No. 7 Gator Face Huge Test vs. No. 9 Arkansas

For the Gator baseball team to contend for an SEC Championship down the stretch, the Gators have to have a good weekend. Florida (26-10, 10-5) hosts SEC leading Arkansas (32-6, 12-3) in a three game series beginning tonight (Friday) in Gainesville. The Razorbacks have won 12 straight games including eight in the SEC and are looking to continue their recent domination of the Gators on the diamond.

Arkansas beat the Gators five times last season, sweeping the regular season series in Fayetteville and taking two more games at the SEC Tournament to eliminate the Gators from that event. Four the five games were decided by three runs or more and overall the Hogs outscored the Gators 41-22. Two years ago the Razorbacks won two of three in Gainesville and they also swept the Gators at home in 2007, giving them 10 wins in the last 11 games between the schools,

This year's Arkansas team is outstanding offensively; leading the SEC with 347 runs (9.1/g). Zack Cox (.449, 6, 43) is one of the top hitters in the SEC and has an on-base percentage of over .500. He has plenty of support from guys like Collin Kuhn (.392, 8, 31). Kuhn also is perfect in 15 stolen base attempts. Bo Bigham (.364) gives them another hitter among the top ten in the SEC.

Arkansas also has a strong SEC Player of the Year candidate in Brett Eibner (.333, 13, 44). Eibner is also one of the top pitchers for the Razorbacks (3-2, 3.38) and is expected to be on the hill for Saturday afternoon's game.

Friday night Arkansas will send out lefty Drew Smyly (5-0, 1.99) who is among the best starters in the SEC. T.J. Forrest (6-0, 2.60) and Christian Kowalch (3-0, 1.23) head up a deep bullpen and D.J. Baxendale is the closer with seven saves. However Baxendale does have a pretty hefty ERA at 4.46.

Florida is ranked higher in the Baseball America poll, but the Razorbacks are high up there according to the other three rankings --- College Baseball Magazine (No. 4 vs. No. 12), USA Today (No. 7 vs. No. 11) and the college baseball writers (No. 6 vs. No. 12).

Friday night's game is at 6:30 with Saturday and Sunday set for 1:00. Only Saturday's game is televised.


The Gators continue to be led by freshman DH Austin Maddox who is putting together a monster year (.364, 12, 45). Maddox leads the team in most offensive categories. Preston Tucker seems to have found his power stroke of late and enters the weekend hitting .356 with seven HR. A real key for the Gators is to get Josh Adams back. The two-time All-SEC pick is hitting just .135 (7-for-52) in SEC play after ripping conference pitching at a .359 clip a year ago.


The Arkansas series ends an eight-game road trip for the Gators who haven't played a home game in 17 days. Florida went 5-and-3 away from home including taking SEC series at Tennessee and Kentucky two games to one. The Gators have been outstanding at home this season winning 18 of 20 games including five of six in SEC play.


Sophomore lefty Alex Panteliodis (6-1, 2.66) will take the mound tonight while freshman right hander Hudson Randall (3-3, 4.12) gets the call Saturday afternoon. On Sunday Florida is hoping to be able to go with freshman lefty Brian Johnson (3-2, 3.47) who missed last weekend with a mild muscle strain. If Johnson can't go, Florida could turn to freshman Steven Rodriguez who pitched five scoreless innings out of the bullpen last Sunday in Lexington.


As the second half of the SEC season begins there are four prime contenders for division and conference championships. Arkansas (12-3) and LSU (11-4) head up the West, while South Carolina (11-4) and Florida (10-5) are tops in the East. South Carolina is at Georgia (3-12) this weekend while LSU visits Ole Miss (8-7). Florida hosts LSU next weekend and travels to Columbia to face South Carolina May 20-22 to finish up the regular season.

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