The Razorback baseball team rolled into Oxford, Mississippi, last weekend for the biggest series of its season. A top-three clash with Ole Miss for first place in the Southeastern Conference West Division was on tap in front of a record number of spectators at Swayze Field.
After an unthinkable 32-run affair Sunday afternoon, the Hogs were headed back to Fayetteville with a pair of wins and a whole lot of smiles.
“It’s a good feeling,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said after Sunday’s win. “You don’t want to play a four-hour-and-25-minute game and lose and come all the way home on a bus.”
The two SEC West powerhouses were scheduled to get underway Friday night, but thunderstorms in the area forced them to play a doubleheader Saturday.
The Hogs and Rebels split the twin bill, each using late-inning outbursts to take control. Both games followed a familiar script for the Razorbacks, as they failed to record a hit in the early innings. Van Horn said the key for his hitters may be seeing the starting pitcher for the third time.
“I’d love to score early and get a lead, but bottom line, you just want to finish the game with more runs than they do,” the skipper said.
Sure enough, the Razorback bats came to life in the sixth, having seen starter and projected first-round MLB draft pick Gunnar Hoglund twice already. Junior center fielder Christian Franklin put Arkansas on the scoreboard with an RBI single, and scored the tying run when sophomore left fielder Zack Gregory singled to left field. Franklin drove in the eventual game-winning run with a walk in the next frame.
After a 7-3 defeat in the first game, Ole Miss roared back with seven runs against Arkansas sophomore starter Peyton Pallette. The Hogs steadily scratched out runs, but a five-spot in the bottom of the eighth put a bow on a 13-6 Rebel win.
With top-ranked Vanderbilt’s series loss to Georgia, Sunday’s finale had a little extra incentive to it. The winner, as D1Baseball managing editor Kendall Rogers tweeted Saturday, would assume next week’s No. 1 ranking.
After 2 1/2 innings, the Razorbacks appeared well on their way to the top spot. In his first at-bat of the series, senior third baseman Cullen Smith launched a three-run shot to center field. Senior left fielder Braydon Webb and freshman right fielder Cayden Wallace also mashed homers in the early innings as the Hogs built an 11-0 lead.
The Rebels did not go silently though, plating five runs in the bottom of the third and chasing the Arkansas starter, senior lefty Lael Lockhart. Both teams were forced to rely on their depleted bullpens, making for an afternoon full of crooked numbers.
Ole Miss brought the deficit to five runs after a leadoff double in the fifth, and the Hogs punished Rebel relievers with three runs after they issued five free passes in the sixth.
The Rebel bats continued to have their way at the plate, however, with another five-run inning to make it a 14-11 ballgame. After the tying run stepped into the batter’s box in the seventh, Van Horn turned to senior righty Kevin Kopps, who pitched three innings in Saturday’s win.
Kopps allowed a pair of hits to begin his outing, and the Rebels evened the score at 14 after a fielder’s choice.
Walks continued to plague Ole Miss when junior first baseman Brady Slavens ripped a two-out double to put Arkansas back up by two.
Each of the nine Ole Miss pitchers walked at least one hitter for a grand total of 17 Sunday. There were 30 on the weekend, and each of the 13 Razorback hitters drew at least one.
Slavens scored on a Franklin RBI single, and the Hogs tacked on their 18th of the contest on a throwing error in the ninth. Kopps settled down, throwing a scoreless eighth and polishing off the win with three strikeouts to end the game.
“I just walked up and down the dugout, telling ‘em ‘Hey, it’s fine, we’ve got two innings left, the game’s tied, just win the last two innings and let’s get out of here,’” Van Horn said. “We punched in those three runs, and honestly we felt like we were going to win the game no matter what.”
The first-place, top-ranked Diamond Hogs are slated to play five games at Baum-Walker Stadium this week. The Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions will visit Tuesday and Wednesday before the 3-9 Texas A&M Aggies head north for a weekend series. Each game can be streamed on the SEC Network+.