FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas’ offense finally woke up Friday afternoon, helping the Razorbacks avoid their first sweep of the season.
Jax Biggers’ two-out RBI single in the eighth inning broke a tie and Eric Cole added a two-run single to lift Arkansas (34-12, 13-8 SEC) to a 7-4 win over Ole Miss in the second game of a doubleheader at Baum Stadium.
It was a pleasant ending to a tough stretch in which the Razorbacks went 5-4 and played nine games in four different cities during an 11-day span.
“That was a huge game for us mentally,” head coach Dave Van Horn said. “You guys can probably tell. We’re tired. There’s no doubt about it.”
The Rebels (27-17, 11-10) appeared to be on their way to a sweep early in the game, hitting two home runs and scoring three runs off Arkansas starter Kacey Murphy.
The sophomore left-hander was making his first career SEC start, but didn’t make it through the second inning. All three runs were earned and came off three hits and two walks in 1 2/3 innings.
He was relieved by Jake Reindl, who gave the Razorbacks a career-high 6 1/3 innings and kept them within striking distance. He allowed just one earned run on six hits and three walks while striking out five on 92 pitches.
“I don’t usually throw that many pitches, so it was a little different for me,” Reindl said. “I just knew I needed to go as long as I could and try to help the team out.”
In six relief appearances in SEC play, the sophomore right-hander has given up just two earned runs in 22 1/3 innings, good for an 0.81 ERA. Reindl is 2-0 with a save in those games.
“We’re contemplating starting him,” Van Horn said. “He has just done a tremendous job in every role that we’ve put him in, whether it’s long relief or short relief or closing.”
With Reindl in a groove on the mound, Arkansas started chipping away at Ole Miss’ lead.
Grant Koch’s two-run home run in the third inning cut the deficit to 3-2 and Chad Spanberger tied the game with a two-out solo home run in the fifth. Two batters later, Koch drove in the go-ahead run on a double that the centerfielder nearly caught at the wall.
The Rebels fought back in the seventh to tie the game on an RBI single by Colby Bortles. It was his sixth RBI of the series.
However, an error by Ole Miss second baseman Tate Blackman extended the eighth inning and the Razorbacks made the Rebels pay, with Biggers and Cole delivering the go-ahead and insurance hits.
“For Biggers to get that hit … That was the hit we hadn’t been getting, that two-out hit,” Van Horn said. “Those are the ones you’ve got to have if you’re going to win these tight games.”
Arkansas still needed three outs to seal the victory and they didn’t come easy.
Reindl started the ninth inning, but was replaced when he walked the leadoff batter. The Razorbacks brought in Cannon Chadwick, who has struggled for several weeks, and he hit Blackman with a pitch to bring the tying run to the plate.
Van Horn wasted no time pulling Chadwick and bringing in designated hitter Evan Lee to pitch.
“We knew that he would compete and we felt like he would throw strikes,” Van Horn said. “If they hit a home run or hit a couple of doubles, at least you can sleep at night and say we didn’t walk them or hit them.
“Coach (Wes) Johnson and I discussed it in the dugout and I said, ‘I have to have somebody who can throw it over the plate.’”
It was a chance at redemption for the freshman from Bryant, who failed to drive in the go-ahead run in the at bat before Biggers in the eighth inning.
He delivered by getting three straight Rebels to fly out on only six pitches.
“That was a little motivation,” Lee said. “I was like, ‘I didn’t help my team in that situation, so I’m going to help them here.’
“I was just going to try to attack those hitters and do the best I could to close it out.”
With no more midweek games left on the schedule and an extra day off because of Friday’s doubleheader, Van Horn said he would lock up the baseball facility and force his team to rest until Tuesday’s practice.
A three-game road series at Tennessee is on the horizon, though, and the players weren’t too happy about the time off.
“He’s going to lock it up, but we’re going to have to find a way in because we have to flush after that,” Reindl said.
“He can lock it up, but I’m going to find a way in here,” Lee added. “It’s all about the process and moving forward to face Tennessee.
“We have to get ready, get our minds right and our bodies prepared.”
Ole Miss 4, Arkansas 1
A four-run first inning was all Ole Miss needed to clinch its series in the first game of a doubleheader against Arkansas on Friday.
The Rebels (27-16, 11-9 SEC) jumped on Trevor Stephan early, sending 10 batters to the plate in the opening frame, and beat the Razorbacks 4-1 at Baum Stadium.
“This league’s tough,” Stephan said. “That first inning obviously didn’t go my way. I just had to battle through it today.”
Ole Miss’ first three batters of the game reached base and came around to score.
An RBI single by Bortles got things started and, after a sacrifice bunt, Nick Fortes ripped a double down the third base line to score two more runs.
Arkansas third baseman Jared Gates nearly snared Fortes’ liner, which could have led to a double play. Instead, it grazed his glove and went into the corner.
He did stop a sharply hit ball by Cooper Johnson later in the inning, but it still resulted in an infield hit. Although one run scored, it saved a fifth run from crossing the plate.
Stephan needed 40 pitches to get through the first inning before settling in and allowing only three more base runners on 53 pitches in his final five innings.
“My fastball the first inning was running all over the place,” Stephan said. “I pulling it and then I found that and got some confidence in my off-speed, which helped a lot.”
A week after lasting just 1 1/3 innings against Auburn, the junior right-hander pitched six innings against Ole Miss. He struck out five and three of the Rebels’ four runs were earned.
For the second straight game, the Rebels’ starting pitcher stymied Arkansas’ bats. Freshman left-hander Ryan Rolison scattered four hits and a walk across six innings while striking out three.
Other than Koch’s solo home run in the fifth inning, the Razorbacks’ best chance to get back in the game came in the sixth.
Jake Arledge was hit by a pitch to start the inning and Luke Bonfield singled after a deep fly out to center by Spanberger. However, Rolison struck out Carson Shaddy and Gates to end the threat.
In the first 18 innings of the series, Arkansas’ offense has managed just two runs – both on solo homers – and seven hits.