Florida baseball 5/22/21

Junior Christian Franklin and freshman Cayden Wallace congratulate junior first baseman Brady Slavens on a home run during Saturday’s game against Florida. Slavens mashed two homers to tie him for the team lead and defeat the ninth-ranked Gators for the third straight day. // Courtesy of The Southeastern Conference.

The Razorback baseball team defeated No. 9 Florida in style Saturday afternoon, exploding with seven runs in the seventh inning en route to a 9-3 final score. The Hogs completed a sweep of the Gators, their first since March 28 against Mississippi State, to finish the regular season 22-8 in the Southeastern Conference.

“(I’m) just really excited about how it went today,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said in the postgame press conference. “We gave a few of our starters some rest and it worked out.”

The Razorbacks and Gators were locked in a pitchers’ duel through three innings, with righties Jaxon Wiggins and Franco Aleman surrendering just three combined hits. With nothing on the line for Arkansas, Van Horn turned from freshman Wiggins to six different pitchers over the next six innings.

For the first time in eight conference games, Arkansas struck first. After freshman right fielder Cayden Wallace led the fourth inning off with a single, junior first baseman Brady Slavens rocketed the second pitch he saw into the Hog Pen for a two-run homer.

Florida scratched out two runs in the middle innings to level the score, playing small ball and tagging junior righty Connor Noland and freshman righty Heston Tole for one each.

Aleman continued to deal through six innings, but the Razorbacks ruined his quality start bid with their seventh-inning rally. Sophomore second baseman Robert Moore struck out to begin the frame, but the last four hitters in the Arkansas order reached base to give the Hogs a 3-2 lead. Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan elected to bring in lefty Jordan Butler, and disaster struck for the Gators.

Butler threw a wild pitch with the bases loaded, expanding the margin to two runs. Van Horn sent junior Charlie Welch to the plate for his third pinch-hitting appearance of the series, and Welch delivered yet again with his second double in as many days. 

“He seems like he’s Mr. Clutch now,” Slavens said. “It’s crazy, pinch hitting is so hard to do, and what he’s doing is absolutely unbelievable. You’re sitting down for a good portion of the game, then you get called up right at the last second and you hit like himit’s unbelievable.”

Butler hit Wallace, bringing up Slavens with two on, and Slavens crushed a fastball for his second bomb of the day to make it 9-2.

Sophomore lefty Zack Morris surrendered a run on a walk and a hit in the ninth, but it was not nearly enough to topple the top-ranked Razorbacks. They finished the regular season two games clear of Mississippi State and Tennessee, and their 22 conference wins are the most in the Dave Van Horn era.

“I’m seeing guys get better all throughout the season,” Slavens said. “I think we’re really close to clicking on all cylinders.”

The SEC Tournament will get underway at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in Hoover, Alabama, where 12 of the 14 teams will compete for the conference crown. The tournament uses a double-elimination format until the semifinals, when it becomes single-elimination.

“I would like to see all of our weekend starters get on the mound in Hoover,” Van Horn said. “It would be nice to play at least three games. I’d like to play more, I’d like to win it, but at the same time, you’ve got to take care of the arms, you’ve got to take care of everybody.”

Regardless of the Razorbacks’ SEC Tournament performance, they will likely be the No. 1 overall team in the NCAA Tournament. They have been the consensus No. 1 team since April 12. 

“Arkansas could decide to stay home next week and it wouldn’t matter,” D1Baseball Managing Editor Kendall Rogers said in a tweet Saturday.

The top-seeded Razorbacks will take on the winner of Georgia vs. LSU, both of whom they defeated during the regular season, at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.

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