Florida (13-6, 2-0 SEC) extended their winning streak to seven-consecutive games on Saturday night with a 1-0 victory over visiting Arkansas (8-7, 0-2 SEC). Florida’s 1-0 win was powered by yet another outstanding performance from the pitching staff and the bat of a freshman.
Pete Alonso stood in the box with the count 2-2. The freshman was hitting .279 coming into the game with just two extra base hits to his name on the season. With two away in the top of the first, Alonso sat dead red on a fastball, waited back and sent a long fly ball to right center field.
At first glance, Arkansas right fielder Andrew Benintendi appeared to have a beat on the ball, tracking it back to the warning track. However, Benintendi would run out of room as Alonso’s fly ball found a home over the right-center wall and into the Arkansas bullpen.
“He’s got power from pole to pole,” O’Sullivan said of Alonso. “I mean, it’s just hard to find, it’s hard to find. We’ve said that since day one. The only other guys we’ve had that had power like that was Mike Zunino and Preston Tucker. They just don’t come around very often.”
“When it kind of left his bat, those guys with that power, the ball just kinda seems like it keeps going. It just kind of cuts through the wind and he’s got that type of power.”
Florida took a 1-0 lead and the blast proved to be all the offense that the Gators would need as Eric Hanhold, Bobby Poyner and Ryan Harris combined for yet another masterful performance from the Florida pitching staff.
Sophomore pitcher Eric Hanhold started his first contest of the season and lived up to the moment. Hanhold threw five innings, surrendered just two hits, two walks and struck out two. He struggled a little in the first inning but was able to work out of a jam and into a grove.
“Hanhold, first start, he kept us in there,” O’Sullivan said. “He had to make some big pitches in the first; it could have went the other way. The first two guys get on and he puts a zero on the board.”
O’Sullivan called on lefty Bobby Poyner to relieve Hanhold in the sixth inning. Poyner was unhittable Saturday night, retiring the first 10 batters he faced and took Florida all the way into the ninth inning with two outs before giving way to Ryan Harris who earned the save. The opening day starter for Florida, Poyner’s role has changed drastically of late but he has adjusted into his new role coming out of the bullpen.
“As a reliever you just have to take it inning-by-inning,” he said. “You’ve really got to avoid trouble, so you just gotta take each inning and each out as it comes because it’s easy to get in trouble.”
Florida will go for the SEC opening weekend sweep of Arkansas tomorrow at McKethan Stadium at 1 p.m.
Florida and Arkansas have played back-to-back one run games and you can tell that the close games are starting to raise the emotion in the series. After striking out the final batter, Ryan Harris pumped his fists and celebrated with his teammates. The Razorbacks took exception to Florida’s celebration and the two teams had words on the field before separating.
“Very emotional,” Poyner said of the past two games. “Two close games, stuff happens. We’re moving forward and we’re ready for tomorrow.”
Last undefeated team in conference play
With every SEC team opening up conference play this week, Florida is the only team that has yet to lose a conference game. Even No. 1 ranked South Carolina dropped a contest this weekend to Ole Miss.
Harrison Bader will play tomorrow — Kevin O’Sullivan confirmed again after the win Saturday night. O’Sullivan wouldn’t expound on what Bader’s role would be (if he would start or come off the bench) but stated firmly that Bader would get into the series cap on Sunday afternoon.