FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas and Alabama both brought plenty of offense to Baum Stadium on Friday. But only one team backed it up with a brilliant bullpen.
In a game where hits were aplenty and runs were being scored right and left out of the gate, the difference was relief pitching. And that's where Alabama clearly won the battle, turning to a pair from the bullpen to shut down Arkansas and grab an 11-7 win.
With 6,974 on hand at Baum, the Razorbacks (27-19, 9-12) appeared ready to ride their hot bats to victory. But after taking an early 4-1 lead, Arkansas' offense began to fizzle in the late innings. With true freshman Jimmy Nelson on the mound in relief, the Crimson Tide mounted their rally and let Nelson do the rest.
"We've continued to run (Nelson) out there because he's one of our better arms," Alabama coach Jim Wells said. "He struggled earlier in the year and in the middle of the year, but he's shown some signs of life here at the end of the year. And he certainly put us in a position where we could win this game. Because when your starter gets knocked out in the fourth, that's hard.
"You know, we feel good about the guy at the end (Austin Graham). But we still had a lot of innings to get, so he did a great job."
Both team's starters failed to get through four innings, forcing the relievers to sort out the mess of who could shut out whom. And in 4 1/3 innings, Nelson did the shutting down as he gave up just one run on six hits and helped hold the Diamond Hogs scoreless in the last four innings.
"I really just tried to go out there and throw strikes," Nelson said. "I know we have a great defense out there and an offense that can get more runs. So I was just trying to fill it up with strikes and let the guys hit groundballs and popups.
"I mean, they're the ones making the plays. I just go out there and throw the ball."
While Nelson - and Alabama closer Austin Graham - were busy putting a halt to the Arkansas offense, the Razorbacks' pen did their best to keep things close. But after staying within an 8-7 score through seven innings, the Crimson Tide finally broke through against Arkansas reliever Mike Bolsinger and scored three two-out runs to put the game away.
"I thought we swung the bats well, especially early," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "But I thought the big righthander (Nelson) came in and settled the game in and settled down.
"You know, Bolsinger did a good job for a couple of innings. But give credit to them. They got a lot of big hits with two outs and it's a big win for them."
Alabama (27-21, 11-11) moved into a tie for first in the SEC Western Division, while the Razorbacks fell 1 1/2 games behind.
"Well, it's a three-game set and I don't know if we've won too many Friday night games," Wells said. "It's been very difficult for us to do that, but right now I'm just glad we played well and hopefully we can do it again (today)."
Alabama 11, Arkansas 7
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