Gators rally for 6-3 win over Arkansas in SEC

Florida rallied for five runs in their final two at bats in a 6-3 season opening conference victory over Arkansas. Starter Bryan Ball (4-2) outdueled Arkansas southpaw Nick Schmidt (4-1), who suffered his first loss since May 20 of last season.

The contest was billed as a pitchers duel after the pair participated in a classic last season in Fayetteville. They didn't disappoint the crowd of 1,623, which missed the Florida students- who were off campus enjoying spring break.

"Tonight was a classic pitchers duel on an SEC Friday night," Florida coach Pat McMahon said. "Their pitcher Nick Schmidt was outstanding and Bryan Ball just competed his heart out for us. I'm very proud of his performance. Of course, Darren O'Day was in there at the end. I thought that he pitched very well also."

The umpiring crew was among the worst that I've seen in many years. If the powers that be at the Southeastern Conference offices in Birmingham fail to act on the pathetic efforts of this bunch, a horrible injustice will have been committed. Florida Coach Pat McMahon had to come out of the dugout three times, both benches were also warned with Arkansas hitting coach Todd Butler ejected in the bottom of the eighth for arguing balls and strikes. Who could blame Butler?

Arkansas (16-2, 0-1) first baseman Danny Hamblin led off the second with a single up the middle. James Ewing followed with a single just out of the outstretched glove of third baseman Dave Cash. Hamblin moved to third on Ball's wild pitch. However, Ewing was thrown out on the play by Florida catcher Brian Jeroloman on the play. Designate hitter David Hum hit a fly ball to center scoring Hamblin and the Razorbacks led 1-0.

The Gators (16-6, 1-0) answered in the bottom half of the inning. Cash, who got the start in place of Brandon McArthur, made the most of his opportunity, leading off the inning with a double down the third base line. Schmidt walked Stephen Barton on a full count and yielded a single to Gavin Dickey for the Gators first run.

With none out, and runners on the corners, second baseman Matt Gaski hit the ball toward the bag at short. Arkansas shortstop Matt Willard handled the ball and made the throw to first failing to get Gaski. However, umpire Danny Everett called Dickey for interference on the play, which automatically calls for Gaski to be out and Barton to return to third base. It was a horrible call on Dickey, who in no way interfered with Willard's ability to make the throw to first.

Coach Pat McMahon came out of the dugout and argued the call to no avail. With the double play in hand Schmidt needed only to retire Florida leadoff man Adam Davis to escape the inning. He struck Davis out.

David Cash accounted for two doubles on the day

Schmidt and Ball took control until the seventh, seemingly matching each other out for out. Schmidt allowed only a single to Gaski, while Ball only a double to centerfielder Craig Gentry in the third. Schmidt was aided by a tremendous throw from deep in the hole by freshman shortstop Matt Willard to get SEC Player of the Year Matt LaPorta, who returned to the Gators lineup for the first time in three weeks. The Gators had Gaski on base.

"Pitching against somebody of his (Schmidt's) caliber, there's not going to be a lot of runs given up by him," winning pitcher Bryan Ball said. "He's good and that's no secret. Everybody saw that tonight. He's got good stuff. Yes, there is that thought on my mind (the matchup), but it doesn't change my approach."

Things quickly changed in the seventh.

Hamblin doubled to left field with one out. Ewing again followed with a single. Right fielder Brian Leclerc's throw to get Hamblin at the plate was off-line and allowed Ewing to move to third. Leclerc was tagged for an error on the play. Two batters later, Blake Parker singled home Ewing and the Razorbacks led 3-1.

Just as they did earlier, the Gators answered in their turn of the inning. Cash again led off with a double, this time drilling a fastball to the left-center gap. He moved to third on Barton's grounder to the mound. Gavin Dickey tapped a ball back to the mound as well. However, Schmidt threw the ball wide of the bag, which allowed Cash to score and Dickey to advance to second. Gaski then reached on a throwing error by freshman shortstop Matt Willard, which allowed Dickey to tie the game at three apiece.

Unbelievably, Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn opted to leave Schmidt in against the switch hitting Adam Davis. Sure, he had struck Davis out three times, but Schmidt was over 115 pitches in only his first conference start and the right handed LaPorta was standing on deck. Davis greeted Schmidt with a double down the right field line that scored Gaski

There is no question that McMahon outcoached Van Horn tonight, just as he did Miami's Jim Morris a few weeks ago.

Leading 4-3, Florida added two more runs in the eighth inning against Arkansas reliever Brian McLelland.

McMahon went to closer Darren O'Day in the eighth. The senior four of the six batters that he faced, ending any potential rally by the Razorbacks. O'Day picked up his fourth save of the year.

"I'm very proud of our guys and their effort and the way they competed," McMahon said. "We're working hard to be a very good club. We're not by any means there yet. Our leadoff hitter has a couple of tough AB's early and the runner at second base does a clutch job of coming though. That's the way the game has to be played. You have to keep moving on. You have to move on and do the little things as well as you can."

Ball pitched seven strong innings. He gave up just six hits and two earned runs, while striking out a career high seven. Ball allowed no walks and threw 92 pitches. His location was outstanding.

Schmidt picked up the loss despite allowing just six hits and two earned runs, while striking out 11 Florida hitters. The Gators worked the 6-5 220 sophomore to 60 pitches in just 2.1 innings. He threw 127 pitches and walked four. He mixed the fastball, curveball, and change very well until the end when it was obvious that he had tired.

The teams will play again tomorrow at McKethan Stadium at 4pm. Florida will start Bryan Augenstein (5-0, 1.37 era) against Arkansas' Charley Boyce (2-0, 3.92 era).

Notes: Brandon McArthur bruised his leg fielding a ground ball and was unable to play. LaPorta seemed full speed. However, Coach McMahon used him as the DH today.

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