That “da da dadadada da da dadadada,” circus theme wasn’t among the dozens of songs played on the public address system at McKethan Stadium on Saturday, but it would have been appropriate.
Florida baseball’s 5-1 loss against Arkansas that evened the series at a game apiece featured oddities and circus-like plays between two of the usually most sound and savvy teams in the nation.
It all began with UF’s Vickash Ramjit’s unorthodox catch in left in the third. He was shaken up on the play, but received a standing ovation after getting on his feet and jogging to the dugout.
“Da da dadadada.”
It was Ramjit’s second jaw-dropping catch in as many games after he snagged one in foul territory while playing right field for the first out of Friday’s ninth inning. Ramjit also had a throwing error.
O’Sullivan had to replace shortstop Nolan Fontana in the starting lineup. It was only the third time Fontana, who had a stomach bug, didn’t start in the past 180 games. Cody Dent, who usually plays third, started at shortstop for the first time in his career.
“It was just a weird game to begin with,” said Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan.
Most of Saturday’s circus plays came on defense. It was the eighth time in 44 games Florida has had two or more errors, and the first time since April 7 vs. LSU.
Arkansas first baseman Dominic Ficociello entered Saturday with one error in more than 400 chances. However, he should have had two in one inning, according to his coach. He only was credited with one when Daniel Pigott reached as Ficociello dropped a routine throw.
Ficociello then gloved a laser line drive off the bat of Brian Johnson, but the junior couldn’t hang on. The ball fell to the dirt as the Gators pushed their lone run across the plate to even the score at 1-all.
“Da da dadadada.”
“I don’t know who’s keeping score there, but the first baseman has to catch that ball,” said Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn. “I’ve never seen (Ficociello) do that.”
Ficiciello made up for his miscues by scooping up a short throw from shortstop Tim Carver to start the eighth. Van Horn noted it likely “saved a run” because Mike Zunino followed with a double to left.
Derrick Bleeker made a leaping stop at the wall on Zunino’s double. He didn’t catch it, but did enough to deflect the ball down to the warning track. Zunino hit another double despite right fielder Brian Anderson appearing to be in position for the catch. Anderson appeared to clip the wall with his shoulder as the ball arrived, causing it to miss his glove.
Other things fans don’t see every day were when Hogs catcher John Clay Reeves changed gloves after the second pitch of the fifth inning or when a UA player stepped into the batter’s box before stepping out, only to end up ducking for the dugout and replaced by a pinch hitter.
Hogs third baseman Matt Reynolds called for a pop-up off the bat of Cody Dent in the seventh. The ball missed his glove, but Carver had inexplicably slid his glove under Reynolds’ to come up with the catch.
“Da da dadadada.”
Both teams made mistakes on the base paths. Florida had runners thrown out at third and home.
Seven of the game’ 16 strikeouts were looking, which college batters don’t do often.
Well, he at least attempted, popping out to the pitcher. Despite being one of the most feared power hitters in the country, Zunino said he’s sacrifice bunted “a few times,” during his career.
“I practice it all the time — every time we practice bunting,” Zunino said.
The actual name of circus-theme is “Entry of the Gladiators.”
Circus-like or not, there were more spectacular defensive plays than bad Saturday. Looking over his shoulder while drifting toward the wall, UF third baseman Josh Tobias stretched out his glove to make a back-handed catch. He also attacked a high-hopper off the plate and spun 360 degrees before firing to first base for the out.
Tobias’ return to the starting lineup was one of the few bright spots for Florida in Saturday’s loss. He singled and reached when he was hit by a pitch. He also struck out with a chopping swing at a low fastball and popped out.
“It’s going to be tough for him. He missed four or five weeks,” Zunino said. “He needs to keep going out there and battling at the plate, but he’s still there for us defensively, and that helps us out a lot.”
After facing Friday starter Ryan Stanek’s 97 mph fastballs, Arkansas rolled Randall Fant out on Saturday. Fant is the exact opposite of Stanek.
Other than Fant being a lefty and Stanek a righty, Fant’s fastball topped out at 85. He was finesse instead of power. He threw a variety of off-speed pitches to fan four of Florida’s first five batters. He even threw one pitch that registered just 69 mph on the scoreboard.
Some little leaguers can throw harder than that.
When Fant lost his touch after just three innings, Van Horn then went back to a more of a power pitcher in right-hander Brandon Moore. He retired eight straight at one point and scattered three hits over five scoreless innings to improve to 4-1.
Moment of Silence
The crowd at McKethan Stadium observed a moment of silence before Saturday’s national anthem for former Florida swimming coach Ron Ballatore, who past away on Friday at the age of 71 following a battle with cancer.
Ballatore, who led UCLA for 16 seasons and the NCAA national championship in 1982, coached the Gators from 1996-99. He stayed in Gainesville after his retirement and remained a prominent figure around the team.
• Keenan Kish threw 30 strikes in 40 pitches and had a career-high four strikeouts in four perfect innings to lower his ERA to 1.38.
• Sunday’s game, which begins at 3:30 p.m. and is on ESPN, marks the sixth consecutive weekend the Gators will play a series deciding home game.
• Preston Tucker extended his team-best hitting streak to 10 games with a single up the middle in the third.
• Zunino’s pair of doubles give him a team-high 18.