Gators pound Razorbacks, 17-2, to set up rubber game

UF's Jonathan India was named SEC Player of the Year. [Brad McClenny/Staff photographer]

Jonathan India was looking for one pitch.

A fastball.


And here it came.

And there it went.

The Florida junior hit an opposite field grand slam in the bottom of the first Saturday and No. 2 Florida never looked back, trouncing No. 4 Arkansas 17-2 to set up the rubber game Sunday at noon at McKethan Stadium.

“Sitting fastball. It was a good pitch,” India said. “He’s a good pitcher. He just put it where I was looking. I was looking exactly in that spot.”

Florida added two runs in the second and sixth in the third to put the game away. Arkansas starter Isaiah Campbell, who came into the game with a 1.73 ERA, lasted only 11 batters before being pulled.

The Gators avenged a 6-3 loss in the opening game of the series by putting this one away before football practice was finished next door.

“(Friday) night was a tough loss,” said Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan. “That’s the mark of a good team, you come back a bit more focused.”

In front of a crowd announced at 4,815, the Gators (20-5, 3-2 in SEC play) handed Arkansas its first conference loss of the season. The Razorbacks (17-6, 4-1) only managed eight hits and four of them were infield singles.

Jackson Kowar (4-1) got the win for Florida going six innings.

“For the most part, Jackson was good,” O’Sullivan said. “He tends to get better as the game goes along. If it had been a close game, I would have run him back out there in the seventh.”

It was not a close game at that point because of the crooked numbers the Gators kept putting on the scoreboard.

Maybe it was a lineup change O’Sullivan made for this game, maybe they just had a good game.

But putting Deacon Liput in the leadoff spot and dropping Wil Dalton down to the third certainly worked for one day.

“You make some moves and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t,” O’Sullivan said.  

India’s first-inning homer came after two walks and a Dalton bloop single loaded the bases and JJ Schwarz struck out. The towering drive by India landed in the Arkansas bullpen in right-center.

“It’s not easy to go out to that part of the ballpark,” said O’Sullivan. “We haven’t had too many guys who can do that.”

India’s homer staked Kowar to the early lead and he made it hold up despite some issues with control in the first two innings.

Kowar walked two batters in each of the first two innings, but got out of trouble.

“It was definitely frustrating not throwing too many strikes,” said Kowar. “I was just glad I was able to pitch out of it.

“There’s no excuse not to when you have a 10-run lead.”

With a 19-2 record over three seasons, Kowar is Florida’s all-time leader in winning percentage. As the Sunday starter last year, he enjoyed the Gator run production so much he didn’t lose a game until the College World Series going 12-1 for the season.

“It felt like last year,” Kowar said. “Day game and we were scoring a lot of runs. The boys swung it pretty well.”

Kowar didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning when Heston Kjerstad reached on an infield single and Grant Koch followed with a long home run to left for what would turn out to be the only Arkansas runs of the day.

By then, the Gators were comfortably ahead after adding the two runs in the second inning and six in the third.

An Arkansas throwing error by center fielder Dominic Fletcher contributed to the two runs in the second and in the third, the Gators blew the game open.

One of the big hits belonged to Liput, the Gator shortstop who was suspended to start the season and was making his 11th straight start. Liput knocked in a pair of runs with a single and has recorded hits in 10 of his last 13 at-bats. His average has jumped to .341 after a 5-for-31 start.

“He’s really swinging it well,” O’Sullivan said.

The Gators also got two runs when Dalton doubled with a runner on and the ball got past Kjerstad in left, allowing Dalton to round the bases.

Florida’s five runs in the sixth included an RBI double from Nelson Maldonado.

Kowar left the game after 101 pitches, allowing only four hits and striking out five.

Kirby McMullen pitched two scoreless innings and freshman Connor Churchill finished it off for the Gators.

SEC showdown

Who: No. 4 Arkansas (17-6, 4-1 SEC) vs. No. 2 Florida (20-5, 3-2)

When: Noon Sunday

Where: McKethan Stadium

Radio: 103.7-FM

TV: SEC Network

Pitching matchup: UA junior lefty Kacey Murphy (3-0, 1.69 ERA) vs. UF RHP Tyler Dyson (4-1, 1.48)