Gators take finale to claim series over No. 2 Arkansas

22 minutes ago
Florida Athletics

Photo: Florida Athletics

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida used a 13-hit effort backed by a combined seven RBI from Wyatt Langford and BT Riopelle to clinch the series over No. 2 Arkansas with a 9-7 victory at Florida Ballpark on Saturday afternoon.

With the top-five series win, the Gators effectively brought an end to the Razorbacks’ conference-leading streak of 13-straight SEC series victories, which dated back to May 16-18, 2019.

Langford (2-for-3) and Riopelle (1-for-4) led the offensive charge, as both Gators left the yard for the second game in a row after connecting for a pair of home runs in the game two win. In the end, it was freshman Deric Fabian who provided the late-inning heroics, coming through with the go-ahead sacrifice fly in the bottom of the eighth.

On the mound, starting pitcher Brandon Neely set the tone early by blanking Arkansas through the first-three frames, while the relief tandem of Ryan Slater and Blake Purnell provided 5 1/3 innings with one earned run allowed to secure the series.

The Gators (21-11, 5-7 SEC) and Razorbacks (23-7, 8-4 SEC) exchanged zeros through the first-five half innings on the backs of starting pitchers Neely and Jaxon Wiggins. Florida eventually broke through first in the finale, plating four runs in the bottom of the third. Colby Halter and Sterlin Thompson led off with a pair of singles and Langford drove in the first run with an RBI infield single. Staying hot in SEC play, Riopelle delivered a three-run home run to right center to hand the Gators a 4-0 lead.

Arkansas answered right back in the following half inning, knotting the game up at four runs apiece. Jalen Battles plated Robert Moore with an RBI single to left while Zack Gregory picked up a three-run double with a drive down the right-field line.

The Razorbacks’ four-run fourth prompted the Gators to turn to Slater, who quickly worked the Orange & Blue out of the jam by inducing a groundout to third on just two pitches.

The two-half innings to follow provided little action, but Florida stormed back to regain control of the game in the bottom of the fifth. After singles by Jud Fabian and Thompson, Langford connected for his 12th home run of the campaign to hand the Gators a 7-4 advantage.

Arkansas again struck for rebound runs in the sixth, as Battles scored on a fielding error by first baseman Kendrick Calilao. The Razorbacks pushed across their second run of the frame on a bases-loaded walk by Moore. Two innings later, Arkansas tied it up with a solo homer to right off the bat of Gregory.

With the game back even at 7-7, Florida called on relief ace Purnell with one out in the eighth. The right-hander held the score and sent the matchup into the bottom of the eighth by inducing a pair of groundouts to end the inning.

Leading off the bottom of the eighth, Josh Rivera quickly got into scoring position by reaching on a bunt single and advancing to second on a throwing error by Arkansas reliever Brady Tygart. Mac Guscette came up big with a subsequent sacrifice bunt to move Rivera to third, bringing D. Fabian to the plate. After falling into an 0-2 count, D. Fabian worked the middle of the field a produced a clutch sacrifice fly to center to break the tie and plate Rivera.

Florida added an insurance run in the eighth to extend the lead to 9-7. Halter picked up a two-out double and scored on a J. Fabian RBI single to left field.

Purnell provided little drama in the ninth, making quick work of the Razorbacks. The Boynton Beach, Fla. native struck out Moore on four pitches to open the frame, then retired the remaining two batters in order to secure the series victory for the Gators.

Purnell (3-2) earned the win, firing 1 2/3 perfect innings with one strikeout to close out the game. The right-hander pitched in all three matchups of the series including a game-two save, totaling six innings of work with one earned run allowed on four hits and zero walks.

Tygart (1-1) was saddled with the loss, throwing 2 2/3 frames with two earned runs allowed on two hits and two walks while striking out four.

Neely received the no-decision in his first-career start. The freshman right-hander lasted 3 2/3 innings and allowed four earned runs on five hits and two walks while striking out four.

Wiggins was also handed a no-decision, pitching four innings with seven earned runs allowed on nine hits and two walks. He struck out five.

Five Gators racked up multiple hits in game three: Halter (2-for-5), J. Fabian (2-for-3), Thompson (2-for-5), Langford (2-for-3) and Rivera (2-for-4).

NOTABLES

  • Florida snapped Arkansas’ streak of 13-straight SEC series victories, which dated back to May 16-18, 2019 vs. Texas A&M. The Razorbacks entered the matchup with the longest streak of SEC series victories in the conference – just two behind Florida’s record of 15.
  • Saturday marked Florida’s first series win over Arkansas since March 23-25, 2018 (L, 6-3 / W, 17-2 / W, 5-4). The Gators recorded their most runs (nine) and hits (13) against the Razorbacks dating back to March 24, 2018.
  • This is the second time this season in which Florida has dropped the series opener to a top-25 opponent and rallied to take the final two games to claim the series (at No. 21 Miami).
  • With Langford’s fifth-inning home run, Florida is now one of two teams in the country (Georgetown) sporting two players with 12-plus home runs (Langford, J. Fabian).
  • J. Fabian and Langford both drove in runs on Saturday. The trio of Thompson, Langford and J. Fabian has recorded an RBI in 29 of 32 games this year while picking up hits in 31 of 32 games.
  • Purnell pitched in all four games this week for Florida. He totaled seven innings pitched and allowed just one earned run. Purnell nailed down the save in game two and earned the win in game three.
  • The Gators are 34-36 all-time vs. Arkansas including a 20-13 mark at home. Florida is 16-22 against the Razorbacks under head coach Kevin O’Sullivan including a 10-8 mark at home.
  • Florida is 41-10 across the program’s last 51 regular season games at Florida Ballpark. The Gators are 26-7 in their last 33 regular season home games.

FROM HEAD COACH KEVIN O’SULLIVAN

On his message to the team after Thursday’s game…

“We had an emotional talk on Friday before the game. I tried to put things in perspective for them as far as the things they are worried about and maybe not allowing them to perform at the level they want to. When you go through life, there’s a lot more difficult things you have to go through. I’ve been their age. I’ve been through life experiences that they haven’t been through. Maybe have a little bit more perspective. Maybe ease the calmness a little bit. Ultimately, at the end of the day, it came down to [Brandon] Sproat pitching really good last night and giving us a really good start again.”

On today’s series-clinching win…

“Today, we got off to a good start. I thought Brandon [Neely] was really sharp for three innings. Then we scored four in the fourth. Then we kind of hurt ourselves again. Had a 1-2 count to start the inning and gave up a hit. Next four hitters we fall behind. We lose feel for our curveball and the slider, so we are getting a lot of 2-1 counts. Then we get to [Peyton] Stovall, the eight-hole hitter, got an 0-2 count and then walked him. The same thing happened when we scored three, they turned around and scored two runs with one hit. A hit by pitch. We had a double play we couldn’t turn. We kind of hurt ourselves, but we were resilient. Maybe a couple of weeks ago we may not have hung in there. We hurt ourselves today. We had some big at bats. Deric’s at bat was huge. Gave us a little bit of cushion. Then Blake Purnell, what can you say about him, he was outstanding the entire weekend.”

On taking down Arkansas…

“Anybody could beat anybody in this league. I said that all along. I told them today, today’s game is no more or less important than a Friday night game we play three weeks from now. They’re all important. For whatever reason, when things have gotten bad we have not been able to stop the bleeding. Today, fortunately for us, we were able to do just enough. Offensively, we were really good against a really good starting pitcher. I had him this summer with the USA team, you know, 95-98 [MPH]. The message at the end of the game was obviously the same thing: we could beat anybody, but we could also lose to anybody and we have to worry about ourselves. We have to get better. Everybody’s talking about Arkansas and then at Vandy and then Tennessee. It doesn’t matter, you got to worry about today and play the best baseball you can.”

UP NEXT

Florida travels to Tallahassee for a Tuesday matchup at Florida State at 7 p.m. on ACC Network.

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