by Nate Allen
FAYETTEVILLE – The supposed best pitcher in the SEC was better than bested by one of the league’s most experienced Thursday night in Gainesville, Florida.
Florida’s Hunter Barco, the junior left[-hander who has the pro scouts drooling for the upcoming summer’s Major League draft, and his Gators took an 8-1 loss administered by Arkansas senior right-hander Connor Noland and the Razorbacks in Thursday’s start of a three-game SEC series at the Florida Ballpark.
Right-hander Noland of Greenwood, now 5-1, threw a one-hit shutout with seven strikeouts vs. one walk through seven complete innings handing reliever Zebulon Vermlllion a 3-0 lead to start the eighth.
Vermillion logged his second save, pitching through an eighth-inning jam and coasting through a one-run Florida ninth after Arkansas put the game away, scoring five in the ninth off reliever Nick Ficarotta, the fifth of five Gators pitchers used by Florida Coach Kevin O’Sullivan.
The Hogs ousted Barco. now 5-2, in the sixth with the left-hander down, 3-0 and worn down from throwing 95 pitches.
Noland threw 97 for his seven complete innings, backed by 12 Arkansas hits and errorless defense.
“I thought as a team, we played an outstanding game defensively,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. “But really, it started with the pitching with Connor Noland tonight, just filling up the zone. He seemed to have really good stuff, even on a short week, one day less than normal.”
Noland beat Mississippi State last Friday night, starting the Hogs taking 2 of 3 in a SEC series at Baum-Walker Stadium.
Noland obviously adjusted well to less rest.
“It’s no different than any other week,” Noland said. “It’s one less day, but my schedule’s the same. Just trying to stay consistent is the biggest deal. I felt really good. This ranks up there for all my starts this year. I just used the defense and got deep into the game.”
After pitching as advertised with three perfect innings, Barco ran into trouble, with Arkansas scoring solitary runs in the fourth, fifth, and sixth. Hitting leadoff batter Cayden Wallace of Greenbrier with a pitch was the beginning of Barco’s troubles. After Robert Moore walked, Michael Turner singled Wallace home. Barco also hit Peyton Stovall with a pitch, leading off the fifth. Wallace singled, and Stovall, bunted over by Zack Gregory, scored on the right fielder’s throwing error committed after fielding Wallace’s hit.
Chris Lanzilli homered leading off the sixth. Barco, visibly frustrated, then got yanked after a single, wild pitch and walk.
“We got his pitch count up.” Van Horn said. “You could tell that Hunter Barco was frustrated, but the zone was what it was. It was the same all night. There were a few pitches he wished he would have gotten, and I think Connor threw some that he thought he had. But Connor kept his cool and kept pitching and it paid off.”
Arkansas’ five-run ninth featured leadoff home runs by Wallace and Braydon Webb, Turner’s RBI double, Jalen Battles’ sacrifice fly and Stovall’s RBI single.
The nationally No. 2 Razorbacks take a 23-5 overall record and 8-2 SEC West-leading record into Friday night’s game against the Gators who are 19-11, 3-7 in the SEC East but ranked 22nd in the Coaches poll.
The series concludes Saturday afternoon.