After seeing things go its way on both Friday and Saturday, Arkansas finally watched all the good bounces and good fortune turn in Tennessee's favor for once in a 7-6, 10-inning loss to the Volunteers on Sunday in Baum Stadium.
With a crowd of 6,948 on hand hoping for a Diamond Hogs' three-game sweep, instead it was Tennessee (23-16, 10-8 Southeastern Conference) who got the last laugh in this back-and-forth battle.
But just like the previous two games, the losing team sure had their chances.
For Arkansas, the bottom of the ninth was where the game surely could have been won — but wasn't. Entering the inning trailing Tennessee, 6-4, the Razorbacks (22-17, 7-10) benefited from two walks and two hit batters to even the score. And with the bases loaded and still no one out, a worn out Volunteers bullpen looked ready to give this contest away.
But just when Arkansas appeared on the verge of another thrilling down-to-the wire win, a crucial baserunning blunder opened the door for a Tennessee escape out of the jam. Needing just any type of hit out of the infield or fly ball deep enough to the outfield, the Razorbacks instead got a ground ball by Logan Forsythe to shortstop Cody Grisham with the bases loaded and nobody out. Grisham made a force play at home for the first out, but the base running mistake followed when Arkansas' Chase Leavitt mistakenly thought the ball had been caught in the air and failed to advance, allowing Tennessee to force him out as well at third base for a double play.
One batter later, Tennessee had another force at second base. And one inning later, the Volunteers had a crazy, 10-inning win after putting together a two-hit frame off of reliever Stephen Richards.
"(Tennessee) did what they needed to do," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "We had our opportunity. We finally put together a good inning there in the bottom of the ninth and Leavitt, I don't know what he was thinking. I just asked him again and I didn't want to dwell on it when we were still trying to win the game.
"He couldn't tell if the pitcher was going to catch the line drive so he started moving back to the base. But once he throws to the plate he's got to run. And I don't know, he just locked up. But we battled back and had our opportunity to win there. I'm disappointed we didn't, but we played hard all weekend and won another series. You know, we're battling back and we're fighting it and I'm proud of our guys battling back and winning another series again."
For Tennessee, having one game in the series go its way had to be a relief. Especially after the first two could have very easily, but didn't.
"It didn't look good in the ninth. Bases loaded, no outs, we're down to our last pitcher and they've got their three-hole hitter coming to the plate," Volunteers coach Todd Raleigh said. "It didn't look good, but we managed to get out of it and come back and score another run.
"We could have won all three, we could have lost all three this weekend. But the biggest thing for us was we kept battling real hard."
Arkansas missed out on its chance at an SEC series sweep, something the Razorbacks haven't done since April 4-15 of 2007 against Florida. But in a way, failing to get the sweep perhaps shows the difference between last season and this season.
"I mean that's the difference between having a good team and a great team and a team that wins and finishes game," Van Horn said. "Right now we don't finish a lot of games. We battle, but we're a little shorthanded out in the bullpen and we're a little shorthanded with our offense until we get (Andy) Wilkins back and until we can get (Casey) Coon back swinging it good. And then your defense needs to get better and you need to swing it better up and down the lineup.
"Guys have filled in adequately and they've given us a chance. We're just hoping in the next couple of weeks we can have everybody back and survive and get better the rest of this season."
The Razorbacks are back in action at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday when they begin a two-game series against Northern Colorado in Baum Stadium.
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