Gators Back on the Road in Tough Environment

After sweeping a seven-game homestand, the challenge now becomes taking the momentum on the road for the No. 4 Gators. They hit the road this weekend for a series that starts on Thursday night at Arkansas (30-14/10-11 SEC). It won't be an easy environment to play in. During the Razorbacks last home conference series, Baum Stadium averaged more than 9,000 in attendance.

The nightmares in Fayetteville two years ago are tough for the Gators to forget. Florida started conference play in 2009 in Fayetteville, and by the time it returned to Gainesville, the Gators were staring at an 0-3 conference record after getting swept.

In front of raucous crowds, Florida lost three games by a combined score of 23-10. A sophomore class that wasn't on the roster two years ago leads the current Florida team, but it's an environment at Baum Stadium that Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan has made them fully aware of.

"We have a tough place to go to in Arkansas," O'Sullivan said after Florida's 11-0 win over Bethune-Cookman Tuesday night. "It's one of the tougher places to play in this league. It's going to be a tough challenge."

It will provide a chance for Florida to see how they play in big environments. After recording a sweep at LSU, widely regarded as the toughest place in America to play, during the first weekend of conference play, the Gators proved they can play in tough environments.

However, after going through an 8-8 stretch during the middle of the season, Florida now takes its improved play on the road.

"It's good for our team, though," O'Sullivan said. "We need this challenge. If we want to be able to play well at the end of the year, we're going to have to play in tough environments. It's certainly not going to be easy."

Pitching hasn't been a problem for the Gators on the weekend. The struggles came when dominant pitching slowed the offense, but that changed in the seven-game homestand.

"The thing that has really taken us to another level is our offense," O'Sullivan said. "We're really starting to swing the bats from top to bottom (of the lineup). We're not just talking about one of two guys. There are multiple guys that are contributing."

The series gets started on Thursday night on ESPNU. Florida will send right-hander Hudson Randall (8-1, 1.75) against Arkansas right-hander D.J. Baxendale (6-1, 1.50). The matchup of sophomores feature two sophomores with different styles. Randall depends on his location and having the hitters put the ball in play for easy outs. Baxendale has record 46 strikeouts in 48 innings of work. First pitch is set for 7:30.

Game two will start at 7:35 on Friday and will feature a pair of lefthanders. Florida will hand the ball to sophomore Brian Johnson (7-1, 2.26) against Arkansas sophomore Randall Fant (1-3, 2.92). Opponents are hitting .227 against Fant, and he has only allowed one home run all season.

The series will conclude on Saturday at 8 p.m. and will also be shown on ESPNU. Florida will send freshman Karsten Whitson (6-0, 2.03) to the mound in the series finale against a pitcher to be announced for the Razorbacks.

The Arkansas lineup doesn't have much power. Only two players have more than four home runs for the team, and the Razorbacks have hit 28 home runs this season to put them in the middle of the pack in the SEC. Arkansas' team batting average of .272 is the worst in the SEC.

Freshman first baseman Dominic Ficociello leads the team with a .346 batting average and has launched four home run and driven in 38 RBIs. Junior catcher James McCann is hitting .322 with six home runs and 27 RBIs. Kyle Robinson has a team-high seven home runs.

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