The No. 4 Arkansas Razorbacks have a day of mostly rest Friday as they await the winner of this afternoon’s No. 5 LSU-Texas A&M contest in the loser’s bracket of the SEC Baseball Tournament at Hoover, Ala.
LSU (43-14, 19-10) play Texas A&M (34-24, 14-16) at 3 p.m. The Razorbacks will face the winner of that game at noon Saturday. On Saturday, the tournament switches back to single-elimination play.
Friday and Saturday’s games will be televised on the SEC Network. Sunday’s 2 p.m. championship game will be televised by ESPN2.
Win or lose, Sunday will be a big day for the Hogs as the 16 hosts sites for the NCAA Baseball Tournament will be announced. Arkansas is already in line to be one of the eight national seeds, which would give the Razorbacks a host role through the first two rounds of the tournament as long as they advance.
The entire field of the NCAA Tournament will be announced on ESPN2 at 11 a.m. Monday, which has become a Memorial Day tradition.
The Razorbacks advanced to Saturday’s semis by upending No. 5 LSU, 5-4, Thursday afternoon in a highly competitive game that left the two Western Division rivals tied at 2-2 in meetings this season.
No. 4 Arkansas (41-15, 20-10 SEC)
Opponent: Winner of LSU-Texas A&M
When: Noon Saturday, May 27
Where: Metropolitan Stadium, Hoover, Ala.
TV: SEC Network
The Tigers won the two squads’ regular-season series, 2 games to 1, with the Razorback evening the tally in dramatic fashion Thursday, scoring all five of their runs in the bottom of the fourth inning after falling behind 2-0.
The Razorbacks had tied the game and loaded the bases with two outs before LSU second baseman tracked down a shallow pop-up to short center by Kendall Diggs.
However, LSU catcher Alex Milazzo was called for interference when his glove came in contact with the bat on Diggs’ backswing. The interference, which was upheld by video, plated Brady Slavens for the 3-2 lead, and gave the Razorbacks new life.
Jace Bohrofen then swatted a two-run single to put the Hogs’ ahead for good, 5-2.
LSU coach Jay Johnson, who called Bohrofen one of the best players in the country, was magnanimous in defeat, heaping credit on the Razorbacks for their play at the plate, on the mound, and in the field.
“I tip my hat to their hitters because they did something nobody has done all year,” Johnson said of knocking [LSU ace and SEC Pitcher of the Year Paul] Skenes out of the game after 3 2/3 innings. “And they were able to get to the right part of the ball and hit some balls hard through the infield and created three or four good at-bats in a row.”
The Tigers notched runs in the eighth and ninth inning, one off a Dylan Crews homer in the eighth, but the Razorbacks held on to the hard-fought win thanks to the excellent work of the left-handed pitching duo of Hagen Smith and Hunter Holland.
The two combined to defeat LSU on March 24 at Baton Rouge in a 9-3 series-opening victory; however, in that game Holland started and Smith relieved. On Thursday, Smith struck out nine LSU batters, while Hollan sat down eight. Hollan said it was the first time he had come out of the bullpen since high school.
Johnson again praised the Hogs for the Smith-Holland pitching combination, calling it the best the Tigers had played against all season.
“They executed very, very well,” Johnson said. “They’re two of the best left-handed pitchers in college baseball.”
Razorbacks second baseman Peyton Holt, who made a great double-play throw to third base, continued his hot hitting, going 2 for 4 with an RBI. Third baseman Caleb Cali also went 2 for 4 with an RBI. Slavens had a key single in the fourth that led to him scoring on the catcher’s interference.
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn, SEC Coach of the Year, was obviously enthused about the victory. He said the Hogs would have a light practice Thursday to keep spry for their showdown with the LSU-A&M winner.
As big as Saturday’s game is, don’t expect Van Horn to throw the kitchen sink at the Tigers or the Aggies.
Van Horn won’t sluff off the game, but he knows the matchup Saturday is not nearly as important as his team being healthy going into next weekend’s NCAA Regional.
“We don’t want to tax anyone,” Van Horn said when asked about taking Smith out after 70 pitches. “…we want everybody to be ready next week for the regionals.”