Florida can't solve top-ranked Arkansas

Special to Gatorsports.com

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Florida got off on the wrong foot Thursday to start a key three-game baseball series against top-ranked Arkansas.

Cayden Wallace hit two home runs to support the pitching of starter Patrick Wicklander and reliever Kevin Kopps, who combined for a three-hitter and 16 strikeouts in a 6-1 win over the No. 9 Gators (35-17, 17-11 SEC).

"When you do that, it's really difficult to string along any type of innings or any type of momentum," UF coach Kevin O'Sullivan said of the strikeouts. "Credit Arkansas' pitchers. They were really good tonight. I would expect us to bounce back tomorrow and have a better night offensively, but the amount of strikeouts didn't help our cause tonight."

Arkansas (31-19, 20-8) took another big step toward the SEC regular-season championship before a capacity crowd for the first time this season.

Florida scored first on Kendrick Calilao's fifth home run of the season in the second.

Arkansas tied it at 1-all on a hit by pitch, passed ball and RBI single.

The Razorbacks added two more in the fifth to extend their lead to 3-1, the highlights were a solo home run by Wallace and another run-scoring hit from Casey Opitz.

Wallace (12th) settled it in the eighth inning with a three-run home run off reliever Christian Scott for a 6-1 Razorbacks lead.

Florida couldn't solve left-hander Wicklander (5-1), who allowed just three hits in six innings and struck out 11. Reliever Kevin Kopps (eight saves) didn't allow a hit and struck out five in his three innings. The Gators didn't get a hit after the third inning.

Tommy Mace (5-1) had trouble with the walks in his 4.2 innings, giving up four, hitting one batter while striking out eight.

"Arkansas is playing at a high level," O'Sullivan said. "They battled with two strikes and they competed. We talked about that. One of the things coming into the weekend was Arkansas has probably been the one team in our league that's figured out how to play as a group probably earlier than anybody else in our league. That's why they're in the position that they are."

Game 2 of the series is scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday on the SEC Network. The final game of the regular season is set for 3 p.m. Saturday (SEC Network+). 

The Gators will throw lefty Hunter Barco (9-2), while the Hogs go with righty Caleb Bolden (2-0).