Recapping Florida Gators baseball series-winning weekend over No. 2 Arkansas

Pat Dooley
Gators Wire

Blake Purnell admits he was confused.

Florida assistant coach David Kopp came to him in the fall and told him they were going to revamp his pitching motion.

"I was confused at first," Purnell said. "But I'd never second guess it."

Florida made Purnell a sidearmer and hoped the walk-on might be effective enough to give the Gators an inning here or there.

They didn't expect this.

They certainly did not expect him to be the key to what may be a Florida turnaround for this baseball season.

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Blake Purnell pitches in both Gator victories

Florida's pitcher Blake Purnell (41) comes into the game in relief in Game 2 against Arkansas, Friday, April 8, 2022, at Florida Ballpark in Gainesville, Florida. The Gators won 7-2.

On Friday night, Purnell pitched 3 1/3 innings of relief to get the save against No. 2 Arkansas.

On Saturday, with the wind blowing mightily to right field, he came into a tie game and got five straight outs as Florida scored twice in the eighth to win again.

"He's a great story," said Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan.

And it was a feel-good weekend for a team that hasn't had a lot to feel good about.

After losing the opener Thursday, O'Sullivan had a heart-to-heart with his team.

"I tried to put things in perspective," he said. "When you go through life there are things you have to go through.

"We were resilient this weekend. A couple of weeks ago, we may not have hung in there."

On Saturday, Florida blew a pair of leads that were built on three-run homers by BT Riopelle and Wyatt Langford. Tied at 7-7 after an Arkansas homer by Zack Gregory, Purnell entered the game to get out of the inning.

Deric Fabian delivered a go-ahead sacrifice fly on an 0-2 pitch and his brother Jud singled home an insurance run.

"Deric's at-bat was huge," said O'Sullivan. "For a freshman to step up in a situation like that…"

Purnell finished the ninth to get his third win to go along with three saves and a 1.19 ERA. He has pitched in 19 of Florida's 32 games and was mobbed by his teammates after getting the last out.

"It's the greatest feeling ever," Purnell said. "Hopefully, it will put us in the right direction."

Tough tests remain

That will be the question going forward. Florida made it through the first series of a Murderer's Row schedule with two wins in three games and the Gators are now 21-11 and 5-7 in the conference.

"This weekend was fun," said Riopelle. "It was the most fun series I've ever played in."

It may propel Florida back into the rankings, but the Gators have a road game against FSU and a road series at Vanderbilt before a series against No. 1 Tennessee.

"When things have gone bad, we've not been able to stop the bleeding," O'Sullivan said. "Today, we helped them back in (with a crucial error), but we were able to move on to the next play.

"But we can't get too far ahead of ourselves. As good as we feel now, if we don't play well next weekend, we'll go back to feeling bad."