Ninth-Inning Meltdown

A ninth-inning meltdown on Friday night has Arkansas needing to beat Mississippi State on Saturday and have either South Carolina or Ole Miss lose to make next week's eight-team SEC Tournament.

STARKVILLE, Miss. - Exactly one week after mounting a mammoth comeback of its own with a four-run ninth inning rally, Arkansas fell victim to the late-game heroics Friday.

Trailing by three runs in the bottom of the ninth, Mississippi State sent eight batters to the plate and pulled off the improbable, 6-5 win against the Razorbacks in front of a raucous crowd of 2,332 at Dudy Noble Field.

And now with the loss, instead of being one step closer to making the Southeastern Conference Tournament, Arkansas (32-22, 13-15) needs everything to go its way in the 3 p.m. series finale today.

"I'm starting to get used to (losses like this)," Razorbacks coach Dave Van Horn said. "I mean we've got to finish the game and we didn't finish the game because we didn't field the baseball. Just field the baseball on a double-play ball. You know, I don't know what happened on that play. The ball is hit hard and it came up. But we gave up some 0-and-2 hits and we just didn't get it done in the bottom of the ninth."

After building a 5-2 lead with three runs of their own in the top of the ninth - and a night full of great pitching from starter Cliff Springston - the Razorbacks saw everything go Mississippi State's way in the bottom of the inning. Ryan Duffy led off with a single against reliever Stephen Richards and was followed by Jet Butler and Jeff Flagg, who also reached on a walk and another single, respectively.

With the bases loaded and no one out, Arkansas turned to Mike Bolsinger. But as soon as Bolsinger entered from the bullpen, the Razorbacks' defense couldn't come through. Two infield hits later - a sharp grounder to third base which could have led to a double play, and a slow hopper to first - pulled the Bulldogs (23-32, 9-20) within 5-4. Then after a walk to Nick Hardy tied the score, Mississippi State completed the comeback when Russ Sneed delivered a deep single to right-center field for the 6-5 final.

"They brought in the Richards kid and he just dominated Sneed and (Jason) Nappi (in the eighth inning)," Mississippi State coach Ron Polk said. "It looked like he had a power breaking ball or something, but then all of a sudden (Ryan) Duffy gets a two-strike hit and from that point on it looked like Richards lost it a little bit. Then they bring in Bolsinger, who I thought looked real good (Thursday) night. And he just didn't have command.

"I'll tell you, I've been coaching for a long time and even though you win a game like that you feel bad. You feel bad for the kids and you feel bad for the coach. And I know a lot of fans who say, what do you mean you feel bad? But you do. I mean they had the game won and we took it away from them, and they're playing for a lot. We're just playing for, I guess, pride or whatever."

Now, Arkansas is playing with its back against the wall. Currently in ninth place in the SEC standings, the Razorbacks need a win today and either an Ole Miss or South Carolina loss to claim a spot in the conference tournament.

"It's real frustrating," Van Horn said. "Because we've got some players over here that want to win, but they don't finish and you've got to be able to finish.

"We put ourselves in a great spot to win the game and we couldn't make the play, couldn't make a couple of pitches that's it, it's over."


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