Florida’s baseball team is in the midst of its worst offensive slump in a decade. The combined five runs in three games against Arkansas are the Gators’ fewest in a Southeastern Conference series since they scored four runs while getting swept at Vanderbilt in 2003.
Still, Razorbacks coach Dave Van Horn is certain to get a few phone calls this week from coaches of Florida’s remaining opponents, wondering how his team beat the one top-ranked Gators in Gainesville.
Arkansas won the final two games of a three-game series, capped off by Sunday’s 3-1 victory in 10 innings.
“How do you beat (the Gators)?,” Van Horn said. “It’s hard to say, because they can beat you in so many ways. They have great pitching, they have outstanding hitting and they play solid, solid defense — even though they made a couple of errors on the weekend.”
The Gators opened the season as the consensus No. 1 team in the nation and, despite their recent struggles, still were No. 2 in last week’s polls.
Even with Florida’s offense slumping, Van Horn knows what the Gators are capable of in any given game. What he doesn’t know is exactly what he’ll tell coaches, if and when they phone him for a scouting report.
“It’s really hard to try to tell anybody or to try to help anybody out to beat a team that as that many weapons,” Van Horn said. “The key is don’t walk anybody or make any errors, and you’ve got a shot.”
Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan spoke at length about his team’s struggles at the plate. He huddled players in the middle of the dugout during the seventh-inning stretch in an attempt to snap the Gators out of a growing funk that was magnified by a Hogs pitching staff that boasts the league’s lowest ERA.
Slumps don’t last forever, especially for “outstanding hitting” teams as Van Horn described Florida. O’Sullivan pointed that out, too. He said Gators batters didn’t make the proper adjustments Sunday. They were “late” on Arkansas starting pitcher DJ Baxendale’s fastball and “early” on his breaking ball “all day long.”
“We’ve been in a funk for a while now, to be honest with you,” O’Sullivan said. “We haven’t played great in a while. I do believe, and I know, that we will get out of this thing and we’ll be a much better team because of it.”
Sunday’s setback was the Gators’ 10th loss in their last 20 games. More crucial, they’ve dropped eight of the last 15 SEC games.
This is the best conference in college baseball, though. With teams beating up each other each weekend, Florida remains in the hunt heading into next weekend’s series at Kentucky.
The Wildcats led the SEC standings for most of the season before losing two of three this weekend against Vanderbilt, a team UF swept in mid-March to open SEC play. Kentucky, LSU and South Carolina sport identical 14-7 league records.
Other results from around the SEC this weekend were LSU winning two of three vs. Georgia at home, South Carolina sweeping Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Mississippi State winning two of three vs. Ole Miss at home and Auburn sweeping Tennessee at home.
Updated standings are listed below with three SEC remaining in the regular season.
Van Horn was ejected for the first time in three seasons after vehemently arguing with first base umpire Scott Kennedy about a close play at first base in Sunday’s fourth inning. He said something as he was walking away that irked Kennedy.
“I guess I said something I shouldn’t of,” Van Horn said. “Just trying to fire them up a little bit … I said the wrong thing and he didn’t like it.”
ESPN replays showed that Florida’s Mike Zunino should have been ruled out instead of being credited with an infield single.
Van Horn was escorted off the field and into the Lemerand Center on the first base side of the stadium, where he watched the duration of the game on television.
Preston Tucker drove in the Gators’ lone run to send the game into extra innings, but was hitless in three at-bats, ending his team-best hitting streak at 10 games.
Tucker was named one of 10 finalists for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award last week. To be eligible, student-athletes must be a senior and display excellence in four areas: community, character, classroom and competition.
CLASS is an acronym for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School, something Tucker certainly did when he returned for his final season instead of entering the MLB Amateur Draft last June.
Mud Bogged Down?
Gators closer Austin Maddox was pulled after throwing three straight balls to Arkansas’ Jake Wise in the 10th inning.
“When he threw that last fastball, it didn’t look real sharp and I could tell something was up,” O’Sullivan said.
He called the move “precautionary,” adding that he hadn’t spoke to Maddox or trainers to find out if the right-hander has a serious injury.
Maddox picked up his SEC-best 12th save in Friday’s 3-2 win and entered the weekend with a 1.69 ERA, which is the second-best in the league.
Dressed, But Out
Florida outfielder/first baseman Vickash Ramjit was dressed out, but did not play after hurting his shoulder on a diving catch early in Saturday’s loss.
“It’s not broken, I think it’s just a sprained joint of something like that,” O’Sullivan said.
The junior appears to still be injured, though. Otherwise, Ramjit likely would have pinch hit with two outs in the 10th instead of Jeff Moyer, who has one hit in 18 at-bats.
• Florida’s Nolan Fontana returned to the lineup after missing Saturday’s game with what was described as stomach flu. He has started 178 of his 181 games as a Gator.
• After allowing Arkansas’ lone run of regulation in the first, Florida starter Jonathon Crawford fired 95-mph fastballs to strike out the side in order in the second inning.
• Florida lost back-to-back home games for the first time this season.
• Arkansas improved to 3-2 in extra innings while Florida dips to 1-1 after winning last weekend’s 16-inning game against Georgia.
SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE STANDINGS*
1. LSU 35-10, 14-7
2. Arkansas 31-13, 11-10
3. Auburn 25-19, 10-11
4. Mississippi State 27-17. 10-11
5. Ole Miss 28-16, 10-11
6. Alabama 17-28, 6-15
1. Kentucky 36-9, 14-7
2. South Carolina 33-11, 14-7
3. Florida 33-12, 12-9
4. Vanderbilt 21-23, 9-12
5. Georgia 25-20, 9-12
6. Tennessee 22-22, 7-14
*Through April 29, 2012.