STARKVILLE, Miss. — Just as Arkansas players and coaches promised, nothing comes easy in the Southeastern Conference.
Playing a last-place Mississippi State team and facing a starting pitcher with an earned run average over 7.00, Arkansas found out the hard way that there's no pushover in the SEC. And despite little to play for, it was the Bulldogs who came away with the big hit and the strong pitching at the end in a 6-5 victory against the Razorbacks in front of 1,623 at Dudy Noble Field.
With the loss, Arkansas (32-20, 13-14) still needs two victories to assure itself of the spot in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
""It was just disappointing," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "But I'll tell you what, their starting pitcher did a heck of a job. I know he hasn't thrown a lot of weekend games but he's pitched a lot of midweek games and he pitched a great game against Ole Miss.
"He came out and just pitched really well. He was spotting his breaking ball and we just couldn't do much against him. But when we did have him on the ropes, we got one big hit and that was it. Other than that, they held us down pretty good."
Entering the night with a 3-6 record and a lofty 7.66 ERA, righthander Ricky Bowen overcame an early second-inning three-run home run by Brett Eibner and kept Arkansas' bats in check for most of the game. And in doing so, the Bulldogs' sophomore allowed his offense the chance to pull off the come-from-behind win.
"Ricky is a youngster and he has good days and bad days," said Mississippi State's Ron Polk, who is coaching his final weekend series before retiring at the end of the season. "You can see he has a good arm and I probably left him in there a batter too long and I think they got a walk there.
"But (Brett) Eibner gets the home run. We walked a guy and gave a kid an opportunity and that's been our Achilles heel all year. We give up too many runs early and we don't have enough offense because of our injuries. But thankfully we get the three-spot in the third inning and we get a lead. And once we get a lead, our kids say let's just get to Aaron (Weatherford). Because if we get to Aaron, that's how we win."
The one great pitcher in the Bulldogs' bullpen, Weatherford relieved Bowen with two on and one out in the seventh as he tried to preserve a 5-3 Mississippi State lead. But after a pair of wild pitches allowed pinch runner Sean Jones to score, Arkansas was able to tie the game when Ben Tschepikow hit a sacrifice fly to center which scored Chase Leavitt.
The tie wouldn't last long, though, as the Bulldogs reclaimed the lead for good in the bottom of the inning. With one out, cleanup hitter Ryan Duffy took the first pitch he saw from Arkansas starter Justin Wells and drove it well over the centerfield wall for a 6-5 Mississippi State lead.
And with Weatherford in, that was all she wrote for the Razorbacks.
"That (Duffy home run) was disappointing," Van Horn said. "Justin would get ahead of people 0-and-2 and then he would make a mistake. Or then on the two home runs he gave up it was the first pitch, just bing and it was two home runs. I mean you just take away a couple of pitches and it's a different game. But that's the same thing they're guy is saying over there. You take away one of his pitches and you take away a three-run home run.
"So it's a tough loss, but we just need to come back and get after it (Friday)."
MSU 6, Arkansas 5
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