It’s difficult to gauge where Florida’s momentum was entering Friday’s elimination game against Arkansas.
On one hand, the team won 12 of its last 15 regular season games and opened the Southeastern Conference Tournament with an extra-innings thriller against South Carolina.
On the other, the Texas A&M Aggies put UF to shame in a run-ruled 10-0 beat down Thursday.
Regardless, with a return to Gainesville waiting for them if they fell, the seven-seeded Gators rallied to put together a solid 7-5 victory over the three-seeded Razorbacks. The win knocked off the reigning SEC Tournament champions, and kept the Gators fighting through Saturday.
A quiet, three-up-three-down first inning on offense nearly had fans experiencing deja vu. Thursday, Florida was shutout for seven innings by Texas A&M, mustering just one measly hit before suffering a run-rule.
The second inning promptly bucked that trend, starting with a single from freshman right fielder Ty Evans. He advanced to third when junior center fielder Jud Fabian doubled to left field, setting up freshman designated hitter Jac Caglianone with an RBI opportunity. The freshman singled for his 16th and 17th RBIs of the year. After two frames, UF was up 2-0.
On the mound, starting pitcher redshirt junior Nick Pogue kept the Hogs in check for almost his whole start. Allowing just two hits in his first four innings of work, Pogue registered eight strikeouts which tied his career-high.
“It’s hard to hit when you’re behind in the count,” Razorbacks graduate catcher Michael Turner said. “[Pogue] threw a lot of strikes.”
With the offense going dormant once again in the third and fourth innings, Caglianone came up huge for the Gators in the fifth inning. Leading off the frame, the Tampa native delivered the fifth homer of his career in the form of a tracking missile with its sights on the scoreboard in right field.
Three batters later, now with two outs in the frame, sophomore third baseman Colby Halter matched him with a solo shot of his own.
Another three batters after Halter, junior catcher BT Riopelle raked in an RBI double to add another run.
After just one frame, the UF lead ballooned from two to five.
The Razorbacks, with elimination looming, found their first answer of the day. Leadoff batter third baseman Cayden Wallace sent the first pitch of the sixth inning to the left-field bullpen, putting Arkansas on the board.
Right after him was Turner, delivering a solo homer of his own to right field just behind the foul pole. With two runs in two batters, Pogue’s day was finished.
Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan replaced him with redshirt freshman Blake Purnell who got the orange and blue out of the inning with no further damage.
Fabian, who entered Friday’s game without a hit in Hoover, Alabama, added to his productive day of work with a solo home run to left field. His 21st jack of the year brought the UF lead back up to four, and an RBI single for Halter returned the lead to five.
Just like that, the two rebound runs from the Hogs were erased with two of Florida’s own.
“When the other team goes out and scores, we want to help our pitchers out as an offense and go out to score, get the confidence right back up to keep throwing strikes,” Halter said.
All it took for O’Sullivan to replace Purnell was a leadoff single. The Boynton Beach, Florida, native lasted just the one inning before freshman Ryan Slater came in for relief.
He lasted longer than Purnell, making it through the final three innings. Slater made the final inning interesting, allowing a two-run homer that, after a passed ball scored a runner from third, brought Arkansas within two.
Still, an ensuing groundout ended the game and the Hogs’ week in Hoover.
Despite the victory, the road won’t get easier for the Gators. UF is slated to face the loser of the matchup between Texas A&M, who trounced Florida less than 24 hours before Friday’s win, and Alabama, who is red-hot entering the tournament.
Regardless of the opponent, the depth of UF’s bullpen will be put to the test. The start time for Saturday’s game is to be determined.
Carson Cashion is a third-year sports journalism major at UF, and the sports editor at The Alligator for the 2022 summer semester. A native of Altamonte Springs, Carson spends his free time walking his dog, Baxter, and listening to good music. He is an avid Tennessee sports fan, and eagerly awaits watching one of his teams win a championship for the first time.