crowd…
 “I didn’t think the crowd had much to do with our play. I just thought that when you’re playing teams like Arkansas, or you’re playing teams like Florida or Vanderbilt, or other teams in our league for that matter, when teams are playing really good, all the little things get magnified. I thought Tommy pitched good and made some big pitches when he needed to, but obviously the hit-by-pitch to start the inning and when you’re facing offenses like Arkansas, so they don’t get a whole lot of momentum, when you have an opportunity to close out innings, you have to do that.”

UP NEXT
Florida and Arkansas meet again for game two of the three-game series on Friday at 8 p.m. ET with coverage airing on SEC Network. Fans can also tune in on radio via WRUF 850 AM/98.1 FM in Gainesville, 1010XL in Jacksonville, and on any mobile device via the TuneIn app (search for the “Florida Baseball” station).

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