HOOVER, Ala. – The phrase diametrically opposed fits just what has happened with Arkansas in its first two games at the SEC Baseball Tournament.
After a Wednesday when it found itself down 5-0 to Alabama before coming to the plate in what turned into a 7-4 loss, the Razorbacks did the jumping out on Thursday morning.
James McCann's RBI single that scored lead-off man Bo Bigham – one of the four hits McCann had in his team's 14-hit attack – got Arkansas' off to a four-run first inning and the Razorbacks ended up cruising to a 7-2 win over Mississippi State in an elimination game.
"It was a lot better start for us today," Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. "I give credit to Bo Bigham in that first at-bat. He fouled off a lot of pitches and finally got a base hit. I think their starting pitcher threw 25 pitches before he got his first out. We did a good job going the other way, hitting some balls through the four hole and we weren't trying to do too much."
Arkansas (37-19) sticks around to play Friday at 3 p.m. against Thursday's Florida-Alabama loser in another elimination affair.
The Bulldogs (34-23), who lost 7-5 to Florida on Wednesday, await word on where they will play next week in the NCAA Tournament.
McCann, Bo Bigham, Collin Kuhn, Dominic Ficicello and Kyle Robinson – the first five hitters in the Razorback order – combined for 12 of their team's 14 hits.
"We were going to be aggressive all day," Van Horn said. "We struck out too much yesterday, but I wanted to be more aggressive today. I stole our catcher James McCann twice today. It's 90 degree humidity out there, he's fading and we're still running him. We tried the hit and run a couple times. We bunted our three hole hitter with two strikes and it worked for us. I think it was just real important for us to get the lead because we never led yesterday."
Winning pitcher DJ Baxendale (9-2) handled the first five innings on the mound while Barrett Astin was unscathed in the final four frames.
"DJ will tell you he didn't have his best stuff," Van Horn said. "He was laboring out there, but now he'll take seven or eight days off before getting ready for the next challenge.
"He combined with Barrett Astin, who threw four scoreless innings for us," Van Horn said. "He had great stuff and just went at them. Obviously its a lot easier to pitch with a lead, but he really attacked. "
McCann not only was the star at the plate, but the catcher helped get his two pitchers threw some frames where they needed help.
"Astin has been lights out for us all year," McCann said. "He has really impressed us on the mound. He's one of my favorite guys to catch. Him coming in today and taking those four innings on his back and carry it the rest of the way, that saved our bullpen. It was a big outing by him."
Baxendale was quick to note the much-maligned Arkansas defense was also a plus on Thursday with a trio of double plays.
"I really didn't have my best stuff today, but we got some big double play balls," Baxendale said. "The defense made a lot of plays behind me and its real easy when you have confidence in your defense. I was able to go out and pound the strikezone and kudos to the offense coming out and scoring runs and the defense playing behind me."
The Razorbacks got their four runs in the first against loser Nick Routt via three hits, two walks, two errors and a wild pitch.
McCann's hit not only chased home Bigham, but Kuhn also plated when the ball was misplayed in right field.
Matt Reynolds added an RBI single and McCann scored on a wild pitch as the Razorbacks went up 4-0.
"The first inning wasn't our best," MSU head coach John Cohen said. We got behind a lot on the mound. It seemed like they had a lot of hits at the same spot on the right side. Take that inning aside, I think we play okay.
"The three double plays really hurt us during the course of the game," Cohen added. "I thought we came out a little bit lethargic and I think our kids answered that in the seventh and eighth innings."
Kuhn doubled and came home on McCann's RBI single to push that lead to 5-0 in the fourth.
Mississippi did scratch against Baxendale in the bottom of the fourth when Jarrod Parks walked and Nick Vickerson and Jaron Shepherd followed with back-to-back doubles to cut it to 5-2.
But Arkansas answered right back with Bigham's RBI single in the fifth and Kyle Robinson's RBI double in the sixth capping the scoring.
"Those runs were big," Van Horn said. "We always talk about if we're rolling along with a three or four run lead and somebody scores, we need to score again. It slows them down just a little bit. Us punching a run in in the fourth was a big part of the game. I thought we were going to score another run or two, but that's the way things go."
Baxendale pitched the first five innings while allowing the two runs on six hits with three strikeouts and a pair of walks.
Astin hurled four scoreless innings of two-hit relief with four whiffs and no walks.
"I'm disappointed but I know we are a better team than that," Cohen said. " I think early in the morning both teams are a little tired and you just have to find a way to overcome that. They did a little better job of that than we did, so that's credit to them."
Van Horn is happy to spending another day in Hoover as Arkansas works to secure hosting a regional.
"I'm really proud of the way the guys bounced back after a tough loss yesterday and we're looking forward to playing again tomorrow," Van Horn said.
Arkansas 7, MSU 2
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