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Florida gymnastics thrashes Arkansas with season-best score

GAINESVILLE — The evening built to a crescendo with Kennedy Baker's floor routine as the climax. The senior was the anchor for the Gators not just on the event, but for the meet. With Florida still in range of its highest score of 2018, she made her first pass without issue. Then her foot hit the mat at the end of her next pass.

Snap.

And her body followed, as did a silence that roared through the arena, turning it from a party to a funeral in a way that only a serious injury can.

The music stopped immediately, and trainers rushed toward Baker. Her screams could be heard from press row. She couldn't stand, so they carried her to the locker room, her face wet, her teammates in shock.

The meet was already over at that point — even without Baker's score, the No. 5 Gators dominated the visiting No. 11 Arkansas Razorbacks 197.625-196.875. But fans left in near silence after her fall, not knowing if Baker will ever compete again. 

"I think it's a little too early to tell," coach Jenny Rowland said of Baker's injury. Baker is one of only two current UF gymnasts to have scored a perfect 10. 

Baker's fall was the story of the night, but to that point, the Gators had displayed some elite gymnastics. 

Florida notched its highest score of the season on the meet's first event, vault, at 49.525. Seniors Rachel Slocum and McMurtry led the Gators through the event, posting 9.95s. 

That set the tone for the night, as the Gators didn't lose any event aside from the one where Baker fell. 

McMurtry and sophomore Rachel Gowey shared the beam title (9.95) as well as the bars title (9.925). Alicia Boren won the floor with a 9.95, as well as the all around with a 39.525.

"Overall, this team did a fantastic job," Rowland said. She added that Baker was Friday's Gator of the day in her opening remarks following the meet. 

"She has their back," Rowland added, "and they have her back."

The meet took place in a pinked-out O'Connell Center, from the cloths on the judges' tables to the fans in the stands to the gymnasts, who wore pink leotards to raise awareness for breast cancer. The theme was especially meaningful for Boren, whose aunt Kathy is a survivor of the disease and was in attendance. 

"I was happy that she was here," Boren said. "More than happy — I was ecstatic.”

Florida was cruising toward a season-best score until the floor routines, when freshman Alyssa Baumann stepped out of bounds at the end of a tumbling pass and McMurtry stumbled at the end of a pass as well. Their scores of 9.725 and 9.65, respectively, were Florida's two worst scores of the night.

Then Baker came on, and you know the rest. So while Florida improved to 7-1 on the season, Friday’s meet provided more questions — rather one big, all-important question — than answers.

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