The top-ranked Arkansas baseball team suppressed the No. 9 Florida Gators with a dominant display of pitching in front of a season-high 11,084 spectators Thursday night at Baum-Walker Stadium. Junior lefty Patrick Wicklander and senior righty Kevin Kopps teamed up for nine innings of one-run ball, leading the Razorbacks to a 6-1 victory and at least a share of the Southeastern Conference West Division title.
Wicklander recovered from a first-inning shellacking last weekend against No. 4 Tennessee with his third quality start in his last five outings. He allowed three hits, an earned run and a walk, and struck out 11 Gators over six innings. The lone blemish was a second-inning solo home run by Florida first baseman Kendrick Calilao.
“It was big for him, and it was big for us,” Van Horn said. “I don’t think he was concerned at all about what happened last week.”
Mace hung with Wicklander for the first four frames, limiting the Razorbacks to just one run despite surrendering four hits and a pair of walks. Arkansas senior catcher Casey Opitz ended Mace’s shutout bid with a two-out single through the right side to score junior center fielder Christian Franklin.
The Hogs broke through again when their order came to bat for the third time. Freshman right fielder Cayden Wallace broke the tie with an opposite-field solo shot, and Opitz delivered another RBI knock to double the Razorback lead in the fifth inning.
The Florida bullpen held Arkansas under control for the next couple innings, but when Van Horn called on Kopps for the seventh, it spelled doom for the Gators. The sixth-year senior mowed them down in 39 pitches across three innings, retiring nine of the 10 batters he faced.
The Razorbacks staged a two-out rally in the eighth inning, beginning with a ground-rule double by senior left fielder Braydon Webb. After three balls to senior designated hitter Matt Goodheart, Florida elected to intentionally walk him and face Wallace instead. Wallace pulled a 1-1 pitch high and deep to left field, curling around the pole to make it a 6-1 ballgame.
Kopps sealed the victory in the ninth with a pair of strikeouts, bringing his total to four. The Razorbacks’ win was their 20th of the SEC slate, guaranteeing them a share of the West Division. At worst, they will tie with the Mississippi State Bulldogs, who they swept earlier in the year. With another win against Florida this weekend, the Hogs will clinch the No. 1 seed in next week’s SEC Tournament.
“Just a super job by the team, and (we) look forward to coming out again tomorrow and competing,” Van Horn said.
Thursday’s game was the first since March 11, 2020, in which Baum-Walker Stadium did not have capacity restrictions. Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said his team could feel the added energy the crowd brought, adding that the Hog Call during the seventh-inning stretch was the loudest he had heard in a couple years.
Freshman right fielder Cayden Wallace smiled as he described his first collegiate home game in front of a full-capacity crowd.
“It was a dream come true,” Wallace said. “I’ve seen this from the stands, and this was definitely what I thought it was going to be like.”
Arkansas and Florida will square off again at 7 p.m. Friday night. Junior righty Caleb Bolden is set to take the hill for the Razorbacks, opposite lefty Hunter Barco for the Gators. The contest will be televised on the SEC Network.