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Thursday April 26, 2012No. 2 UF Baseball & No. 17 Arkansas Tangle In Key SEC Series

Gainesville, Fla.

After splitting a pair of mid-week games, No. 2 Florida (32-10/11-7 SEC) will conclude its nine-game homestand at McKethan Stadium with an important league series against No. 17 Arkansas (29-12/9-9 SEC). Start times this weekend are at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday (both games on GatorVision Online), with Sunday’s finale to begin at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN. All three games can be heard on Country 103.7 The Gator with Jeff Cardozo and Mick Hubert.

 

The Gators are currently two games behind No. 3 Kentucky (35-7/13-5 SEC) for the top spot in the SEC and in the Eastern Division, while the Razorbacks are three games behind No. 6 LSU (33-9/12-6) in the Western Division standings.

 

In a matchup of right-handers to kick off the weekend, junior Hudson Randall (Atlanta, Ga.) (3-1, 3.52) will oppose Arkansas sophomore Ryne Stanek (6-2, 2.30). Randall will be making his first Friday night start since March 30 at Ole Miss. The righty is 1-1 with a 2.84 ERA in two career starts and appearances against the Razorbacks. In 12.2 innings, he has given up 12 hits and six runs (four earned), with seven strikeouts and one walk.

 

Gator left-hander Brian Johnson (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) (5-2, 4.04) will be making his third career start versus UA on Saturday against a pitcher to be announced. As a rookie, he threw seven scoreless innings with nine strikeouts but was not involved in the decision. Johnson suffered the defeat last year at Baum Stadium (4.0 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 2 K, 2 BB).

 

Sophomore Jonathon Crawford (Okeechobee, Fla.) (4-1, 3.86) will meet UA junior DJ Baxendale (6-2, 3.78) to conclude the weekend.

Crawford has never seen any action versus UA. In six SEC starts spanning 27 innings this season, the right-hander is 3-0 and has registered a 2.67 earned run average.

 

Senior Daniel Pigott (Ormond Beach, Fla.) leads Florida with a .346 average, with 33 runs, 28 RBI, 11 doubles and five homers, while Johnson is batting .333 with 29 RBI and five round-trippers. Junior Mike Zunino (Cape Coral, Fla.) is hitting .329 and paces the Gators in RBI (43), doubles (16) and homers (12), while senior Preston Tucker (Tampa, Fla.) is at .319 with 33 RBI and 11 dingers. Junior Nolan Fontana (Winter Garden, Fla.) has a .312 clip and is the squad’s leader in runs (39), walks (32) and stolen bases (9-for-9).

 

Junior Austin Maddox (Jacksonville, Fla.) (2-2, 1.69) has registered 11 saves in 11 opportunities and has 47 strikeouts in 42.2 innings covering a team-high 23 appearances. Senior Greg Larson (Longwood, Fla.) is 5-0 with a 1.69 ERA, junior Steven Rodriguez (Miami, Fla.) is 3-1 with a 2.33 ERA and freshman Johnny Magliozzi (East Milton, Mass.) has a 4-1 mark and a 2.83 ERA

 

Through six of the 10 conference series, Florida is 11-7 and Arkansas is 9-9. The Gators have claimed four of their six weekend sets, including the last two at Tennessee (W, L, W) and against Georgia (W, L, W). Amazingly, UF’s last five SEC series have come down to a deciding third game (3-2 record). The Razorbacks are 3-3 in their league series, with a sweep of Alabama and 2-1 decisions over Mississippi State and Georgia. UA was swept by LSU and has dropped its last two series to Kentucky and Ole Miss by identical 2-1 margins.

 

Last season, Florida saw its five-series SEC winning streak come to end by losing two of three games at Arkansas (3-4, 3-5, 5-3) from May 5-7 last season. Pigott was a team-best 5-for-10 (.500) in Fayetteville, while Tucker was 4-for-12 (.333) and Zunino was 4-for-13 (.308). Arkansas limited UF to a .242 (23-for-95) average over the three games and the Gator pitching staff registered a 3.96 earned run average despite holding the Hogs to a .226 showing at the plate.

 

UF used a game-tying single by Tucker and a go-ahead two-run single by Pigott as part of a three-run seventh inning to salvage Saturday’s finale, 5-3. The win enabled the Gators to halt an eight-game losing streak to the Hogs in Fayetteville. Maddox threw 3.1 scoreless and hitless innings to earn the victory. Maddox opened the scoring with an RBI single in the second, Fontana belted a solo shot in the fifth and was 2-for-4 and Karsten Whitson (Chipley, Fla.) did not receive a decision after giving up six hits and three runs over 5.2 innings. The Hogs clinched the weekend series with a 5-3 victory on Friday night. UA overcame a 2-1 deficit with three runs in the third and tacked on an insurance run in the seventh. It was the first time last season that Florida had dropped back-to-back league games. Johnson suffered the loss after permitting five hits and four runs over four innings and Zunino was 2-for-4. Jarrod McKinney snapped a 3-3 tie with a solo homer starting the bottom of the eighth to lift Arkansas past UF, 4-3, in the Thursday Night SEC Baseball Game of the Week that was carried on ESPNU. McKinney sent a 2-1 pitch from Randall into the left-field bullpen to make a winner out of Baxendale, who tossed a complete game. The Hogs overcame deficits of 1-0 and 3-1 to halt UF’s seven-game winning streak. Randall scattered six hits, notched five K and allowed four runs over seven innings, his 10th time in 12 starts working at least six innings.

 

In Arkansas’ last visit to McKethan Stadium, Florida took two of three games from April 23-25, 2010. Zunino delivered a one-out single into right field to score pinch runner Cody Dent (Boynton Beach, Fla.) from second base with the winning run in the bottom of the ninth on Sunday, as the Gators nipped UA, 2-1, in the rubber match of the series. Johnson pitched brilliantly, holding one of the league’s most potent offenses scoreless over a career-high seven innings in which he gave up three hits. The southpaw registered a career-high nine strikeouts, the most by a Florida pitcher at that time since Jeff Barfield had nine against Tennessee on March 20, 2009. Kevin Chapman worked two innings and picked up the win after yielding a game-tying homer in the eighth. Tucker belted his eighth homer to open the scoring in the fourth. Fontana was a team-best 4-for-11 (.364) in the series, while Zunino went 4-for-12 (.333) and drove in three runs and Matt den Dekker hit .333 (4-for-12).

 

A six-run fourth inning helped the Gators even the series on Saturday, 8-2. The victory snapped the Hogs’ 13-game winning streak and ended a seven-game slide for the Gators against UA dating back to a 6-1 win on April 12, 2008. Randall scattered six hits over 5.2 innings without allowing any earned runs to notch the decision, while reliever Larson collected his second save by tossing 3.1 scoreless innings. Zunino (1-for-4) came through with a two-run double and Bryson Smith (2-for-5) belted a three-run homer during a fourth inning in which the hosts sent 10 batters to the plate. Josh Adams went 2-for-4 and scored twice and Fontana (2-for-4) had his second-straight multiple-hit game of the series. Behind the pitching of Drew Smyly and an offense that belted three home runs, Arkansas collected an 8-3 victory in the series opener. Smyly registered 10 strikeouts over seven full innings and the Hogs used a go-ahead homer in the sixth by Bo Bigham and a three-run blast by Collin Kuhn in the seventh to notch the victory. Fontana, Smith and Zunino each chipped in with two hits for Florida, but Tucker’s then-career-high 11-game hitting streak ended with a 0-for-4 performance. Lefty Alex Panteliodis was on the hook for the loss after allowing five hits and five runs over 6.0 innings.

 

Gator Bytes

*Kevin O’Sullivan is 5-10 (.333) against Arkansas, 3-3 in Gainesville (.500), 1-5 in Fayetteville (.167) and 1-2 (.333) at the SEC Tournament.

*Arkansas is the lone school in the SEC that O’Sullivan has a losing record against.

*The Razorbacks are 3-3 (.500) vs. O’Sullivan at McKethan Stadium, joining Georgia Southern (1-1) and Southern Miss (2-0) as the only programs to have a non-losing mark versus the Gators during his tenure at home. 

*The Orange and Blue is 22-5 (.815) at home this season and has not lost two in a row.

*In SEC series this year, the Gators are 3-3 (.500) in game one, 4-2 (.667) in game two and 4-2 (.667) in game three. Arkansas is 2-4 (.333) in series openers, 3-3 (.500) in game two and 4-2 (.667) in game three.

*Arkansas has taken the last five series lid-lifters against the Gators dating back to 2007: 14-3 in Fayetteville on April 14, 2007, 2-1 in Gainesville on April 11, 2008, 11-4 in Fayetteville on March 13, 2009, 8-3 on April 23, 2010 in Gainesville and 4-3 in Fayetteville on May 5, 2011. 

*Florida starting pitchers are 17-3 with a 3.51 ERA and have 153 strikeouts and 37 walks in 187.1 innings. 

*The Gator bullpen is 15-7 with 12 saves and a 2.47 ERA this season, with 176 strikeouts and 39 walks in 189.2 innings.

*Thirty-six of the club’s 54 homers have come at McKethan Stadium, including two in each of the past four contests.

*In his last five games, senior Daniel Pigott is 12-for-20 (.600), with five RBI, four doubles and a pair of homers. He has three three-hit outings in that span.

*Senior Preston Tucker enters the series on an eight-game hitting streak, matching his longest of the season. He is 11-for-34 (.324) with eight runs, five walks, four doubles and a couple of homers during the skein. UA has limited Tucker to a .200 (8-for-40) average in 11 meetings, with eight RBI and two HR.

*All 11 of sophomore Karsten Whitson’s career wins have come at home. As a rookie, he was 8-0 with a 1.56 ERA, with 57 strikeouts in 57.2 innings. Whitson sports a 3-0 mark on his home turf ths season.

*Junior Mike Zunino’s two-run blast in the sixth inning against USF was the 40th dinger of his career, putting him in a tie for fourth place on the school’s career list with Ben Harrison (2001-04). Zunino has gone yard in his two of his last three contests.

*Zunino is 8-for-25 (.320) in six career games against the Razorbacks, with four RBI, four runs, four doubles and a homer entering the weekend.

*Junior Austin Maddox (2-2, 1.69) is 11-for-11 in save opportunities and has 47 strikeouts and seven walks in 42.2 innings. He had five saves last season and UF’s mark for saves in a campaign is 13 by Danny Wheeler in 1994 and Josh Fogg in 1998. Leadoff hitters are 5-for-33 (.152) against Maddox, who is tied for sixth on the school’s career list with 16 saves with Connor Falkenbach (2002-05) after passing former teammates Billy Bullock (2007-09, 11 saves) and Kevin Chapman (2007-10, 11 saves) against Samford on March 20.

*Florida holds a 272-142 scoring advantage and has out-scored foes, 77-30, over the final three innings and extra frames combined.

*The Gators scored three runs in the sixth inning on Tuesday and two in the frame on Wednesday after plating four in the sixth on Sunday versus Georgia.

*Eighteen of UF’s 31 victories have been come-from-behind. Last season, 20 of the Gators’ school-record 53 wins came after they were trailing.

*The Gators have clubbed a nation’s best 56 homers in 42 games after totaling 69 HR in 72 games last season. Ten different players have left the yard, led by Zunino (12), Tucker (11), junior Nolan Fontana (8), freshman Taylor Gushue (5) and junior Brian Johnson (5). The Orange and Blue has multiple homers in 19 games and has at least one jack in 30 of 42 contests this season.

*Fontana has already set his career high for homers after having three as a freshman and five as a sophomore. He leads UF in stolen bases by going 9-for-9.

*Tucker had a couple of doubles versus Tennessee on April 14 to eclipse Mark Ellis’ school-record total of 61 set from 1996-99. He recently became just the second player in Gator baseball history to reach the 300-hit plateau. With 309 career hits, Tucker needs 11 more to surpass Ellis’ record (319). Tucker needs six at bats to surpass the school-record total of 941 shared by Ellis and Josh Adams (2008-11).

*With 234 career starts entering the series with Arkansas, Tucker is second at UF behind Adams (252).

*The Gators are 15-6 (.714) this year when opponents score first and are 25-3 (.892) when out-hitting their foe.

*After committing one error against USF, Florida has 32 errors through 42 games for an SEC-best .980 fielding percentage and has played error-free in 18 contests (16-2).

*The Gators’ 31 sacrifice flies are over halfway to the school’s single-season mark of 48 done in 2000. UF had 27 sac flies last year, led by nine from Fontana.

*Florida has at least one double in its last 16 games since March 30 at Ole Miss.

*Freshman third baseman Josh Tobias returned to action in the field on Wednesday night for the first time since suffering a hand injury at South Carolina on March 23.

*In SEC games only, Florida is seventh in hitting with a .266 average, while Arkansas is eighth (.261). The Gators are first in runs (101), RBI (92) and homers (21).

*UF leads the league with a 3.21 earned run average in conference games, with UA tied for second at 3.51 with Tennessee. The Gators’ fielding percentage of .983 rates first, while the Razorbacks’ .976 clip is sixth.

 

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