Vandy Too Tough For Diamond Hogs

HOOVER, Ala. — Another title game, another runner-up finish for Arkansas. For the third major sport in a row this school year, the University of Arkansas came within one win of staking its claim as Southeastern Conference champions. But for the third consecutive time in the past six months, the Razorbacks came up just short.

This time, it was the baseball diamond where Arkansas saw its title chances spoiled at the end as top-ranked Vanderbilt handed the Diamond Hogs a 7-4 loss in Sunday's SEC Tournament finals.

"It was a good tournament. The championship game was back and forth for a couple of innings," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "It didn't look good for us at first, then we made a pretty good run at them in our first couple at-bats.

"But then we slowed down. I thought it would have been a little higher scoring game on both sides, but their pitcher (Tyler Rhoden) did a nice job once he got it going. And I thought Chris Rhoads did a nice job settling things down for us.

"You know, we had our chances. We just couldn't get anything going. But give Vandy credit. They did a great job, they've got a great team. But I'm proud of our team."

Down to relying on mostly relievers after three straight pitching gems from starters Nick Schmidt, Jess Todd and Duke Welker, the 15th-ranked Razorbacks finally met their match in top-ranked Vanderbilt. But with a tournament-high 7,263 on hand at Regions Park, the Diamond Hogs didn't go down without a fight.

"We got to stay here all week and we were able to get better," Van Horn said. "We played good teams, played in a big ballpark in front of a lot of people. So yeah, we got better this week.

"You know, 3-1 (tournament record), it's tough to lose the championship game because nobody remembers who loses the championship game. But we got better. Our bullpen did a good job, our starters did a good job, except for one (Keuchel), and he's young and will work more out of bullpen come this weekend. So we learned a lot and it was good for our bullpen to get some work."

The bullpen combo of Chris Rhoads, Stephen Richards and Brian McLelland were the biggest reason Arkansas (41-19) even stayed close Sunday. After a costly throwing error by third basemen Logan Forsythe led to three unearned runs in the first inning, the relief staff followed up Keuchel with eight impressive innings of work.

"I think coming down here, it was definitely our goal to get back on track," Arkansas catcher Brian Walker said. "The pitching staff carried us a lot, the guys threw well today and it was a successful weekend.

"Obviously it didn't work out at the end the way we wanted. But I think we can go into the regional with confidence about the way we're playing. We're definitely closer and I think we're ready for a stretch run."

After losing its first game of the tournament, 6-4 against Tenneesee on Wednesday, the Commodores (51-11) reeled off five straight wins to take the championship. Behind Rhoden — who hadn't started a single game before Sunday — Vanderbilt continued a tournament full of strong pitching all the way to the title.

Still, Vandy coach Tim Corbin left with ultimate respect for an Arkansas team which came very close in its latest bid for an SEC Championship.

"There's absolutely no question (Arkansas deserves a national seed)," Corbin said. "I thought Arkansas and Mississippi, when we played them at that point in the year and I feel this way now, I thought they were two Omaha teams. And the reason I thought that is because their pitching is lights out.

"That's a very, very good team and there's no doubt in my mind they deserve (a national seed and super regional), though."

Now, Arkansas waits to see if its run through the SEC Tournament will be good enough to earn one of those coveted eight national seeds. The NCAA Tournament pairings are announced at 11:30 a.m. central today on ESPN. And while the Razorbacks already know they're hosting a regional, they'll also find out if a super regional is coming their way or not.

"I think we deserve one," Van Horn said. "I think we're right there and they're probably figuring that out right now.

"You know, hopefully we will be (a national seed) but our focus is just to find our who we're playing Friday and play well."

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