Gainesville, FL – For the first time all weekend, the No. 4 Arkansas Razorbacks and No. 2 Florida Gators traded leads throughout their rubber match on Sunday at McKethan Stadium, but it was the Gators that came out on top in the end, winning 5-4, to take the series.
Florida’s Nelson Maldonando hit a go-ahead two-run home run in the seventh inning off Razorback reliever Matt Cronin to break a 3-3 tie. Arkansas rallied in the top of the ninth getting a run back after leadoff doubles by Heston Kjerstad and Dominic Fletcher before a sacrifice fly by Jared Gates, but Florida closer Michael Byrne held off the charge to get three-consecutive outs to end the game, finishing with 3.2 innings pitched.
Arkansas (17-7, 4-2 SEC) drops its first conference series of the year in what is its fifth one-run game of the year. The Hogs are now 2-3 this year in games decided by one run. Florida (21-5, 4-2 SEC) takes its second-straight SEC series as Byrne earns his first victory of the year out of the bullpen.
Kjerstad, Gates, and sophomore Evan Lee all finished with two hits each in Sunday’s game. For Gates and Lee, both did not see action from an offensive standpoint last week against Kentucky, but came through clutch in the early going today hitting back-to-back home runs in the top of the fourth to give the Hogs the 2-1 lead at the time.
It was Lee’s first homer of his collegiate career and Gates’ third of the season. Both long balls came from the left side of the plate giving the Razorbacks 19 of their conference-leading 46 home runs from left-handed hitters.
On the mound, junior lefty Kacey Murphy was solid again, going 6.1 innings, his longest outing of the year, and giving up just three earned runs for his third quality start of the season. He was given the loss as he allowed what ended up being the go-ahead run on the Maldonado home run. It’s Murphy’s first loss of the year.
Murphy did strike out six batters in the game, which ties his season high, but scattered four hits with three going for extra bases. Murphy allowed a Jonathan India triple in the second inning which led to Florida’s first run and then gave up the two-run home run to JJ Schwarz.
Back on the offensive side for Kjerstad, he finishes a stellar week of hitting after his two-hit game on Sunday. Over the previous four games, the Amarillo, Texas native went 9-for-16 (.563) leading all Razorbacks with six extra-base hits, including three home runs. He slugged a staggering 1.313 and struck out just two times.
The freshman also scored seven times and turned in multi-hit performances in all four games, giving him a team-leading nine multi-hit games.
Fletcher also turned in a strong week at the plate, going 5-for-15 (.333) in four games with two runs scored, one home run, and two RBIs.
The eight-game roadtrip continues next week as the Razorbacks will head to Memphis, Tennessee to take on the Memphis Tigers on Tuesday. First pitch is set for 6:30 p.m. from AutoZone Park, the home of the Memphis Redbirds, the Triple-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals.
After the lone midweek game, Arkansas will continue on to Oxford, Mississippi for a three-game series with the Ole Miss Rebels starting on Thursday at 6:30 p.m.