Diamond Hogs top Crimson Tide in series opener, keep pace with Aggies

Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com

The Arkansas Razorbacks posted a solid 7-3 victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide at Sewell-Thomas Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Thursday night to keep the pressure on the Texas A&M Aggies in the race for the SEC Western Division title.

The Aggies (33-16, 18-10 SEC), who beat the Ole Miss Rebels, 10-5, in a heated contest at Oxford, Miss. on Thursday, and the Hogs (38-24, 18-10) are tied for the Western Division lead with two games to play.

The Aggies, who have won seven consecutive series, own the tie-breaker over the Razorbacks by virtue of their series win over Arkansas on April 22-24 at College Station.

Next up for the Diamond Hogs

Opponent: at Alabama
When:  7 p.m. Friday, May 20
Where: Sewell-Thomas Stadium, Tuscaloosa
Streaming: SEC Network
Radio: 92.1 FM / AM 1590 (more)

Upcoming games

Saturday, May 21 – at Alabama, 1 p.m. (SEC+)

The victory over the Crimson Tide guaranteed the Razorbacks one of the top-four seeds and a bye in next week’s SEC Baseball Tournament, which begins Tuesday in Hoover, Ala.

“We played solid defense, and pitched just good enough to get the win,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn summarized after the game on a Zoom media teleconference. “It was good win on the road.”

Trailing 3-0 through four innings, the Hogs exploded in the fifth for five runs thanks to a 2-RBI home run by Peyton Stovall and a 3-RBI homer by Cayden Wallace that gave the Razorbacks a 5-3 lead. Both homers came with two outs.

Before Chris Lanzilli broke the ice with a single, Arkansas had struggled to score of late. The Hogs had gone 12 innings without scoring a run dating back to last weekend’s series with Vanderbilt. The Commodores shut the Hogs out in the final game of the three-game series, 5-0.

“They were throwing a perfect game at us through four innings, and we were down 3,” Van Horn said. “I felt lucky to be only down by 3.”

Both offenses were silent after the fifth until the Hogs added two insurance runs in the top of the ninth inning for the 7-3 victory on a two-out double by Jalen Battles that plated Brayden Webb and pinch runner Drake Varnardo, who pinch ran for Brady Slavens following his double.

“It was a great job by our offense,” Van Horn said. “We scored all of our runs after two outs. It was a big swing by Stovall. He kept that inning going… It was a great at-bat by (Zack) Gregory (who walked). We were really hoping he would get on base so Wallace would get to hit. Sure enough, Wallace put a really good swing on a fast ball in, and he crushed it. All of a sudden, we were up by 2. The game just flipped.”

The two runs the Hogs added in the ninth were nearly as pivotal to put the game out of reach with a half inning to play.

“What a relief when that ball was hit into the gap,” Van Horn said of Battles’ ninth-inning double. “It took a lot of pressure off the team.”

Razorback pitcher Will McEntire got his first SEC start of the season and went four innings before Van Horn began platooning pitchers to snare the victory.

“I’m proud of the way he hung in there,” Van Horn said of McEntire, who got the Hogs out of a jam in the second inning when the Alabama lead could have easily ballooned to more than 3. “He stuck it out.”

Kole Ramage went an inning and a third, Evan Taylor went two innings and earned the win, while freshman closer Brady Tygart earned a save by going the final inning and two-thirds.

“They were great,” Van Horn said of his bullpen. “They did a good job. They’ve been doing a good job all year.”

Friday’s second game is set for a 7 p.m. first pitch and will be televised by the SEC Network. Right-handed pitcher Connor Noland (5-3, 3,38 ERA) is scheduled to start for the Hogs.

Saturday’s finale is at 1 p.m. and can be streamed on the SEC Plus/ESPN Plus. Sophomore right-handerJaxon Wiggins (6-2, 5.31) will start on six-days rest.