Sat April 27, 2024

By Lance Hawley

Hogs win close one 2-1
By Otis Kirk

FAYETTEVILLE -- No. 2 Arkansas got a clutch sacrifice fly from third baseman Jared Sprague-Lott in the bottom of the eighth to take a 2-1 lead and eventual win over Florida in front of 10,551 fans at Baum-Walker Stadium Friday night.

Sprague-Lott's sacrifice fly allowed Ty Wilmsmeyer to score from third. With one out, Wilmsmeyer walked in the bottom of the eighth. He went to third on a single by Peyton Stovall. That proved to be the difference in the game. Gabe Gaeckle replaced Hagen Smith to pitch the final two innings allowing one hit, walking two and striking out three. Dave Van Horn was happy to survive a tough game against the Gators.

"Just a really, really good job by the pitching staff obviously, just giving us an opportunity," 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. … Watch from the side, both teams, I mean, it was just a well played game.

"We took advantage of a one-out walk, and Stovall had had a little bit of a rough night, but really, he got the biggest hit of the night getting Wilmsmeyer from first to third. And then Jared, it’s just the game works. He drives in the go-ahead run and it ends up being the winning run."

It was redemption for Sprague-Lott who missed a throw from first baseman Ben McLaughlin, who was charged with an error, that allowed Florida's Cade Kurland to get out of a rundown in the top of the seventh and score a run.

"He felt bad he didn’t catch that ball [in the rundown]," Van Horn said. "He kind of looked up to make the throw to the plate. It was just … I don’t know … You don’t see them all the time anymore because teams hit so well. But the pitching tonight was outstanding. Each team I think got three hits, and each team made an error, but we got the big sac fly there. Just a good win for us."

Arkansas got its other run on a home run by Ryder Helfrick in the bottom of the second. Helfrick started as the designated hitter.

"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. "Coach (Matt) 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."

Gaeckle (3-2) got the win. But it was an outstanding start for Smith. He worked seven innings, allowing two hits, one unearned run, walked one and fanned 11 while throwing 96 pitches. His first three pitches were clocked at 100 miles per hour on the scoreboard.

"I guess so, man," Van Horn said. "I’ll look at what ours [speed gun] reads. Probably about the same. Sometime’s that’s a little slower than ours. Maybe it’s fast. But the ball was jumping out of his hand. The first pitch of the game, triple digits up there, is kind of amazing. He threw it by the hitter, and then the second pitch the hitter cheated a little bit and really got after it. You’ve got to give him credit there. Evans got the barrel [on the] ball. I just think Hagen’s on and he’s mixing, he’s as good as anybody I’ve ever had."

Florida's fourth pitcher, Luke McNeillie (3-6) worked two innings, gave up the one hit and run. He walked one and struck out three while taking the loss.

Van Horn talked about Smith going seven innings for the first time this season.

"I thought he was really, really good," Van Horn said. "I mean, he’s going through some guys, they were swinging now. They’ve got some power obviously. The game’s kind of fragile. A little mistake and [if] they hit a home or two-run homer ….He just did a great job. His stuff was really good. I didn’t feel like his stuff went away at all. He was still throwing great in the seventh.

"If he’s 23 years old and it’s 85 degrees, you probably just let him go. But again, he gave us all we wanted and more, really. Just glad that Gabe came in and did just as good a job, really. Just tremendous."

The two teams will play two games on Saturday due to the weather expected on Sunday. The first game will be at noon on ESPN2. The second game will start 45 minutes after the conclusion of the first one. It will be on the SEC Network+. Arkansas (36-6, 15-4) and Florida (21-20, 8-11) are both hoping weather permits the two games on Saturday.

Photos Courtesy of Craven Whitlow CW3 Sports Action