Photo by Brian Fox | ChompTalk

After a tough series loss against LSU and a disastrous weekend being swept by Georgia, the unrelenting schedule of weekend series continued as the Gators welcomed No. 2 Arkansas to town on Thursday.

On paper, Arkansas is excellent defensively: top-5 in fielding percentage and top-20 in ERA. The Hogs’ backed up the numbers, putting their defensive prowess on full display in the opening game.

Florida (19-11, 3-7 SEC) fell to No. 2 Arkansas (23-5, 8-2 SEC) in a brutal offensive outing for the Gators. Florida had as many runners on base as it did HBPs with four on the evening. Insult turned to more insult as the Razorbacks poured it on in their final frame.

“I felt the entire game, the pressure was on us to do something good,” catcher BT Riopelle said. “It almost seemed [like] we were waiting for something bad to happen.”

From the jump, the game looked to be a pitchers duel. Neither team recorded a hit after a leadoff single from Colby Halter. Hunter Barco and Arkansas’ Connor Noland traded three up, three down innings until the Razorbacks put two runners on base with a pair of walks. A tricky pop-up in the infield, some possible assistance from an uncalled interference, broke the stalemate and put the Hogs on board, 1-0.

Arkansas struck again in the fifth. After Barco hit opposing batter Zach Gregory with a pitch, the Razorbacks’ lead-off hitter Cayden Wallace put the ball in the right field gap to add another run to the scoreboard. Barco also let up an error on the play and advanced Wallace to first.

The game was still certainly in reach for the Gators despite a rocky start. That is, until things began to come apart at the seams in the top of the sixth.

Arkansas homered to left field on just the third pitch of the inning. The following two pitches, Barco let up a single and threw a wild pitch to advance the runner to second. After allowing another walk, Florida’s ace was relieved of his duties at that point in favor of the back end of the Gator bullpen, which has been the source of many a struggle this season. Tyler Nesbitt was handed the reigns first, allowing a single before working himself out of a jam.

The relievers held their own for the most part, allowing zero runs, until Nick Ficarrotta gave up two bombs in three pitches to increase the lead to five in the top of the ninth. Arkansas added two more as Florida ran a carousel of pitchers to try and close the frame.

Florida managed one run in the ninth, but it was far too little and far too late. The outing was a wholly disappointing performance for head coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s group.

“We’re trying get some momentum,” O’Sullivan said. “We felt like if we kept it to a three run game, anything could happen, but we let it get away from us again. It’s like a chain. Everyone’s gotta do their job and until we get to that point, we’re gonna struggle.”

Key Performances:

  • Sterlin Thompson
    • 4 AB, 0 H, 1 RBI
  • Colby Halter
    • 4 AB, 2 H (Single, Double), 1 R

Pitching Decision:

  • W: Connor Noland (ARK, 5-1)
    • 7.0 IP, 1 H, 1 ER
  • L: Hunter Barco (UF, 5-2)
    • 5.0 IP, 4 H, 3 ER
  • Save: Zebulon Vermillion (ARK, 2)
    • 2.0 IP, 2 H, 1 ER

On Deck

Florida will be back in action vs. the Razorbacks tomorrow. Brandon Sproat is expected to start on the mound tomorrow. With the best of the Gators’ bullpen behind them, picking up a win in the rest of the weekend series is going to be a struggle against a stout Arkansas defense.

First pitch on Friday is set for 6:30 p.m.

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