Gators Baseball Falls 4-3 to Arkansas in Series Opener

The No. 4 Florida Gators headed into Fayatteville to open a three game series against the No. 18 Arkansas Razorbacks in front of 7,120 at Baum Stadium, as well as a national audience playing on ESPNU for the network’s Thursday Night SEC Baseball Game of the Week.

Despite another solid outting in the early innings by RHP Hudson Randall (8-2), the Gators fell to the Razorbacks 4-3. In his seven innings, he allowed four runs (earned) on six hits, and struck out five. The Razorback’s righty DJ Baxendale (7-1) had his first career complete game, giving up three runs (two earned) on seven hits, issued one walk, struck out seven, and hit two batters (Smith in the first and Pigott in the seventh).

Both the Gators and Razorbacks scored a run in the first inning, and remained tied until the fifth. With one out, Bryson Smith (CF)  landed on base after getting hit by a Baxendale pitch, and scored from first when Preston Tucker extended his hitting streak to 10 games with a hard shot off short stop Tim Carver’s glove into center field. Tucker was stranded on second after Mike Zunino (C) and Brian Johnson (DH) both struck out. Colin Kuhn (CF) had a one-out triple for Arkansas, and was sent home on a Domninc Ficociello (1b) basehit to center field. James McCann (C) flied out to center field, and Ficociello was caught attempting to steal second to end the inning.

Randall held Arkansas hitless until the sixth, and Baxendale held the Gators to two hits, both singles (Josh Adams (2b) in the second, and Daniel Pigott (LF) in the third) until the fifth inning.

Adams led off the fifth with his second single of the contest, and advanced a base on a sacrifice bunt by Jeff Moyer (3b). He would then score when Pigott doubled through the middle into center field. Baxendale was able to closeout the fifth when he forced Nolan Fontana (SS) to fly out to center, and struck Smith out.

In the Gators’ half of the sixth, with a full count, Tucker hit a solo homerun over the right field fence to put Florida up 2-1. Zunino also extended his streaking streak to 10 games, when he doubled down the left baseline into the corner and advanced to third on a Johnson sacrifice bunt. After Maddox was given a free pass, he advanced to second on the Gators’ second sac bunt of the inning (Adams). However, both runners were left in scoring position as Moyer flied out to right field. In the hosts’ half, Bo Bigham (2b) hit a two-out triple deep to right center, followed by a Kuhn home run to left field to even the score at 3 all. Ficociello grounded out to second for the third out.

In the top of the seventh, the lead off man, Pigott, was sent to first after being hit by a pitch, but Baxendale forced Fontana to ground into a 6-4-3 double play. Smith ended the stanza with a groundout to third. The Razorbacks also had one hit in their half of the inning, a Kyle Robinson (LF) single into left field with one out. The inning ended when the next two batters, Matt Reynolds (3b) and Franco Boyles (DH), had groundouts, leaving Robinson stranded and the score still at 3-3.

Baxendale retired the Gator side in the eighth inning, while Randall gave up a lead-off homerun to Jarrod McKinney (RF) to give the hosts a 4-3 lead. Randall was replaced by RHP Greg Larson, who set down the next three Razorback batters.

For the second straight inning, Baxendale retired the Florida batters in order, completing the game. Florida hasn’t had a series victory in Fayetteville since sweeping the Razorbacks in 2000.

Friday’s game (7:35 pm ET) will be shown on GatorVision and feature two lefties, Brian Johnson (7-1, 2.26 ERA) for the Gators, and Randall Fant (1-3, 2.92 ERA) for the Hogs. Saturday’s game will be televised on ESPNU and begins at 8:00 pm ET.

Dory LeBlanc is a contributing author at GatorsFirst.com and BourbonMeyer.com.  For more thoughts on the Florida Gators (and more) follow Dory LeBlanc on Twitter (@Dory_LeBlanc).

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