HOOVER, Ala. – Playing with fire. Law of averages. Whatever you want to call it, Arkansas gave Mississippi State one too many opportunities Thursday at the SEC Tournament.
Mississippi State dropped the Razorbacks to the consolation bracket with a dramatic, ninth-inning win, 4-3 in the second round. The loss means Arkansas plays again later today – against Auburn at around 5 p.m. (CT). The Tigers won the teams’ regular-season series, two games to one.
With one on and nobody out in the ninth, Brent Rooker, the SEC Player of the Year, doubled to the left-centerfield gap. The knock scored first-team All-SEC shortstop Ryan Gridley to tie the game at 3. And with freshman Evan Lee on the mound, Cody Brown drew a base-on-balls to force in Rooker for the go-ahead run.
When Rooker scored, Mississippi State hadn’t even had a hitter get out. Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn went to get Lee after the walk – his fourth pitching change of the inning, all of which came without one of the pitchers recording an out – leading to Kacey Murphy. Murphy induced a double-play and a strikeout.
But that was just the capper. Mississippi State had pulled within a run in eighth after loading the bases agianst Jake Reindl with nobody out. The Bulldogs managed just one run that frame. The inning before, Mississippi State had runners at first and second with one out and failed to score. In the sixth they scored their first run after Brown lead off the inning with a double and was plate with an RBI single. A double-play ball kept the damage there. The fourth and fifth innings saw Mississippi State put its first two batters on base and fail to score.
Chance after chance Arkansas gave the Bulldogs. One chance too many and it may cost Arkansas its NCAA Tournament Regional hosting spot.
Arkansas had its final chance in the bottom of the ninth, bringing to the plate Jake Arledge, Jack Kenley and Eric Cole. After a groundout and a strikeout, Cole walked bringing Chad Spanberger to the plate. The Arkansas first baseman, who flew out to center.
Grading the Hogs
Hits were rare. Hits were timely. But rare won out. The Razorbacks had just five of them. The only two that scored runs came in the first and second innings.
The dam was going to burst at some point. It coming in the ninth inning just provided the drama. The Razorbacks used five pitchers in the ninth inning alone and seven for the game.
The Big Stick + Arm
The bad news was him working himself into the difficulties. The good news was most everything else. Despite the way the game ended, he wasn’t bad whatsoever. Perhaps not great, but certainly deserved a better fate.
Nobody on the roster had more than a single hit, though some reached twice by a hit and a walk or two walks. But Bonfield’s homer was key.
What’s next for Arkansas?
The Diamond Hogs have about a four-hour break, give or take, before they face their SEC Tournament future. Arkansas plays Auburn at around 5 p.m. (CT) with the loser eliminated from the tourney.