A.J. Puk’s much-anticipated return was almost ruined as Florida (31-5, 9-4 SEC) spoiled an 11-2 eighth inning lead, but held on to beat Arkansas (21-13, 4-9 SEC) 12-8 on Thursday night in Fayetteville.
Down 11-2 heading into the bottom of the eighth inning Arkansas’ bats woke up. Freshman Michael Byrne replaced Frank Rubio in the seventh, but immediately lost control of the game in the eighth. A leadoff single was compounded by hitting the next batter and capitalized on by the Razorbacks with a three-run home run that brought life back into what had been a church quiet Baum Stadium. Freshman Eddy Demurias replaced Byrne but had a forgettable outing of his own, giving up two doubles and a run before Kevin O’Sullivan needed to turn to Scott Moss. The redshirt sophomore left-hander walked one batter before O’Sullivan turned to his closer, Shaun Anderson. In total, Arkansas scored five runs on four hits with a Gator error, turning a snoozer into a nail biter.
Pitching on 11 days rest, Puk looked rusty to start, hitting the first batter of the game. Puk struck a batter out and walked one, running up his pitch count early. Back-to-back strikeouts ended the frame with no damage done. The lefty struck out nine Razorbacks over 5.0 innings of work. Puk threw 98 pitches, 62 strikes and allowed two runs, picking up his second win of the season.
Arkansas starter Dominic Taccolini retired nine of the first 10 batters he faced Thursday, a walk to Buddy Reed in the first inning being the only blemish on what began as a fantastic start. Deacon Liput started the fourth inning off with a leadoff single and moved up 90 feet after a wild pitch. Back-to-back walks loaded the bases and chased Taccolini from the game in favor or Josh Alberius, whose fate was sealed before he even toed the rubber.
Pete Alonso singled to left to score on and three consecutive doubles from Jonathan India, Mike Rivera and Nelson Maldonado blew the game open, 6-0.
Florida tacked on runs in the fifth, when Buddy Reed scored on a throwing error and another in the sixth when Rivera scored on Reed’s sacrifice fly to center. Two more runs plated in the seventh inning, coming off of the bats of Jonathan India — who leads all Gators with a .408 average in conference play — and Mike Rivera.
The Gators and Razorbacks will meet again on Friday at 7:30 p.m. for game two of the series.