Arkansas turned the corner in April with improved pitching, antiseptic defense and clutch hitting. The Razorbacks got only the pitching Sunday in a 2-1 loss to Mississippi State.
The No. 25 Razorbacks left the bases loaded in the sixth and eighth to waste solid pitching from Keaton McKinney, Jackson Lowery and Josh Alberius, missing a chance for their first SEC series sweep of the season.
The defense had been amazing for most of the season. The Hogs had committed only one error in their last eight games to raise their fielding percentage to .980. Anything over .970 is considered at a championship level. But the defense was missing Sunday before a Baum Stadium crowd of 4,732.
Bobby Wernes and Brett McAfee both committed errors, but there were other mistakes did not show up in the box score. Left fielder Joe Serrano was late to Jake Vickerson's pop fly that fell behind McAfee, the shortstop. And, Vickerson would score the winning run from second after second baseman Michael Bernal dove to stop a hot smash to his left and was late getting to his feet. His throw was well wide of catcher Tucker Pennell.
"We just didn't play good," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "We didn't make plays and they did. We had chances to win the game. It was still a good weekend but we could have had a sweep and that's disappointing."
Arkansas (26-18, 11-10) still won its fifth straight SEC series. The Hogs don't have any midweek games and travel to Alabama for a series that begins Thursday night.
Mississippi State (23-21, 7-14) did make plays on defense for the most part. There were two infield hits that squirted away from defenders in the eighth when the Hogs had their best chance, the bases loaded with one out. But there were sparkling plays, too. Two different left fielders, Reid Humphreys and Cody Brown, made stabs.
Pennell sent a drive to the warning track in left center where Humphreys made a running catch in the fifth. But the killer was by Brown on a sinking liner in the sixth by McAfee that probably would have cleared the bases just after the Hogs had tied it on a bases loaded hit by pitch.
The Hogs had a couple of key called strike threes in budding rallies. Cullen Gassaway struckout three times. Luke Bonfield and Wernes also took called strikes. Some were on 3-2 pitches. Van Horn said the plan wasn't especially to go deep in counts.
"That can be a good thing (to go deep in a count), but you can't take strike three," he said. "Some were close calls and they went their way. But we also had at bats where we chased early in the count.
"I thought it was a well pitched game. McKinney pitched well enough to win. Their starter did, too. You had two guys pitching the same way, with a lot of changeups.
"But they got two runs when they shouldn't have been on base. The fly ball to left field, our left fielder has to make that play. We've been making all the plays, but we just didn't play very well today."
Andrew Benintendi, now hitting .381, led the UA attack with two hits and one walk. Tyler Spoon added two hits, but there was not much production on either side of the three-four hitters in the lineup. The rest of the team managed just two hits.
Mississippi State 2, Arkansas 1
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