Razor-burned; Gators Ousted From SEC Tourney

It turns out that Arkansas was the main nemeses for the Florida Gators all season. The Razorbacks went a perfect 5-0 against the Gators including a 3-0 sweep at the beginning of SEC regular season play. The Hogs eliminated Florida from the SEC tournament with a 10-7 win that saw the Gators make numerous errors mirroring the game the two played on Wednesday.

Florida (39-20) came into the SEC tournament ranked ninth in the country and second in the SEC. Arkansas (34-21) is ranked No. 20 and finished seventh in the SEC. Three days into the tournament and the "outmatched" Razorbacks have gone 2-1 with both wins coming against Florida.

The day was marred by pitching and fielding mistakes. Although only two errors by the Gators, the two were very costly and nine wild pitches added up to a bad day on defense for the ninth ranked team in the country.

"The bottom line is that you have to pitch and play defense," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "We have been saying that all year, and unfortunately we did not do that in two games in this tournament. We will work awfully hard this week to prepare for the regionals. I can promise you that."

The loss eliminates Florida from the SEC tournament while Arkansas moves on to play another day.

After a scoreless first inning, the Razorbacks got on the board in the second with two unearned runs after sloppy pitching and fielding in the inning. Gator starter Nick Maronde gave up a lead off double in the inning to designated hitter Travis Sample. Maronde then threw a wild pitch that advanced Sample to third. After a walk to third baseman Bo Bigham, Razorback right fielder Jarrod McKinney reached first base on a fielding error by Gator short stop Mike Mooney, scoring Sample and advancing Bigham to third. A sacrifice bunt scored Bigham and finally Maronde was able to retire the side with a long fly out.

Both the Gators and Razorbacks went scoreless in the third but after Maronde hit two batters and then threw a wild pitch to advance a runner, Gator head coach Kevin O'Sullivan decided to make a change at the mound. With one out in the third pitcher Greg Larson was inserted and was able to finish the inning on a ground out double play from second baseman Josh Adams to Mooney, to first baseman Preston Tucker.

The Gators finally got on board in the fourth inning when left fielder Avery Barnes singled to lead off the inning. A quick out and Barnes stole second base. Tucker walked a few pitches later before Adams singled to load the bases. The Razorbacks went home on a ground ball to get the first out. The Gators got a break when a Brandon McArthur single resulted in a poor throw that cleared the bases and the Gators had their only lead of the day 3-2. Matt den Dekker walked for the Gators and stole second, but catcher Buddy Munroe struck out looking to end the inning.

Bad pitching and fielding raised their ugly heads again in the fourth as Larson hit the first batter and then threw a home run ball to third baseman Zack Cox. Two more singles later and Tony Davis was in to relieve Greg Larson. Davis gave up a double to the first batter he saw scoring the third run of the inning. Another walk and throwing error by Mooney and the Hogs had two more runs in the books making it a five run inning. The Gators brought in Jeff Barfield who threw one pitch and a ground out to end the inning.

With the score 7-3, both teams went scoreless in the fifth but Barfield got into early trouble giving up a single and a walk before giving way to pitcher Milly Bullock who came in and struck the next batter out and was part of a double play when Gator catcher Buddy Munroe threw out Cox trying to steal second base. That play ended the inning.

Josh Adams tried to get something going in the sixth with a one out single. After a pop fly had him still at first, Adams caught in a pick off by the pitcher when he left too early and tagged out to end the inning.

Arkansas got another run in the sixth with a lead off walk by catcher James McCann who advanced to second on a ground out by the next batter. McCann came home on a single by center fielder Collin Kuhn. The Gators ended the inning and recorded their third and last double play of the day showing the dichotomy of defensive play they have had in five games against the Razorbacks.

Florida came alive in the seventh inning getting two runners in scoring position before an Arkansas throwing error scored McArthur who singled and den Dekker who doubled to lead off the inning. The Gators scored two more runs when right fielder Jonathan Pigott became the first Florida player to hit three home runs in the SEC Tournament since Chuck Hazard did it in 1996.

With the score 8-7 the Razorbacks relied on clutch hitting to score two more runs in the bottom of the seventh. The Gators inserted their sixth pitcher of the contest when closer Patrick Keating entered the game with one out in the inning. Keating gave up one run on a sacrifice bunt and after a wild pitch retired the side.

"I thought [Arkansas'] pitching did a nice job," O'Sullivan said. "The bottom line is that the game came down to the fact that we didn't stop them after we scored. Once again, the big inning hurt us. We scored three runs in the fourth but then gave up five in the bottom of the inning, and then we scored four in the top of the seventh and then gave up two more in the bottom of the inning. We could never quite gain the momentum." McArthur reiterated the importance of being able to play defense.

"I think today, we swung the bats the best we have all year against [Arkansas]," McArthur said. "We got down, and then we came back and took the lead. We had momentum, and we just could not hold on to it. We continued to swing the bats well the whole game, but when the defense and the pitching staff came out, we just couldn't hold it down."

The seven runs were all the Gators would muster on the day as the Razorbacks third baseman Zack Cox move from third base to close the game out from the mound. Cox got the last six batters out to end the game.

Florida pitcher Keating also finished strong getting the Arkansas side of the 8th inning out without a base runner.

The Gators now will await their fate for the NCAA tournament. Most thought coming into the week that Florida, Florida State (42-14), and Miami (36-20) were in a three team race to host two regionals next week. Miami was ousted from the ACC tournament in three games but holds the head to head edge with Florida if that is to matter. The Gators own the series with Florida State this season, but the Seminoles are on a tear and have won the ACC regular season and are primed to win the conference title as well.

The Gators should learn their fate Monday when the NCAA hands out the seedings.


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