Give nod to Gators if it’s tight

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Friday, March 14, 2014
In this June 28, 2011, file photo, Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan sits in the dugout after South Carolina beat Florida 5-2 in Game 2 of the NCAA baseball College World Series best-of-three finals, to win the title in Omaha, Neb. (AP Photo/Eric Francis)
In this June 28, 2011, file photo, Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan sits in the dugout after South Carolina beat Florida 5-2 in Game 2 of the NCAA baseball College World Series best-of-three finals, to win the title in Omaha, Neb. (AP Photo/Eric Francis)

Florida: Logan Shore (RHP, 0-1, 0.45)

Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn sees parallel programs when he compares his baseball team to Florida.

“When you look at their numbers, we’re probably the same team right now on paper,” said Van Horn, whose Razorbacks open SEC play tonight against the Gators in a three-game series in Gainesville, Fla. “I think this is a wide-open series. The only advantage they have is they’re at home. This should be a really good matchup.”

The Razorbacks (8-5) will send left-hander Jalen Beeks (3-1, 0.68) to the mound to face Florida freshman right-hander Logan Shore (0-1, 0.45) in tonight’s opener.

“It’s been my dream to start Friday night in the SEC,” said Beeks, who is from Prairie Grove. “It’s our first road game in the SEC, and I’ve never been to Florida, so I’m excited to go there.”

Shore allowed 2 singles in 22 at-bats in a career-high 7 innings last Friday against UConn but didn’t figure into the decision.

Arkansas is hitting .266, averages 5.7 runs per game and its earned run average of 1.88 ranks 11th in the country. The Gators (11-6) are hitting .257, averaging 4.5 runs per game and have an ERA of 3.16.

But the Gators are 4-1 in one-run games, while the Razorbacks, who were 9-4 in one-run games last season, are 1-4.

“They’ve played a lot of close games, we’ve played a lot of close games,” Van Horn said. “The difference is they’ve been winning theirs.”

Florida beat UConn last weekend at home by scores of 1-0, 2-1 and 6-5, all in extra innings.

“It doesn’t happen very often, three straight games where you play extra innings,” Florida Coach Kevin O’Sullivan said.

The Gators have won five in a row overall, including Wednesday night’s 13-5 victory over Illinois State, when they hit two home runs to bring their season total to four.

Arkansas has dropped five of its past six games, all by one or two runs, with clutch hitting the culprit.

“We’re ready to bounce back after last weekend,” sophomore outfielder Tyler Spoon said. “We’re trying to hit hard line drives and hard balls on the ground, and everyone’s buying in.”

Arkansas sophomore Trey Killian, who is scheduled to start Saturday’s 6 p.m. game, said he could feel the intensity rise in practice this week in anticipation of the SEC opener.

“We know it’s time to start rolling, get the bats going, keep our arms going,” Killian said. “It’s a big opening weekend, especially being on the road. … We need to go over there and take at least two on the road, if not sweep them.”

At a similar point last season, Arkansas went 0-4 at Arizona State’s Coca-Cola Classic, outscored 13-6; the Razorbacks went 1-3 in their recently completed trip to the Cal Baseball Classic, where they outscored their opponents 9-8.

“When you look at it statistically, we’re pretty close to the same team, although I think this team has more offensive potential,” Van Horn said. “I really believe that.You’ve seen it every now and then, seen them just explode and hit balls all over the field, and you’ve seen them struggle.”

Van Horn said first baseman Eric Fisher (.174 average, 2 home runs, 5 RBI) and catcher Jake Wise (.107, 1 RBI) need to improve their production. Van Horn said he’d like to bat Fisher in the five or six spot in the order, but he might have to drop him lower until he finds his swing.

“Fisher’s a guy, he’s really streaky,” Van Horn said. “He’s been that way. We need him to drive in runs. If he can do that for us, it’d be a huge plus.”

Killian (0-2, 4.66 ERA), a right-hander, is scheduled to face 6-5 right-hander Eric Hanhold (2-1, 2.63) Saturday.Chris Oliver (1-2, 2.45), a junior right-hander from Shiloh Christian, is scheduled to face freshman left-hander AJ Puk (1-1, 3.75) in Sunday’s noon finale.

Van Horn said the Razorbacks need to focus on having productive at-bats.

“The key will be to start our rallies a little earlier in the inning, and if that’s not the case we need to get big two-out hits because that’s what we got the first few games.” Van Horn said. “We were scoring a lot of runs with two outs.”Today’s game ARKANSAS AT FLORIDA WHEN 6 p.m. Central WHERE McKethan Stadium, Gainesville, Fla.

RECORDS Arkansas 8-5, Florida 11-6 RANKINGS Neither team is ranked SERIES Arkansas leads 26-24 overall, trails 10-14 in Gainesville RADIO RSP statewide radio network. Not all games will be carried by affiliates. Check local listings.

INTERNET arkansasrazorbacks.com and ESPN3 PITCHING MATCHUP Arkansas: Jalen Beeks (LHP, 3-1, 0.68 ERA); Florida: Logan Shore (RHP, 0-1, 0.45) SHORT HOPS It’s the conference opener for both teams, who did not meet last season. … Arkansas outscored its opposition 9-8 at the Cal Baseball Classic last weekend but went 1-3. … The Gators won three extra-inning games - 1-0, 2-1 and 6-5 - at home against Connecticut last weekend. … Gators catcher Taylor Gushue hit both of Florida’s home runs through 16 games before the Gators connected for two in Wednesday’s 13-5 victory over Illinois State. … The Gators have scored 19 runs in their past two games after scoring 13 runs in the seven games prior to that.

THE WEEK AHEAD All times Central TODAY at Florida, 6 p.m.

SATURDAY at Florida, 6 p.m.

SUNDAY at Florida, noon MONDAY Off TUESDAY Grambling, 6:35 p.m.

WEDNESDAY Grambling, 3:05 p.m.

THURSDAY Off FRIDAY Alabama, 6:35 p.m.

Today’s game

ARKANSAS AT FLORIDA

WHEN 6 p.m. Central

WHERE McKethan Stadium, Gainesville, Fla.

RECORDS Arkansas 8-5, Florida 11-6

SERIES Arkansas leads 26-24

RADIO RSP statewide radio network.

Not all games will be carried by affiliates. Check local listings.

INTERNET arkansasrazorbacks.com and ESPN3

PITCHING MATCHUP Arkansas: Jalen Beeks (LHP, 3-1, 0.68 ERA);

Sports, Pages 19 on 03/14/2014

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