The No. 5 Arkansas Razorbacks won a see-saw battle with No. 12 Georgia, 8-6, Thursday night at Athens to hold steady in their race with the No. 4 Ole Miss Rebels to win the SEC Western Division.
The second game of the series is set for 2 p.m. Friday after being moved up from 6 p.m. because of expected thunderstorms in the Athens area. The game will be streamed on WatchESPN.com. The finale is still set for 11 a.m. Saturday and will be televised by the SEC Network, but inclement weather is also expected in Athens on Saturday.
Arkansas is expected to start Kasey Murphy (6-4, 2.30 ERA) today with fellow righty Emerson Hancock (6-4, 4.82 ERA) taking the mound for Georgia.
The Hogs (37-15, 18-10 SEC) remain one game ahead of the Rebels (41-13, 17-11 SEC) in the West after Ole Miss defeated Alabama, 3-2, at Tuscaloosa, Ala. with two games left to play. If the two should tie for the title, the Rebels own the tie-breaker because of head-to-head competition.
The No. 1 Florida Gators (41-13, 20-8 SEC) lost, 6-3, at Mississippi State on Thursday, but still have a stranglehold on first place in the East and the overall SEC Standings.
Mathematically, Arkansas could tie Florida in the overall SEC race, if the Gators lose two more this weekend at Starkville, Miss., and if the Razorbacks sweep Georgia, but the probability of all that happening is minimal.
Even if it were to somehow happen, the Gators would still be the No. 1 seed in next week’s SEC Baseball Tournament at Hoover, Ala. by virtue on their series victory over Arkansas the second weekend of the season.
The true stakes for the Razorbacks, Bulldogs, and Rebels this weekend is to stay on track for earning one of eight National Seeds for the NCAA Baseball Tournament. Going into this weekend, Arkansas’ strength of schedule coupled with its overall success this season has the Razorbacks in position to earn a National Seed, but Ole Miss and Georgia are right there with them.
If Arkansas wins the Georgia series, conventional wisdom is that Razorbacks will be a National Seed.
Even if the Hogs lose the series 1-2, they could still be in the picture for one, but it becomes a bit more tenuous.
Even though the Hogs would have played a tougher schedule, Georgia and Ole Miss would have beaten Arkansas in head-to-head competition.
It would be hard for the NCAA Selection Committee to get over that fact, and even harder to believe it would reward the SEC with four of eight National Seeds, even if the league deserved them.
Thursday’s game was exciting but not perfectly played by the Hogs and Bulldogs with both teams’ first two runs being unearned. The Razorbacks took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first, but Georgia countered with a run in each of the first and second inning to tie the game.
The Bulldogs went ahead 4-2 in the fourth thanks to a home run by Adam Sasser. Georgia cruised through the fifth and sixth innings, but the Hogs exploded with a six-run seventh inning that ultimately sealed the victory, although the Bulldogs added runs in the bottom of the seventh and eighth innings.
The Razorbacks posted four consecutive hits in the seventh, including Luke Bonfield’s two-run homer for his eighth of the season, and Dominic Fletcher’s first triple of the season. In all, 10 Hogs went up to the plate.
Blain Knight earned his ninth win of the season and pitched through the sixth inning, and Matt Cronin garnered his 10th save of the year, pitching the final two and 2/3 innings.