Florida's game with Arkanasas on Wednesday night at the SEC Tournament was fated to be weird from the moment it began — shortly after 10:30 p.m. Eastern.
With nine innings almost guaranteed to stretch beyond midnight before them, the Gators ought to have known the witching hours would be weird.
For a while, that was a good thing: Florida matched three Arkansas runs in the top of the second inning with three of its own in the bottom of the frame, and took a 6-3 lead in the fifth. But the ninth inning would prove dramatic and devastating.
With Bobby Poyner left in to pitch the ninth after a perfect eighth inning and usual closer Taylor Lewis unavailable after being called in to clean up the mess starter Dane Dunning left in the second inning, Arkansas rallied with three runs in the ninth, including two home runs, to take a 7-6 lead.
And thought Buddy Reed managed to make it to third after a leadoff single in the bottom of the ninth, he wouldn't make it home — for the second straight year, Florida began the SEC Tournament with a loss.
The bad start from Dunning (three earned runs, two hits, and three walks in 1.1 innings) and the ninth-inning meltdown wasted what was otherwise an excellent game from the freshmen near the bottom of Florida's batting order: JJ Schwarz went 3-for-4 with three runs batted in, and Mike Rivera contributed a two-run double. But the top six spots in the lineup combined to go 3-for-21, and Florida's pitching was uneven, with the Gators racking up 11 strikeouts against seven walks, two hit batsmen, and 10 hits.
The good news: The SEC Tournament has a double-elimination format, and Florida dodged a potential nightmare of a losers' bracket elimination game against LSU thanks to the Tigers' comeback to beat Auburn on Wednesday. Florida meets an Auburn team that gave it trouble last weekend in Gainesville at about 2 p.m. Eastern — less than 12 hours after the conclusion of its loss to Arkansas — but it could've met the No. 1 team in the country.
And the better news is that Florida lost to Arkansas, a team on the fringe of hosting an NCAA Tournament regional, rather than Tennessee, which won't make the tournament. A loss like this, though painful, probably doesn't truly damage Florida's candidacy for a national seed.
Following it with a somnambulent performance against Auburn? That might hurt.