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Hogs only play two games in SEC Tournament before elimination


Arkansas' stay at the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., was a short one with a 9-6 loss to Kentucky on Thursday.

Arkansas starter Hagen Smith (9-1) struggled and was tagged with his first loss of the season. Smith worked 2.0 innings allowing a pair of hits and runs, both unearned, walked one and struck out four while throwing 36 pitches. The Hogs trailed 2-0 after the first inning and never were able to catch up. Dave Van Horn talked about the importance of the tournament. The top four seeds all lost on Wednesday.

“I wouldn’t say it’s not important. It’s more important to some teams than others… but we need to have a tournament," Van Horn said. “The message is this is where we wanted to be? It’s time to take a step forward and make a move.”

Arkansas replaced Smith to start the third inning with Gage Wood, who has been one of the more dependable pitchers in recent weeks. Wood allowed six hits, four runs and struck out three in 2.2 innings of work.

Ryan Nicholson touched Wood with a solo shot in the bottom of the fourth. Ryan Waldschmidt hit a solo shot in the top of the fifth. After two singles, Nick Lopez singled to center field to plate two more runners for a 6-0.

In the sixth, Arkansas had success against Jackson Nove, who replaced starter Trey Pooser (5-1) who got the win. Pooser allowed three hits in five innings. The Razorbacks got three hits against Nove in just the top of the sixth. With one out, both Peyton Stovall and Jared Sprague-Lott singled. Ben McLaughlin walked to load the bases. Wehiwa Aloy grounded out to shortstop, but his grounder allowed Stovall to score. Peyton Holt then stepped to the plate and sent a 3-run blast over the fence in left field pulling his team to within 6-4. Arkansas finished with nine hits compared to 10 for the Wildcats, but stranded eight runners to just four for Kentucky.

“I think we’re right where we need to be," Holt said of the offense. "We’re swinging it well and we just gotta get those timely hits.”

Van Horn also touched on the offense as now the Hogs prepare for a regional at Baum-Walker Stadium.

“We left a lot of runners on base the last two days," Van Horn said. "In our big inning we need another hit. We gotta get better and get more production up and down the lineup.”

Kentucky touched reliever Brady Tygart for three runs in the bottom of the seventh for a 9-4 lead. The big shot was the second home run of the day for Waldschmidt. This one plated two runs.

Mason Molina finished up the game for the Hogs and allowed just one hit while striking out three and keeping Kentucky off the scoreboard.

“I thought Molina threw really well the last two outings," Van Horn said. "Tygart was really good for an inning.”

Holt hit his second home run of the day in the top of the eighth with a solo shot over the fence in left field. Sprague-Lott finished up the scoring with a solo shot in the top of the ninth.

Arkansas (43-14) will now return home and see what seed they are as they host a regional. The Hogs are certain to be a Top 8 national seed thus earning home until the College World Series if they are fortunate enough to win the regional and super regional. The Hogs enter postseason having lost four of its last five games. 

South Carolina 6, Arkansas 5

Arkansas fell to South Carolina 6-5 in the SEC Tournament at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium before 7,185 fans.

Arkansas (43-13) had a chance to win it in the bottom of the ninth, but came up short. South Carolina (35-21) was led by catcher Cole Messina who was 3-4 at the plate with two home runs and knocked in five runs. Messina hit a two-run home run off Gabe Gaeckle in the top of the ninth to break a 4-4 tie.

“That guy has a really, really good fastball and I was sitting dead red fastball because his fastball is so good,” Messina said. “He hung a slider and I thought I took a good swing, realized I got it and was super excited. It was cool.”

The Hogs tried to put together a rally in the bottom of the ninth. Kendall Diggs grounded out to start the inning. Peyton Stovall then singled. Hudson White followed with a single. Ben McLaughlin then made it three singles in a row as he plated Stovall. But Wehiwa Aloy, who struggled all day at the plate, hit a grounder to third that forced the runner at second and just barely beat the relay to first to avoid a double play. But then Jared Sprague-Lott flied out to center field to end the game with Arkansas stranding runners on first and third.

Dave Van Horn will now see his team face Kentucky (39-13) on Thursday morning at 9:30 a.m. in an elimination game.

"Just on our side, just kind of a game of maybe missed opportunities," Van Horn said. "We had a couple of chances to blow it open. Instead of a two-run inning, maybe three or four, one hit away. That was disappointing. Give them credit for pitching out of a couple of jams.

"On the other side, as far as our pitching, we hit a guy, hit a two-run homer; hit a guy, hit a two-run homer. First inning, two quick outs and two walks, base hit, he's behind in the count, throws a fastball; 2-0, base hit, they score a run.

"Free passes are -- at this time of year when everybody plays good, they'll come back and get you, and they got us today."

Arkansas' pitchers allowed eight hits, walked six, hit three batters and struck out 11. Gaeckle (3-3) worked the final two innings and took the loss. The home run he surrendered to Messina was his first allowed this season. Gaeckle allowed three hits, two runs, walked one and hit a batter while striking out three. Ben Bybee got the start. He lasted 2.1 innings, allowed three hits, two runs walked three and struck out just one. Christian Foutch pitched 1.2 innings, allowed just one hit, no runs and fanned three while hitting one batter but walking none.

"Yeah, coming in, I approach it all the same," Foutch said. "Hopefully, the goal today was to go a little bit longer, but threw a lot of balls today. That's all I've got."

Parker Coil pitched one inning and allowed two runs. Jake Faherty was very effective out of the bullpen. He worked two innings, allowed no runs or hits, walked one and struck out three of the eight hitters he faced.

Stovall had three hits, including a pair of doubles, while knocking in one run for the game. The talented second baseman talked about Arkansas' missed opportunities following the game.

"Yeah, for sure," Stovall said. "I think the biggest thing, like Coach Van Horn said, was a couple of swings away from maybe putting up three or four more runs with runners in scoring position.

"I felt like we've done a good job all year of putting ourselves in those positions. We've just got to be able to get that big hit. And instead of maybe a sac fly or punch in one, maybe getting a huge hit and scoring three or four. Just keep putting ourselves in good position, and eventually it'll fall."

Foutch talked about how one has to pitch Messina to have success.

"I think the key is get ahead," Foutch said. "He's a good hitter. So if there's nobody on in front of him, usually a double or something doesn't hurt. But he was just able to take advantage of some good pitches. He's a good hitter, and we just didn't make good pitches right there, which happens."

South Carolina used three pitchers. Starter Eli Jones and then Ty Good and Garrett Gainey (1-3) out of the bullpen. Gainey got the win. Stovall talked about the difference in Jones and Good today than when he faced them in Columbia.

"Yeah, they were filling up the zone and they were getting ahead, but I thought we did a pretty good job of working counts and stuff, and we had a couple walks and "stuff," Stovall said. "But they were filling up the zone and around the zone, and the reliever that came in, he's a really good reliever. And he could throw more than just two pitches for a strike. And when you can do that, you're effective. So credit to them."

Stovall was asked what he expects from the Hogs against Kentucky?

"Yeah, just come out, play hard, take it game by game," Stovall said. "The only thing we're focused on tomorrow is the game tomorrow.

"So hydrate, sleep well, get some rest, come out here and play hard. And if we play hard, I don't think anybody is going to be upset. So that's the number one thing to do."

In the top of the first, Bybee retired the first two hitters he faced. But then he walked two batters in a row and then Parker Noland singled to left field to plate Blake Jackson for a 1-0 lead.

Arkansas tied it in the bottom of the second. McLaughlin led off the inning with a single. Aloy hit what should have been a double play ball to the pitcher, but Jones threw the ball into center field allowing McLaughlin to advance to third. Sprague-Lott signed to right field to allow McLaughlin to score.

In the top of the third, Bybee walked the leadoff hitter. Ethan Petry then singled to move Austin Brinling to get to second. Jackson then hit into a fielder's choice for the first out. Messina singled to plate Brinling. for a 2-1 lead.

McLaughlin walked to start the bottom of the fourth inning. Aloy reached on an error on Ty Good. Ryder Helfrick, pinch hitting for Nolan Souza, lifted a sacrifice fly to left field to tie the game with McLaughlin crossing the plate.

In the top of the fifth, Jackson was hit by a pitch to start the inning. Messina followed with his first two-run home run on the day for a 4-2 lead. The Hogs tied the game at 4 in the bottom of the seventh. Will Edmunson, batting for Ross Lovich, singled to start the inning. Diggs then singled to right field with no outs. Stovall then doubled to plate Edmunson. White walked to load the bases with one out. McLaughlin hit a shot to right field that saw South Carolina's Petry dive to catch. It got Diggs home as a sacrifice fly, but if that ball had fell in there it would have cleared the bases with a double.

Van Horn talked about what Messina did on Wednesday to have so much success against the Hogs.

"Well, the first ball that went out of the park," Van Horn said. "Obviously it was a breaking ball and he was sitting on it, and it wasn't down enough, and he hammered it. He didn't try to pull it.

"Good hitter. The one off Coil, Coil hits the first batter he faces, a left-handed hitter that's somebody we really needed him to get out, and then I was still finishing up my interview, so I'm not sure exactly what pitch he hit, but he hit it, and I watched it.

"I mean, he's dangerous. When we played them over there earlier in the season, he was the guy that we would not let beat us. As a matter of fact, I know we intentionally walked him in one big situation when the game was on the line we felt like. But we also had first base open. Might have been runners at second, third, two down, and we went ahead and put him on. Yeah, you know, he made us pay when we made a mistake."

Van Horn said Hagen Smith will start against Kentucky on Thursday. What kind of pitch count will he be on?

"Yeah, I don't want to say much," Van Horn said.

Thursday's game will be televised on the SEC Network. Kentucky was run-ruled 11-0 by LSU earlier on Wednesday.