Not Once, But Twice, Bama Blows It
Arkansas (16-5, 2-2 SEC) took advantage of three walks and an error to plate four runs in the decisive eighth inning to claim the series opener. Sophomore third baseman Zack Cox, who extended his hitting streak to 21 games and knocked in a career high six runs, tied the game with a three-run double off Brett Whitaker in the bottom of the eighth inning. He scored the winning one batter later when Arkansas DH Monk Kreder reached on an error by Alabama shortstop Josh Rutledge. Alabama junior right hander Jason Townsend retired James McCann to open the eighth inning but then issued back-to-back walks to No. 8 hitter Bo Bigham and No. 9 hitter Matt Reynolds before being replaced by Whitaker. Whitaker then walked leadoff man Collin Kuhn before he got Brett Eibner to pop up to right field for the second out. Whitaker the fell behind Cox with a 2-0 count before the Razorbacks third baseman cleared the bases with a double to left center field. Alabama appeared to be out of the inning, but Kreder's ground ball went through the legs of Rutledge at short as Cox scored the go-ahead run. "I thought the key to the game on our side was we allowed Cox and (Andy) Wilkins both to beat us and we came into the game and those were the two guys we wanted to take out," Alabama head coach Mitch Gaspard said. "In the eighth inning, we were trying to pitch Cox away. We were pitching around him basically and we made a mistake right there and the ball got over the middle and he hammered it. That's what good players do. They delivered big hits when they had too." Arkansas relief pitcher T.J. Forrest (3-0) benefitted from the four-run eighth inning and picked up his third win. DJ Baxendale pitched around a leadoff walk in the ninth for his sixth save. Whitaker (1-1) suffered his first loss of the season after he allowed two runs in the eighth inning. Alabama (16-4, 2-2 SEC) had snapped a 5-5 tie with two runs in the seventh inning to take a 7-5 lead. Junior second baseman Ross Wilson stroked a leadoff single to left field and moved to third on a two wild pitches. Senior third baseman Jake Smith then lifted a fly ball to left field and Wilson raced home with the go-ahead run as he slid in ahead of the tag from catcher James McCann. Sophomore DH Jon Kelton was hit by a pitch and moved to second on redshirt freshman right fielder Brandt Hendricks base hit to center. Freshman left fielder Brett Booth greeted Arkansas relief pitcher Geoffrey Davenport with an RBI single to push the lead to 7-5. The Crimson Tide extended its lead to 8-5 in the eighth inning when junior catcher Brock Bennett reached on a leadoff double and scored on Rutledge's bunt single. Bennett went 2-for-4 to extend his hitting streak to six games. Rutledge went 1-for-4 with one RBI to extend his hitting streak to 15 games. Alabama and Arkansas pitchers combined for 11 walks and four hit batters in the series opener. The two teams also combined for five errors, including three by Alabama. "It wasn't a real pretty game but it certainly was an exciting game on both sides," Gaspard said. "There were a lot of things going on. I thought the walks affected both teams. Both teams played with pretty good energy. It was kind of a sloppy played game." The first inning set the tone as Alabama took advantage of two errors by Arkansas shortstop Matt Reynolds to take a 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Sophomore center fielder Taylor Dugas drew a leadoff walk and after Rutledge struck out, Wilson and senior first baseman Clay Jones reached on errors by Reynolds to load the bases. Smith grounded out to the pitcher on a slow roller up the first base line to drive in Dugas and Kelton's infield hit scored Wilson to put the Tide up 2-0. Jones scored on a wild pitch to cap the three-run inning. The Crimson Tide added a run in the third inning to take a 4-0 lead. Jones drew a leadoff walk and the Tide loaded the bases when Smith and Kelton were both hit by pitches with no outs. Arkansas escaped with a minimal damage as the Tide managed only one run. Hendricks hit into a double play that scored Jones and Booth flied out to end the inning. A two-out rally produced a run in the fifth inning as Alabama stretched its lead to 5-0. Smith drew a two-out walk and Kelton followed with a double down the left field line to score Smith from first base. Arkansas tied the game with five runs in the bottom of the fifth inning on home runs by Cox and Wilkins. The inning started when Reynolds fouled out down the right field but Hendricks dropped the ball giving Reynolds new life. He then singled on the next pitch and moved to second on Eibner's one-out single. Cox followed with a three-run home run to left field as Arkansas cut the lead to 5-3. Kreder followed with a double down the left field line and scored on Wilkins' towering home run to left to tie the game at 5-5. The teams will square off again on Saturday, March 27, at 2:05 p.m. (CDT). Alabama is expected to send junior right-hander Jimmy Nelson (4-0, 1.26 ERA) to the mound against Arkansas right-hander Brett Eibner (2-2, 3.18 ERA). GAME NOTES: *Sophomore center fielder Taylor Dugas drew a leadoff walk in the first inning to extend his on-base streak to nine consecutive plate appearances. The streak ended with his at-bat in the second inning. In his last four games, Dugas had reached base in 15 of his 20 plate appearances. *Junior shortstop Josh Rutledge went 1-for-4 with an RBI to extend his hitting streak to 15 games. *The Crimson Tide scored three runs in the first inning and has now outscored the opposition 20-1 in the opening frame this season. Alabama led 4-0 after three innings and has now outscored the opposition 58-13 in the first three innings this season. *Arkansas scored five runs in the bottom of the fifth inning, tying for the most runs allowed in an inning by Alabama this season.. Stony Brook scored five runs in the seventh inning against the Tide on March 12, tying the game at 8-8. The Crimson Tide eventually won that game 15-8. *The Razorbacks hit two home runs in Friday's series opener, tying South Alabama (Feb. 20) and Auburn (March 24) for the most home runs hit against Alabama in a game this year. The Crimson Tide pitching staff has allowed nine home runs in 20 games this season, the fewest in the SEC.
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