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Monday, March 04, 2024

HOOVER, Ala. – It took just over a year, but the Gators finally exacted their revenge on the Razorbacks.

Arkansas handed Florida two losses to oust it from last season’s double-elimination tournament, but things went differently this time around.

On Thursday, No. 4 UF (41-14) hung on to prevail 5-4 over No. 15 Arkansas (40-18) to knock it out of the SEC Tournament.  The Gators are still alive and will attempt to avoid elimination for the second straight day tomorrow at 8 p.m. against Vanderbilt.

“My freshman year (last season), things weren’t too hot,” UF pitcher Alex Panteliodis said. “It feels really good to a get a win finally against Arkansas.”

However, things could have been a lot different if it wasn’t for a diving catch by right fielder Jonathan Pigott, who came into game in the seventh inning.

The Gators entered the final frame up 5-3, but the Razorbacks were able to put runners on the corners against UF closer Kevin Chapman. With just one out, James McCann came up to the plate as the winning run with a chance to tie or even take the lead.

McCann saw a pitch he liked and smashed it into the right-center field gap, but Pigott tracked it down and made a diving snag to steal a game-tying double away from Arkansas.

“Off the bat I thought it was in the gap,” McCann said. “We gave ourselves a chance to win there, but they made the play.”

Pigott then got up and had the presence of mind to initiate a game-ending double play. He gunned the ball into the infield to catch the runner on first, who could not make it back to the base in time after taking off as soon as the ball was hit.

But earlier in the game, the defense in right field hurt the Gators.

Preston Tucker, who was playing only his sixth game of the year in right field, lost a lazy fly ball in the sun, which allowed two Arkansas runners to score in the fifth. He misplayed a ball in the seventh, too.

“I know Tucker had a tough day in right field, but he’s a good outfielder,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “He made a mistake. He needs to check the sun every inning and have his glasses ready – that was a mistake he won’t make again.”

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Panteliodis was able to overcome the defensive lapse, though. He lasted 6.2 innings and gave up just three earned runs, two of them off of Tucker’s mistake.  The sophomore pitched from ahead in the count for most of the game as 61 of his 89 pitches went for strikes.

“I was a little mad, but you have to take the sun into factor,” Panteliodis said. “That type of stuff happens all the time. I wasn’t happy with it, but we got out of the inning.”

Florida gave its pitcher an early lead as the offense chased Arkansas pitcher Mike Bolsinger out of the game after three innings.

Maddox hit a pair of two-out RBI singles off of the right-hander to help the Gators get out to a 4-1 lead in the fourth. All four of those early runs came with two outs.

But UF couldn’t build on that momentum once second-team All-SEC pitcher Drew Smyly came into the game. The sophomore was not expected make an appearance in the conference tournament because of a blister, but he looked fine in relief Thursday.

He held the Gators to just one earned run in five innings.

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