Arkansas pitcher DJ Baxendale threw his first career complete game while out-dueling Florida ace Hudson Randall as the No. 18 Razorbacks downed the No. 4 Gators 4-3 Thursday night before 4,874 fans at Baum Stadium.
Collin Kuhn's game-tying homer in the sixth and Jarrod McKinney's go-ahead solo blast in the eighth rallied Arkansas (31-14, 11-11) over Florida (35-11, 7-4) in the first game of a three-game weekend set.
"It was a huge game," Baxendale said. "The first game of every series is huge. We're in the last half of the SEC and everything is getting tight, so it's very important to come out and get that first win. The offense bounced back and the defense did a heck of a job."
Baxendale (7-1) allowed two earned runs on seven hits while fanning seven and walking one in the first effort beyond seven innings of his career.
It was a 127-pitch effort – which just happened to be on national TV as part of ESPNU's Thursday Night SEC Game of the Week - that lifted the Razorbacks into sole possession of first in the Western Division.
It was also the first complete game by a Razorback hurler since Brett Eibner's winning gem at No. 1 Georgia in 2009.
Since Arkansas is in a stretch of five games in five days, it was also great timing according to Van Horn, whose team moved a half-game ahead of Alabama and 1 1/2 ahead of Auburn and Mississippi State in the West race.
"That (complete game) was real big, especially after playing so many games in a row," Van Horn said. "It gives some guys a chance to rest another day. It could make all the difference in the world this time of the season."
Randall (8-2) allowed four runs on six hits with five whiffs while tossing 81 pitches.
"I thought both pitchers really threw the ball well the whole game," Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "It wasn't anything we gave them. They earned it."
Baxendale said the match-up with Randall kept him very focused.
"Hudson Randall is a great pitcher," Baxendale said. "It helps you stay more focused because you know the guy going against you is going to be holding your offense to a low score.
Randall had retired 15 straight before Bo Bigham laced a two-out triple to the right center field gap in the bottom of the sixth.
Two pitches later, Kuhn blasted his fourth homer of the season over the left field fence to tie the game 3-3.
"It's two outs with nobody on and Bigham hits a really good pitch in the gap," O'Sullivan said. "The ball was down. Then we throw a 1-0 change up to Kuhn and he runs into it. There's not much you can do on that obviously."
McKinney then roped only his second homer of the year to the same place for what proved to be the game-winner.
"He had been throwing me sliders all night, but then he finally threw me one I could hit," McKinney said. "I thought it was going to hit the fence."
The rally was Arkansas' 19th one from a deficit this season and improved their mark in one-run games to 12-6.
Florida had taken a 3-1 lead on Daniel Piggot's RBi single in the fifth and Preston Tucker's 10th homer – a solo shot – in the sixth.
It could have been 5-1, but McKinney's diving play of a Jeff Moyer looper in right field in the top of the sixth saved a pair of runs.
McKinney admitted to being more ready to make the play by knowing what might happen.
"When DJ pitches he gets a lot of jam shots or balls off the end of the bat," McKinney said. "They don't square him up much. So I knew I was going to have to be ready to get dirty on it."
Kuhn belted his homer on to tie it soon afterwards.
"The momentum really shifted over to our corner after that," McKinney said. "There weren't many fans here tonight, but they were loud and they really had a presence out there with us."
O'Sullivan thought it was a huge play.
"I thought if we got to four runs, definitely five, I would have felt a little bit better," Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "But I knew they were going to make a run at some point. They're well-coached and they've got some grit to them. I thought five would win it.
"Their rightfielder made a heck of a play, a diving catch on Moyer. That's what teams do when they win games like this. You've got to make plays and that was a heck of a play by McKinney."
After a 21-minute rain delay, both teams plated runs in the opening inning with the Gators scoring an unearned run on a pair of hits.
Bryson Smith scored the tally when Kuhn let Tucker's single get by him in center.
Kuhn redeemed himself by tripling with one out in the bottom of the frame and scoring on Dominic Ficociello's single.
It was part of a night where he tripled, homered and had another hard-hit ball that resulted in a line out to third base.
"He had a good night for us," Van Horn said. "You know, he scored the first run and drove in two more. That was big because we need Collin to get going and he did in a big way."
The two teams will meet again Friday and Saturday nights.
Arkansas will start Randall Fant on Friday night in a 6:35 game.
"I think this win is going to give us a lot of momentum going into the next two games, on through May and carry us on into June," McKinney said. "