Florida 5, Arkansas 4
Florida right fielder Jonathan Pigott turned a spectacular double play in the ninth inning Thursday, preventing two Arkansas runs from scoring and preserving a 5-4 Florida win in the second round of the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala.
Arkansas had runners on first and third with one out in the inning when James McCann lined a ball into the gap in right-center field. It looked like the ball would get down for a base hit before Pigott made a fully-extended diving catch for the second out of the inning and then firing a relay throw back to first base to tag Razorback shortstop Tim Carver and end the game.
"I thought it was in the gap off the bat," McCann said. "We gave ourselves a chance to win but they made the play. Things just didn't go our way. There's nothing more you could have asked from our team"
Brett Eibner, pinch-running for Matt Reynolds, did score before the relay to first but it wasn't enough as the No. 4 Gators eliminated the No. 15 Razorbacks from the tournament with the win.
It was a battle of left-handed pitching for much of the afternoon as Florida starter Alex Panteliodis and Arkansas' Drew Smyly turned in equally impressive performances. Smyly, the normal No. 1 starter for the Razorbacks, pitched the fourth inning-on out of the bullpen as he was kept out of the starting rotation with a blister on his throwing hand.
Smyly responded by tossing 86 pitches in five innings of work, giving up just one earned run on five hits and striking out six batters in relief of Arkansas starter Mike Bolsinger, who picked up the loss in a three-inning outing.
"I felt fine, just as good as any other weekend," Smyly said. "We didn't want my blister to rip open and not be able to play in regionals. I had some derma bond medical glue put on there and it didn't bother me at all. I was excited to play and told coach that I wanted to pitch in the tournament. I thought I pitched well but I guess things just didn't go our way today."
Panteliodis earned the win by working 6 2/3 innings of three-run baseball for the Gators (41-14). The lefty retired the first 11 Razorback batters he faced and struck out five for the game.
Florida backed up its starter with clutch two-out hitting. Austin Maddox' two-out RBI singles in the first and third innings gave the Gators a 2-0 lead and Brian Johnson followed with a two-out RBI single of his own in the third to make it 3-0.
"Hats off to Florida because they made some really great plays," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "Alex pitched very well for them and got them off to a good start. They got three runs with two outs; I think four of the five runs were with two outs."
Arkansas finally roughed up Panteliodis in the fourth with a two-out rally of its own. Travis Sample reached with a two-out double and scored one batter later on a Monk Kreder RBI single to pull the Razorbacks within 3-1.
Mistakes would be costly from that point on for the Hogs, however, starting in the bottom of the fourth when Cody Dent scored from third while Nolan Fontana was caught in a rundown between first and second base. While he was eventually tagged out to end the inning, Florida extended its lead to 4-1.
The mistakes continued in the top half of the fifth. Razorback designated hitter Tom Hauskey led off the inning with a double but was thrown out at third base in the next at-bat on a base-running blunder when the ball was hit to the left side of the infield. Kyle Atkins recorded the second out of the inning by fouling off a bunt attempt with two strikes.
The Razorbacks (40-18) did catch a break later in the inning, though. What looked like a routine fly to right field turned into a two-run triple for Collin Kuhn as then-Florida right fielder Preston Tucker lost the ball in the sun. The mistake pulled Arkansas within 4-3.
But it was as close as the Hogs could get. Florida tacked on a run in the eighth on a Josh Adams sacrifice bunt RBI to score Tucker and give the Gators a 5-3 lead. Tucker, who moved to first base in the eighth inning allowing Pigott to move to right field, had reached base after third baseman Andy Wilkins collided full-speed with Smyly on a pop-up in the infield.
Wilkins left the game with a bloody nose but is expected to be OK. That was about the only good news that came out of the tournament for the Razorbacks, already banged up and without starters Zack Cox (back) and Brett Eibner (hand) for the SEC Tournament.
Arkansas will now return home to Fayetteville and wait on the NCAA for its next move. The Hogs are believed to be in good shape to host an NCAA Regional next weekend at Baum Stadium following a 40-win regular season and an RPI in the nation's top 10. Arkansas hasn't hosted a postseason regional since 2007.
"I am hoping our big hits come next weekend because we didn't have any this weekend," Van Horn said. "We got one and it was given to us a little bit by the sun. I think we fought and gave ourselves a chance to come back and win it against (Kevin) Chapman. That was a tremendous play by the right fielder. Hopefully we will get healed up and play better next weekend."
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