Arkansas 3, Auburn 2

Relief pitcher Josh "The Cockroach" Alberius slams the door by fanning the last five batters he faces and Luke Bonfield's walk-off single helps Arkansas rally past Auburn 3-2 Friday night before 6,429 fans at Baum Stadium.

Visiting Auburn had a whopping 20 guys on base on Friday night, but runs only count if you cross home plate.

Luke Bonfield’s RBI single plated Jake Arledge with the winning run in the bottom of the ninth after reliever Josh Alberius shut the door as No. 18 Arkansas rallied past Auburn 3-2 before 6,429 fans at Baum Stadium.

Arledge started the winning rally with a single and Rick Nomura lashed a double after two failed bunt attempts as the Razorbacks (16-6, 1-3) came back from a 2-0 deficit to break a three-game losing streak.

“It was huge,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. “That's really all I said out there after the game is that I didn't know if we were going to win or lose, but I know one thing, we played hard and we were determined to try to win. 

“There was nobody saying poor old me in that dugout. We were fighting hard. Even when it didn't look good early. 

“Then when we tied it up, momentum swung our way. That's a really good offense over there. We just did a nice job of hanging in there, and good things happened for us.”

First base was open with no one out after the hits by Arledge and Nomura to open the bottom of the ninth, but Auburn head coach Butch Thompson decided to pitch to Bonfield instead of walk him and load the bases.

“I was thinking they were going to put him on and go after Chad (Spanberger) and try to entice him to pop up or maybe strike him out and then obviously try to get the double play ball,” Van Horn said. “But the risk you take is that a walk, the game's over … or a hit by pitch.

“ … I was a little bit (surprised). It's one of two options. You pitch to him or you walk him. Maybe they just felt good about the matchup right on right instead of left on left with bases loaded and no outs.”

Bonfield was expecting to be walked, but was up to the challenge when he wasn’t.

“I was kind of looking to see if they were going to intentionally walk me, but when the catcher didn’t stand up I said ‘it’s time to go to work,’” Bonfield said.

“I thought they were going to pitch me carefully so I was kind of looking right center field approach and it worked out.”

Nomura was pleased to come through with the double after failing on the bunt attempts and praised Arkansas hitting coach Tony Vitello for showing the team the Tom Cruise movie The Last Samurai.

“It might sound silly, but Coach Vitello showed us a video of the Last Samurai snd there is a clip that said ‘too many minds,’” Nomura said. “I reflected back on my bunting situations and I was thinking ‘I have got to get it down, I have got to get it down’ and that is a classic situation of putting too much pressure on yourself.

“Like the movie says ‘that is too many minds.’ You want to be relaxed in the box to where it is just you and the pitcher and that’s it. I tried to just relax as much as I could as I just got the bat on the ball.

“That is the best feeling because Coach Van Horn is just giving me that look and I have seen that look before and it is not a good look to get from Coach Van Horn. You have just to stay calm and do what you can control and good things will happen.”

Alberius - the fourth Arkansas pitcher - fanned the final five batters he faced, including the side in the top of the ninth.

It was a certain pitch that was baffling the Tigers (11-11, 1-3).

“Inside fast ball for sure,” Alberius said. “I just kind of went outside-outside and then hit them inside and they didn’t swing at it. I threw a changeup to the left and used the slider to the righties and really just kept the ball in the zone hoping for ground balls and ended up getting strikeouts.”

Alberius fanned five of the eight batters he faced and did not allow a hit in his 2 2/3 innings of work and said it was a matter of keeping the ball down.

“I don’t have overpowering stuff,” Alberius said. “I am not going to blow the fast ball past you. I am just going to get you with movement and off speed and just throwing inside fast balls at the knee.”

He actually was surprised he got the call from Van Horn instead of closer Zach Jackson.

“I really didn’t expect to come out of the bullpen,” Alberius said. “I always have got my mind right to come out but I saw Zach Jackson come down and I thought, ‘He is about to get the baseball and we didn’t end up getting a lead and my name got called and I just did my job.”

The former infielder also got the job done with by picking Blake Logan off second base with one out in the seventh inning and lived up to his nickname Cockroach, which Nomura let out of the bag in post-game interviews.

"Oh, my God," Alberius said. "Yeah they call me The Cockroach. Kind of went back to a story either Vitello or (pitching coach Dave) Jorn that if you step on a cockroach it probably is not going to die. I have been here a few years, I have been an infielder and a pitcher and they tried to step on me many times and it's just not working for them. Hopefully I can continue with that and represent my nickname well."

The two teams both had nine hits with Auburn also receiving nine walks and having two of its batters hit for the 20 base runners, 14 that were stranded and others that ran into outs.

Auburn got the scoring started and knocked out Arkansas starter Dominic Taccolini in the third with a pair of runs before he could get an out.

 Logan drove home one with a double and Daniel Robert plated the other with a single to put Auburn up 2-0.

James Teague replaced Taccolini and walked his first batter to load the bases before working out of the jam without any further damage.

Arkansas would tie it up 2-2 in the sixth when Carson Shaddy - who had his team’s first two hits - reached base for the third straight time by walking.

Cullen Gassaway drove him in with a double and then Nomura tied it with an RBI single.

“It was a little disheartening early in the game,” Van Horn said. “We had runners at first and second and one out and Tucker (Pennell) lined out to third. It looked like we were about ready to make a move, and I don't know if I've ever seen a ball hit harder than that on a line.

“He smoked it and it went in and out of the third baseman's glove. We're thinking, ‘wow, maybe this isn't our night.’

“Then we kind of held it together and got the big hit by Gassaway. Obviously every hit from then on was a big hit.”

Taccolini escaped the first two innings, but had to throw 53 pitches to do so.

By the time he left the game an inning later, he had thrown 65 pitches - 34 for strikes - while walking three, fanning three, hitting a batter, allowing six hits and the two earned runs.

Teague would go 2 2/3 innings while allowing a pair of hits before turning a two-out, bases-loaded situation to Jordan Rodriguez.

Lefty Rodriguez fanned lefty-hitting Joshua Palacious to leave the sacks jammed.

It was a night for Arkansas to put being swept at South Carolina last weekend behind it.

““It was huge because we had a tough series about South Carolina and coming back with a walk off win is huge for us,” Nomura said. “It gives us good vibes going into tomorrow.”

The two teams will meet again Saturday night at 6:30 p.m.

Luke Bonfield drives in the game winner.

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