Pitching lets Gators down in series finale

The Florida pitching staff allowed one run in the first two games of its weekend series against Arkansas, but the first four innings proved to be the problem on Sunday. Starting pitcher A.J. Puk struggled through 2.1 innings before reliever Dane Dunning allowed two runs in his first full inning of work, causing Florida to drop a 9-3 series finale to Arkansas.

The Florida pitchers dominated the first two games of the series, taking a 16-inning scoreless streak into Sunday that was snapped in the first inning. The loss snapped Florida's seven-game winning streak.

"I was really disappointed in the way we started on the mound," Kevin O'Sullivan said. "We didn't command the ball like we needed to. It was really just disappointing. We need to be better than that."

A.J. Puk's struggles weren't only the five hits and two walks. He forgot to cover first base on a ground ball to the right side and crossed up catcher Braden Mattson later.

Arkansas manufactured one run in the first inning after a leadoff two-base error by Florida first baseman Pete Alonso. The Razorbacks continued their scoring in the second inning on a leadoff home run by Jake Wise, the first home run allowed by the Florida pitching staff since February 23, covering 110 innings. A two-run double by Brian Anderson later in the inning pushed the Arkansas lead to 4-0.

The Razorbacks scored more runs in the first two innings of the game (4) than they did in the first two games of the weekend (1). It was also the first time in its last 10 games that the Florida pitching staff gave up more than five runs.

"It just falls on our starter today," O'Sullivan said. "There were other bright spots, but everything starts on the mound and we gave them hope in the first inning."

The Florida offense continued to be stuck in a funk, recording just XX hits and scoring three runs. Justin Shafer got the scoring started with a sacrifice fly in the second inning and Braden Mattson delivered a bases-loaded single to drive in two in the fourth inning. The Gators reloaded the bases in the fourth inning, but nine-hole hitter Buddy Reed grounded into a double play to end the threat.

Florida had just one hit in the final five innings, but O'Sullivan remains optimistic about the way his team is swinging the bat.

"I feel good about our offense and our approaches," O'Sullivan said. "The first couple innings, we hit some balls on the nose. I know we only scored six runs (this weekend), but it was better than six runs in my opinion."

In his first weekend out of the rotation, Karsten Whitson came in relief during the ninth inning and struggled. The redshirt junior allowed two hits and two runs in the final inning

Sunday also signaled the return for center fielder Harrison Bader. The junior returned to the lineup and went 2-4 at the plate with a single and a double. He looked comfortable in center field and will be the team's everyday starter there going forward.

"It was difficult a little bit," Bader said. "You've got a lot of nerves. But physically, I was prepared. I've been working hard and getting at-bats (in practice). I was just a little amped up, but it was good."

The Gators will host Florida State on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the first game of the midweek series between the teams.

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