Nelson Maldonado walked to the plate 0-3 on the day, 1 for 11 on the weekend and just 3 for his last 22. To say he was struggling would be putting it mildly.
One swing changed his weekend.
Maldonado turned around a shoulder-high fastball around for a two-run home run breaking a tie and giving Florida a 5-3 lead in the seventh inning.
“The game always comes back to you. One swing of the bat and now he feels good about his weekend, and rightfully so.” Kevin O’Sullivan said of Maldonado’s home run.
Florida and Arkansas played in front of 4,501 fans Sunday, including more than one hundred Arkansas fans who made the trip and it felt more like a championship weekend than the second SEC series.
“It had that Super Regional feel,” O’Sullivan said. “We probably needed to be tested that way.”
Arkansas threw Kacey Murphy, who threw seven scoreless innings against the Gators in a 16-0 Razorback win in the SEC Tournament. Murphy was good again but a few mistakes ended up costing him the loss.
Jonathan India hit a one-out triple to right field and scored a couple pitches later when Blake Reese lofted a sacrifice fly to center field.
Arkansas would claim the lead with back-to-back home runs in the fourth inning. This season lefties have a .328 average against Dyson as opposed to a .160 average for right-handed batters. The Hogs’ loaded their lineup with six left-handed bats on Sunday making for a short afternoon for the sophomore.
JJ Schwarz gave Florida the lead back with a deep home run to left center field in the fourth but Arkansas came right back in the fifth to tie the game and chase Dyson. I favor of Jordan Butler.
The freshman pitched out of the jam in the fifth but created an even bigger one for himself in the sixth. A walk and two singles loaded the bases with just one out and Kevin O’Sullivan turned to his closer, Michael Byrne.
The junior needed just three pitches to strand all three runners and keep the score tied at two.
“He’s just different. He’s got the right heartbeat,” O’Sullivan said. “He never gets excited. He never gets too emotional up or down. I hope our younger pitchers are watching what he’s doing.”
Byrne retired the side in the seventh and worked a scoreless eighth before Maldonado’s home run gave Florida the lead.
Byrne took a 26.2 scoreless innings streak into the ninth inning but gave up back-to-back doubles to start the final frame.
“He was kind of surprised I went out there and visited him in the ninth,” said O’Sullivan. “I think he was kind of a little irritated because I came out to talk to him and didn’t really have much to say to him.
Byrne gave up a run when Jared Gates lined out to Wil Dalton in right field but Dalton’s throw to third was able to keep Fletcher, the tying run at second.
“That was a big decision, the right decision at that point. It would be easy to get caught up in the moment but (the run on third) didn’t matter,” O’Sullivan said. “The guy at second was the tying run.”
Byrne got a lazy fly ball an a soft groundout to close the game.
The Gators improved to 21-5 on the season and 4-2 in SEC play.