SEC ‘barometer’ games at McKethan Stadium

Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan knows he will be watching a talented all-around team in the No. 4 Arkansas Razorbacks for a three-game series starting today at McKethan Stadium. [Cyndi Chambers/Correspondent]

It’s a giant matchup over three days between two of the best teams in the country.

It’s also the second series on the SEC schedule with a lot of baseball to play.

But when No. 2 Florida and No. 4 Arkansas face off starting tonight at 6:30, there is no question the college baseball world will be watching.

“It’s a big series,” said Florida pitcher Brady Singer. “It’s a huge matchup. The environment will be great and the vibe will be unbelievable.”

It sets up as THE series in college baseball this weekend in part because the teams are so similar.

The Razorbacks have been a long-ball club for the last couple of years. Florida has discovered the deep fly this season. And yet, both teams have gaudy numbers on the mound.

“It’s going to be a dogfight,” said Florida junior Jonathan India. “Every SEC series is big for us, because every SEC team is really good.”

Arkansas leads the SEC in hitting and the Razorbacks already have 41 homers, the second most in the nation. Arkansas (16-5, 3-0) will send seven different batters to the plate with averages over .300, five of them over .350.

“They have a really good lineup,” Singer said. “I just have to command my pitches, pitch to my strengths. Just throw strikes.”

Florida counters with a lineup that has produced a surprising 36 homers this year and the Gators (19-4, 2-1) are hitting .294 as a team led by India’s .397 average.

But both teams can pitch as well. Singer enters the game tonight with a 5-0 record and a 1.97 ERA. Arkansas starter Blaine Knight is 3-0 with a 1.30 ERA and both teams have excellent starters set for Saturday and Sunday.

“He’s very talented.” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said of Knight. “He had a chance to sign last year and decided to come back for his third year We’ve seen him before. Obviously we’re going to have to be on top of our game.

“You know when you face guys like him, and we face quite a few throughout the year, your chances to score are limited over a nine-inning ball game. So, when you get your opportunity, you have to have your best at-bats at that time.”

So bill this as a “something’s-gotta-give series.”

And park your car as far away from McKethan Stadium as possible to avoid falling fly balls.

SEC showdown

Who: No. 4 Arkansas (16-5, 3-0 SEC) vs. No. 2 Florida (19-4, 2-1)

When: 6:30 p.m. today, Noon Saturday and Sunday

Where: McKethan Stadium

Radio: 103.7-FM

Online today: SEC Network+

“I don’t think I put more emphasis on one series or another, but I do think it will give us a good barometer of where we’re at,” said O’Sullivan. “It’s always good to play really good teams and obviously Arkansas is coming in here playing very well. It’s certainly going to be a challenge for us.

“I think the key is to make quality pitches and obviously they are going to be very aggressive I’m sure against our pitchers. For the most part we don’t walk many on the weekend and we’re going to have to make some quality pitches early. Obviously, make some big pitches when they have runners on. It’s pretty standard, pretty simple, but it’s easier said than done.”

Arkansas has only played three true road games, going 1-2 after losing at Charlotte on Wednesday night. Florida took two-of-three games at South Carolina in its opening series of the SEC schedule.

The two teams played only once last year with Arkansas winning 16-0 in the SEC Tournament.

They play again Saturday and Sunday with both games at noon.