By Andrew Olson – OnlyGators.com baseball writer
The No. 5 seed Arkansas Razorbacks to score three runs in the top of the ninth inning to deliver a crushing 7-6 loss to the No. 4 seed Florida Gators (40-16), in the second round of the 2015 SEC Tournament in Hoover, Alabama, early Thursday morning.
Arkansas’ come-from-behind victory, which occurred past 1:30 a.m. local time, puts Florida’s chances of postseason success at serious risk. The Gators have been dumped into the loser’s bracket of the SEC Tournament – and consequently will play an elimination game less than 12 hours after their last completed – and may be at risk of losing the national seed they worked so hard for at the end of the regular season.
Here are three takeaways from the shocking early-morning loss:
1. Rough start, even rougher finish: The first and last pitchers Florida put on the hill cost the Gators the game. Sophomore right-handed hurler Dane Dunning had a chance to win a late-season starting job with a strong performance Wednesday night. Instead, Dunning flunked his big test, failing to finish the second inning after giving up three earned runs on two hits and three walks in 1.1 innings of work. The high-walk performance could put Dunning in Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s doghouse for the rest of the postseason. Still, in spite of the rough start, the Gators had a great chance to win … until they blew it. Senior left-handed pitcher Bobby Poyner (2.0 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, BB, 3 K) proved he simply does not have what it takes to close a game. UF led 6-4 entering the top of the ninth before Poyner gave up two home runs that gave Arkansas a 7-6 advantage. The first was a solo shot on a beach ball first pitch of the inning; the second a two-run bomb to conclude a 12-pitch at bat. Poyner’s starting experience
could should lead to him being moved to a middle-relief role.
2. Middle relievers were a relief: Junior RHP Taylor Lewis (3.2 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 4 K) entered the game in a tough spot – bases loaded with one out. He faced three batters to get out of the inning, recording a fly out, ground ball to shortstop (error by junior shortstop Richie Martin) and strikeout. For the next three innings, Lewis kept the Hogs off the board as the Gators scored six unanswered runs to take a 6-3 lead. Junior RHP Aaron Rhodes (1.2 IP, 2 H, ER, BB) inherited runners on second and third with one out in the top of the sixth but came through in the clutch, registering two outs without allowing either runner to score.
3. In the zone: If there’s one Florida batter who can will the squad back to the winner’s bracket, it’s freshman designated hitter JJ Schwarz (3/4, 3 RBI). In his first three postseason at-bats, Schwarz collected five bases on a single and a pair of doubles.
Up next: UF takes on No. 9 seed Auburn in an elimination game on Thursday at 1:25 p.m. Sophomore RHP Logan Shore is expected to get the start for Gators, which will take on the Tigers live on SEC Network.