HOOVER, Ala. - Great pitching and just enough runs once again proved to be a winning combination for the Razorbacks at the SEC Tournament.
Chris Oliver pitched 6 1/3 innings of four-hit, one-run baseball and Michael Gunn and Jacob Stone finished up as seventh-seeded Arkansas downed second-seeded Ole Miss 2-1 Wednesday afternoon at the SEC Tournament.
"First, I thought it was a great game," Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. "The two teams basically mirrored each other. We hit a lot of balls hard. It was like neither team could get the big hit. Brian (Anderson) hit a ball about as hard as you can in the first inning with the bases loaded and we get a sacrifice fly out of it."
The win moves the Razorbacks (37-21) – riding a five-game winning streak – into a 4:30 p.m. game with third-seeded LSU (41-14-1) on Thursday.
"Chris battled in there and coming up with a one-run win is great," Van Horn said. ""I thought the pitching for both teams was outstanding. We were fortunate to win. We have played a lot of one-run games this year so we were actually very comfortable with it."
Clark Eagan and Andrew Benintendi each had two of their team's eight hits on a day when the Razorbacks handed Rebels' starter Chris Ellis (9-1) his first loss of the season in 15 starts.
Eagan singled and eventually came on Brian Anderson's sacrifice fly to put Arkansas up 1-0 in the top of the first, but Ellis limited the damage of a bases-loaded, no-out situation with just the one tally.
It stayed that way until the sixth when Eric Fisher led off with a single, stole second, moved to third on Bobby Wernes' ground out and then came home on a two-out wild pitch.
Oliver (8-4) pitched into the seventh inning before turning it over to Michael Gunn, who gave up a one-out single to pinch-hitter Colby Bortles to cut it to 2-1.
Oliver pitched out of a few jams and picked off a pair of Rebels. The Hogs lead the SEC with 18 pickoffs. They also lead the SEC with 59 double plays.
"Getting the off speed pitch over played a huge part in it," Oliver said. "I had the fastball a little more when we played in the conference series at Ole Miss. So I had to go off-speed which helped them keep it off the fast ball a little bit. Their approach was different today. They had a lot better approach today."
Stone then got the final five outs – the biggest one being a whiff of SEC leading hitter Will Allen with a pair of runners on to end the eighth - while giving up just one hit to record his second save.
"Obviously he (Stone) is a great pitcher," Allen said. "He did his job. For us, it is a situation I want to be in. Unfortunately it didn't work out. He has some great stuff. He missed a couple of pitches that I fouled straight back. On that last pitch, I didn't really see it as well. I got caught up. You have to be able to swing and fight that one off, especially when there are guys in scoring position."
Arkansas could move into Saturday's semifinals with a win over LSU on Thursday while a loss would put them in an elimination game on Friday.
LSU is likely to start Aaron Nola (9-1, 1.42) while Arkansas is likely to counter with freshman Dominic Taccolini.
"I think we have some young guys on this team and we are really starting to come together as a full squad," Anderson said. "Our pitching has been there for us all year. We are just able to put a few runs up here and there for them. From an offensive standpoint, we are just trying to scratch and claw to get whatever we can."
Ole Miss (40-17) will now face Vanderbilt at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday in an elimination game.
"I thought it was a typical Friday night in the Southeastern Conference," Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said. "Two great pitchers, both on short rest, pitched great. It just comes to timely hitting and executing offensively. We didn't have many opportunities.
"We blew some opportunities early with pick-offs," Bianco added. "They are just magnified. Oliver is so good. He pitched very similar to this in Oxford a few weeks ago, and we knew going in how good he would be. Chris (Ellis) was excellent as well. We just weren't able to scratch a couple runs across for him."
Bianco went on to praise the Arkansas program.
"That has been them since Dave Van Horn has been there and Dave Jorn the pitching coach. They have always pitched. This team is no different than any other year.
"Specifically about Oliver, it is no secret," Bainco added. "He throws mid-90s but enough command with the off-speed stuff. He mixes it up, so it is hard for them to lock in. He is a good athlete. He is a great competitor. You can see the emotion out there and that the team believes in him. He has pitched well and beaten good team in the conference."
Arkansas first baseman Eric Fisher tags out Ole Miss' Braxton Lee after a pick-off throw from Chris Oliver in the first inning.
Arkansas 2, Ole Miss 1
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