Special to Gatorsports.com
HOOVER, Ala. — There is something about Arkansas and Florida in the SEC baseball tournament.
Last year, the Razorbacks ousted the Gators, the regular-season champs, with a 16-0 win. On Friday, they sent the Gators, again the regular-season champs, into the loser’s bracket with an 8-2 win.
Top-seeded Florida (42-16) will play No. 8 seed LSU (35-24) later tonight (10 p.m., SEC Network) with the loser leaving town. The Gators knocked the Tigers into the loser’s bracket Wednesday with a 4-3 win. No. 4 seed Arkansas (39-17) advances to Saturday’s semifinal against the UF-LSU winner.
Friday’s game started at 11 a.m. ET because inclement weather and two earlier extra-inning games messed with Thursday’s schedule and would have forced a late-night start.
Arkansas pitcher Blaine Knight (10-0) won his second game of the season against the Gators, doing a better job than in the 6-3 win in March, when he gave up three runs on five hits in six innings. On Friday, he allowed just four hits and one run in six innings, walking three and striking out four on 99 pitches.
Barrett Loseke relieved Knight, and after a scoreless seventh, ran into trouble in the eighth by allowing a single to Deacon Liput and walking Nelson Maldonado.
Arkansas lefty closer Matt Cronin entered. He struck out India, walked Wil Dalton and gave up a sacrifice fly to Austin Langworthy to cut the Razorback lead to 4-2. But he struck out Brady Smith with runners on the corners. Cronin struck out the side in the ninth for his 11th save of the season.
Pinch-hitter Hunter Wilson settled the issue in the ninth with a grand slam home run (his first) off Andrew Baker, who had pitched two scoreless innings in relief of starter Jackson Kowar.
Arkansas, which lost the regular-season series 2-1 to UF in Gainesville, took a 2-0 lead in the second inning on Casey Martin’s two-run home run after a walk.
It became 4-0 Arkansas in the sixth on RBI singles from Dominic Fletcher and Jared Gates.
The Gators cut into the deficit on Jonathan India’s solo home run, his 17th, in the bottom of the sixth.
UF committed a couple of base-running blunders that cost them scoring opportunities. In the third, catcher Jonah Girand, making his first start, doubled and later was thrown out at third base when he tried advancing on a shallow flyout to center field.
Then in the following inning, India was thrown out at home trying to score on a grounder to the pitcher.
Kowar (9-4) went six innings, giving up four earned runs on seven hits, walked two and struck out seven on 100 pitches.
Note: UF freshman Shane Shifflett started at second base in place of Blake Reese, who committed two throwing errors Wednesday. Reese struck out pinch-hitting in the ninth. … With Auburn’s Edouard Julien and South Carolina’s LT Tolbert hitting grand slams on Wednesday, this marks the first time in SEC tournament history with three grand slams in the same year.