HOOVER, Ala. – Freshman Zack Cox had two hits, including a monstrous home run, and the save to lead the No. 20 Arkansas Razorback baseball team to a 10-7 victory over the No. 9 Florida Gators in an elimination game at the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Hoover, Ala., on Friday afternoon.
Arkansas (34-21) picks up its fifth victory against Florida (39-20) this season and advance to Saturday’s semifinal round of the tournament where the Vanderbilt Commodores await the Hogs for a 10 a.m. showdown on Saturday.
The Hogs once again took advantage of Florida errors and used Cox’s big blast to score five runs in the fourth inning after falling behind in the game, 3-2, to take a 7-4 lead in the game, a lead that Arkansas would not relinquish. The fateful fourth inning for the Razorbacks began with a freshman Jarrod McKinney getting hit by a pitch with one out. Cox then stepped to the plate a hit a 3-1 fastball over the right-center field wall and off the R on the Region’s Park sign at the top of the 90-foot structure.
Cox’s long ball had many in the crowd gasping in disbelief and the television announcers who have 14 years of experience calling the SEC Tournament called it the “longest home run they had seen in Hoover.” The home run broke the facing on the sign which came tumbling to the ground as Cox rounded the bases. The Razorbacks were not done after the hit though as Tim Carver followed it with a single up the middle and another freshman James McCann executed a hit-and-run with a base hit at the vacated second-base position.
Florida would make its second pitching change of the day after the McCann hit and Chase Leavitt greeted the newcomer with a double down the right-field line. A walk was issued to Collin Kuhn and what could have been an inning ending double play off the bat of Andy Wilkins was thrown away by the Gators allowing another Arkansas runner to score and give the Hogs a 7-3 lead.
The Hogs would tack on another run in the sixth but a determined Florida squad came charging back in the seventh with four unearned runs to make it an 8-7 game. With two outs and runners at second and third, a ground ball to shortstop was thrown wide to first base giving both runners an opportunity to score. The next batter hit a two-run home run to left-center before eventual winner Sam Murphy got the next batter to fly out.
On the mound for the Razorbacks, Murphy picked up his third win of the season in relief of Drew Smyly who tossed the opening 3.2 innings. Smyly faced the minimum through the first three innings before giving up three runs in the fourth. Murphy struck out the first batter he faced in the fourth to end the Florida threat and then pitched three more innings, giving up just four hits. Cox came in for the eighth and ninth innings and did not allow a single base runner, striking out one for the first save of his career.
The Razorbacks scored first with a pair of runs in the bottom of the second inning and like most of their runs on Wednesday, both were the result of a Florida error. Travis Sample led off the inning with a double and moved to third on a wild pitch. A nine-pitch walk to Bo Bigham ensued and was followed by a rocket to the shortstop who misplayed the hit and let the ball roll into left-center field scoring Arkansas’ first run. A perfectly executed safety squeeze by Carver scored Arkansas’ second run.
The Razorback victory over Florida was one for the record books as it was the first time since Arkansas joined the SEC that it has defeated the same team five times in a single season. Arkansas had defeated three teams four times in a season prior to 2009, with the last time coming against Kentucky back in 1999.
The Razorbacks face Vanderbilt on Saturday at 10 a.m. in the first of what could be two games between the two squads. An Arkansas victory at 10 a.m. would set up another contest at 5 p.m. for an opportunity to play in the title game on Sunday afternoon. For more information regarding Razorback baseball or University of Arkansas athletics please visit ArkansasRazorbacks.com.