Tide Drops Tight Game

A close call, a foul ball and a chalk tossing triple combined in all the wrong ways to hand Alabama its first home loss to Arkansas in a decade at Sewell-Thomas Stadium Friday night.

A two-out bloop-triple down the right field line by Arkansas designated hitter Clint Arnold drove in two runs and capped a good-luck top-of-the-ninth comeback, giving the Hogs the 5-4 win. It was the best luck Arkansas has had in a decade at "The Joe". The last time the Razorbacks won a game in Tuscaloosa was in 1995.

With Arkansas runners on first and second and Arnold batting, Tide reliever David Robertson was one strike away from recording his seventh save of the season . Instead, Arnold fisted the 2-2 fastball over first baseman Zac Welch's head where it dropped on the right fied line just in front of Morrow Thomley. Thomley couldn't immediately corral the ball and Craig Gentry scored the eventual winning run from first base without a throw.

After walking the first batter in the ninth, Robertson made a costly mental fielding mistake when Gentry hit a slow roller to the first-base side of the pitcher's mound. Robertson fielded cleanly, but made an initial move to throw out lead runner Ben Tschepikow at second base before recoiling and firing to first, too late to retire Gentry.

An attempted bottom-of-the-ninth Bama comeback got off to a poor start due to a close call on a lead-off bunt attempt by Emeel Salem. Salem's bunt traveled past Arkansas pitcher Charley Boyce on the right side and was scooped up by first baseman Danny Hamblin. Salem dove toward the outside of first base in an attempt to avoid Hamblin's tag and beat him to the base, but he was called out by first-base umpire Rick Darby.

Allen Rice flied out to center field in the next at-bat, and Gabe Scott followed with a single before Evan Bush grounded into a fielder's choice to second base to end the game.

The final-inning histrionics might have been avoided had Scott's shot with the bases loaded just outside the left field foul pole in the seventh inning been a yard right. Scott struck out on the following pitch to limit the damage in the frame, however. Arkansas pitchers had combined to hit two batters and walk two batters earlier in the seventh inning to plate the run that tied the game at 3-3.

"That's a tough loss," Alabama Head Coach Jim Wells said. "The main thing is that we bounce back. It's been a long season. this team has been resilient all year. If the ball bounces one way or a call goes another way it's different. It's going to happen that way. It's not like we got beat 12-1."

Unfortunately for Wells, the record will not note a difference in the closeness of the game. Alabama dropped to 34-17 overall with the loss and 14-11 in Southeastern Conference play. Arkansas improved to 36-14, 12-13 in the SEC. Alabama still holds a share of the SEC West lead, however, after an LSU loss to Tennessee Friday night.

Alabama broke a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the eighth by virtue of consecutive two-out singles off the bats of Kody Valverde, Zac Welch and Cale Iorg. Valverde went from first to third on Welch's single to right field and scored on Iorg's base hit up the middle to give the Tide the lead entering the ninth inning.

The last-inning loss was the first time in 28 games this season Alabama dropped a game it led entering the ninth inning.

Starting pitcher Wade LeBlanc was dominant until the seventh inning, allowing just one runner to reach scoring position (second base) before that point.

Arkansas got to LeBlanc in the seventh with a Clay Goodwin leadoff double followed by Brian Walker single to put runners at the corners with no outs. LeBlanc retired .136 hitter Stephen Robison, but walked the next batter and gave up a two-run double to Gentry for the Hogs first two runs.

Jake Dugger hit a sacrifice fly to score another run before LeBlanc was replaced by Robertson.

Alabama had the early 2-0 lead in the game thanks to a two-run blast by catcher Kody Valverde to left field.

Boyce (9-6) picked up the win for Arkansas while Robertson (6-4) took the loss in the game.

Alabama and Arkansas play again Saturday at 4 p.m. at The Joe.


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