Arkansas’ 2-1 win over Florida vaults Diamond Hogs into share of SEC lead


FAYETTEVILLE – On a Friday night when No. 2 Arkansas won its 26th straight home game there was plenty of love to go around.

Ace pitcher Hagen Smith fanned 11 Florida batters and Jared Sprague-Lott saved a run with his glove and brought in the game-winner with his bat as the Razorbacks edged the Gators 2-1 before 10,551 fans at Baum-Walker Stadium.

Arkansas (36-6, 15-4) and Florida (21-20, 8-11) each had only three hits in Friday’s game.

“Just a really, really good job by the pitching staff obviously, just giving us an opportunity,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. “Both teams really pitched well. There weren’t a lot of walks, and some really good pitches made, located. A lot of velocity… I mean, it was just a well-played game.”

Ryder Helfrick homered and fellow freshman Gabe Gaeckle (3-2) notched the win as Arkansas pulled into a tie for the SEC overall lead with Kentucky (32-8, 15-4).

Trailing 4-1 on Friday night, South Carolina hit three ninth-inning solo homers and a two-run blast in the 10th to down visiting Kentucky 6-5.

The Razorbacks also remained a game ahead of No. 1 Texas A&M (37-5, 14-5) in the SEC Western Division race as the Aggies downed Georgia 5-2 on Friday.

Smith, whose first three pitches of the game all were 100 miles per hour, would go seven innings while throwing 96 pitches, allowing 2 hits and an unearned run, walking one and hitting one.

He now has 310 career strikeouts, retired 17 Florida batters in a row at one point and dropped his ERA to 1.30.

Smith (8-0) also won all three of his match ups with Caglianone (.411, 25 home runs), a likely fellow top 10 draft pick him this summer’s Major League Baseball draft.

“He’s probably one of the best hitters in the country,” Smith said. “ If not, the best. It’s always fun facing guys like that. Just trying to throw your best stuff against them.”

The Razorbacks can tie and break the school record of 27 home wins – set during the 1987 and 1988 seasons at George Cole Field – with wins in Saturday’s doubleheader, which will begin at noon.

Arkanas, set to start Brady Tygart (4-1, 2.64 ERA) in the first game on Saturday, is 10-0 at home this season against SEC foes.

“From day one Coach Van Horn has been ‘protect your house’ and that’s what we’ve been trying to do,” Sprague-Lott said. “Obviously the fans have made it a whole lot easier. They make it a lot of fun. It makes it easy for us.”

Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan lamented the fact that his Gators did not take advantage of the few opportunities they are afforded.

“We are finding ways to lose rather to win,” O’Sullivan said. “If you are going to beat Hagen Smith, it is going to be 2-1, 3-2. And he was really good tonight. He had command of all his pitches.

“As soon as we started hitting some of his fast balls early in the first inning, he immediately flipped the switch and went off speed early in the count and then was finishing us with fast balls.

“But I think for the most part we had as good of at bats as you can ask for against a guy that is as good a pitcher as there is on the country and we did it on the road.

“But this isn’t horseshoes just because you are close doesn’t mean anything. In this situation we are trying to gather as many wins as we can.

“We just obviously just didn’t do enough. We made a couple of critical mistakes  that if we don’t make, I think the outcome of the game might have been different.”

Van Horn inserted reserve catcher Ryder Helfrick as the designated hitter on Friday night and that paid an immediate dividend as Helfrick launched a second-inning solo home run to put Arkansas up 1-0.

That came off Florida 6-foot-8 left hander Pierce Coppola, who fanned six in three innings while making just his third appearance this season after being injured.

“I just like the way he swings the bat against left-handed pitchers, so that’s why I put him in there,” Van Horn said. “(Arkansas hitting) Coach (Nate) Thompson and I talked about it in my office today.

“What I do a lot of times, I write a lineup down in pencil, and then I’ll have Coach write one, just to see how close we are. We both had Helfrick DHing tonight, which it ended up paying off obviously.

“He got ahead 2-0, and man, they probably thought we were taking or whatever. He threw it hard, but he hit it harder. That was a big swing.”

It would stay that way until the top of the seventh inning that included runner’s interference, Sprague-Lott’s sparkling defensive played a both run down play that allowed the tying run to score.

The inning began with Smith walking Cody Shelton before Tyler Shelnut appeared to reach first safely only to ruled out for running inside the base line.

“That to me was the turning point of the game,” O’Sullivan said. “We would have had first and third with nobody out. We talked about the 45-foot line. You have to stay within the lane. We’ve  talked about it and it is something that the umpires look for. It is a reviewable play.

“I’ll have to see it, but I am sure they got it right. You have to stay in the lane – that’s the bottom line. It is just like the slide rule…So that play in itself is one we shouldn’t have made and it changed the complexion of the game.”

Action continued in the seventh when Heyman doubled Shelton to third before Cade Kurland’s dribbler was fielded by third baseman Sprague-Lott, who flipped it out of his glove home to nail Shelton at the plate.

“They had a runner on third and I knew he was going on contact,” Sprague-Lott said. “ So if he hit the ball on the ground I knew I had to go get it and it was the only play I had.  So I just wanted to do whatever I could.”

Smith then appeared to have escaped the jam by picking Kurland off first, but he stayed in a run down and Arkansas’ errant throw allows the tying run to score.

“…We picked him off, (first baseman Ben) McLaughlin did his job, he looked at third, just didn’t throw the ball without looking, stopped him,” Van Horn said. “ Threw the ball to (second baseman) Peyton (Stovall) and Peyton kind of looked, too.

“I mean, the only thing that he could have done was run at him as hard as he can and give it up, make a tag, but our focus there is not to let the him score.

“We handled the ball, we just didn’t catch that ball. Yeah, I mean, hindsight’s 20/20. I thought we did a pretty good job with it. But we just didn’t finish it.”

The Gators would load the bases in the eighth against Gaeckle and did so after a Caglianone single put runners at the corners with one out.

Caglianone them stole second, something that O’Sullivan viewed as a mistake after Gaeckle then intentionally walked the lefty-swinging Shelton.

“He shouldn’t have went obviously,” O’Sullivan said. “So when it went to a 2-0 count, they were able to put Colby on. I was surprised they didn’t put him on on the 1-0 count to be honest with you. They were just trying to pitch around him.

“That was a mistake (by Caglianone) and then we do on right on right with Shelnut coming to the plate.”

Arkansas then got the go-ahead run as Ty Wilmsmeyer led off bottom of the eighth with a walk, Peyton Stovall singled him to third and Sprague-Lott’s sacrifice fly was just deep enough to get Wilmsmeyer home.

O’Sullivan will decide early Saturday morning. which game Caglianone (5-0) will pitch.

“We are playing 18 innings tomorrow and we have got to figure out which game Jac is going to pitch,” O’Sullivan said. “Is he going to throw the first one of the second one? It is probably going to come down to what the weather is going to look like tomorrow and that will give us an option of what we need to do.

“So we will obviously monitor the weather and see what it looks like tomorrow mornkng before we come to the ballpark.”

Photo by John D. James

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