Late Homer Spoils Arkansas Sweep

STARKVILLE, Miss. — Arkansas' Jake Dugger had a glazed over look in his eyes while watching the replay of Brian LaNinfa's walk-off, two-run homer on the JumboTron. It lifted Mississippi State to a 9-8 win in Saturday's nightcap.

"Man, that's a tough way to lose," said Dugger, who made two highlight-worthy diving catches in the game. "We played well enough to win ... That's what's disappointing."

LaNinfa's towering blast to right field off freshman reliever Brett Bollman helped the Bulldogs salvage a split of Saturday's doubleheader after Arkansas won the opener 6-2 in front of 7,390 at Dudy Noble Field.

The No. 12 Razorbacks (29-12, 9-8 in Southeastern Conference play) trailed 5-1 after three innings before rallying to take an 8-7 lead into ninth inning of Game 2. The Hogs hook up with MSU (29-10, 8-8) for the series' rubber match at 1:30 p.m. today.

And even though the Hogs now trail Western Division leader Alabama by three games (the Tide won two games against Vanderbilt on Saturday), Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn seemed upbeat after Saturday's split.

The reason was partly because of the way the Hogs kept battling in the nightcap, but mostly because they weren't at full strength with center fielder Craig Gentry (knee) and second baseman Logan Forsythe (illness) out of the lineup. In addition, right fielder Chris Hollensworth (illness) left Game 2 in the third inning.

"That was one of the most gutsy performances I've seen from a team," Van Horn said. "It hurt the way we got beat, but we just kept battling. Really, we deserved to win the game. It's sad to see that because we worked hard for that.

"But I'm proud of them. I just told them to keep playing like that and we're going to win a lot of games."

The ninth inning started with an error by shortstop Matt Willard when he got handcuffed while trying to backhand a hard grounder between hops. Bollman then got Thomas Berkery to fly out before getting behind in the count to LaNinfa, who tattooed a 3-1, belt-high fastball for his second homer of the game.

Van Horn second-guessed his decision to keep the right-handed Bollman in the game instead of bringing in left-hander Devin Collis, who pitched in Game 1, to face the left-hand swinging LaNinfa.

"Hindsight is 20-20," Van Horn said. "(Bollman) was in a groove and (Collis) had already pitched and it's tough sometimes to pitch twice in the same day. But (Bollman) was on a roll and things were going our way.

"(Bollman's) ball was sinking and it was diving and we though our best chance to get a double play ball was to leave him in."

LaNinfa and Berkery combined for seven hits and drove in eight of the Bulldogs' nine runs. That helped starter John Johnson complete six innings while allowing five runs on six hits. The biggest hit for the Razorbacks was a three-run homer by Blake Parker in the fourth inning.

Hogs starter Trey Holloway lasted just 2 2/3 innings after allowing five earned runs on seven hits, including four runs on four hits in the third inning.

"We got Holloway out and Holloway's stats were outstanding coming in," said MSU coach Ron Polk. "I felt like we hit the ball pretty well all day, even in the first game. We just didn't drive them in (11 runners left on base).

"But Arkansas made all the plays. That's a good ball club."

In the opener, the Hogs' offense executed everything from hit-and-runs to sacrifice bunts to aid starter Nick Schmidt (7-2), who allowed one run on eight hits in seven innings.

"We did a good job of most everything all day," Van Horn said. "We probably executed as well offensively as we have all season."

Before throwing a pitch, Schmidt took the mound with a lead after Danny Hamblin clubbed a three-run homer in the top of the first. Mississippi State drove in its only run against Schmidt on a fielder's choice in the second inning that made it 3-1.

Schmidt gave up a triple to left-center by Berkery to leadoff the third before settling in to retire 15 of the last 19 batters he faced.

"I think that might have been the turning point of the game for us," Schmidt said of Berkery's triple. "That's when I started getting fired up and stopped letting them swing away or hack at the ball. I think that helped us get this win."

For the first time in three outings, Schmidt had command of his breaking ball and used it, along with a well-located changeup, to strike out eight while walking two. It's also been a few games since Schmidt had the luxury of pitching with a lead.

"When you're pitching with a lead, it's totally different than when it's 0-0 or you're down a couple of runs," Schmidt said. "(My breaking ball) has been hit and miss the last couple of games. But I felt like I had a good feel for it along with my changeup, which has been the same way, but they were both feeling good."

Arkansas added to its lead with two runs in the third on RBI singles by pinch hitter David Hum and Willard. Hollensworth made it 6-1 when he hit an RBI double, his SEC-leading 17th, down the left-field line in the fourth.

Hawgs Daily Top Stories