Razorbacks Win, Now They Must Wait

STARKVILLE, Miss. — For the first time since 2001, Arkansas won't be playing in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. The Razorbacks are just hoping the same can't be said for an NCAA Regional.

Needing a win and either an Ole Miss or South Carolina loss on Saturday to advance to the SEC Tournament, the Razorbacks only got half of what was required. While Arkansas did its part — scoring nine early runs and six more late to hold off Mississippi State, 15-10 in front of 5,489 at Dude Noble Field — the Diamond Hogs didn't get the help they had to have.

Instead, both Ole Miss and South Carolina pulled out late-inning wins of their own, forcing Arkansas to watch and wait when it comes to chances of making an NCAA Regional.

"You've got to give credit to our guys for hanging in there. After yesterday's loss, that was devastating," Razorbacks coach Dave Van Horn said. "But the only thing we could do today was control what we could control and that was our game, and we won.

"So now we've got 33 wins, hopefully we'll get to play again on Monday (against Western Illinois) and hopefully we'll win and then we'll just leave it into the hands of the people that make the decisions."

Like Van Horn said, Arkansas (33-22, 14-15) did its part Saturday. But the Diamond Hogs didn't make it easy on themselves. Even though they built an early 9-2 lead in the second inning, the Razorbacks went flat in the middle innings and actually allowed Mississippi State to rally for a 10-9 lead.

But just when it looked like another disaster waiting to happen, Arkansas' offense came alive again. Scoring one run in the seventh on throwing error by Bulldogs catcher Ryan Duffy, the Razorbacks tied the score at 10-10. Then in the eighth Arkansas was able to break things open with three more runs off of Mississippi State closer, Aaron Weatherford, as hits by Logan Forsythe and Casey Coon — coupled with a pair of walks — sparked the scoring.

"We had our opportunities," said Ron Polk, who was coaching his final game at Mississippi State on Saturday. "We took advantage of some thankfully because of some base on balls. But we just got behind in the count too much and we gave up too many runs.

"That's been our problem all year."

Freshman James Mahler (3-1) made sure the late lead held up this time. After both Stephen Richards and Brett Eibner failed to get out of a Bulldogs' four-run sixth, Mahler entered and was nearly unhittable. In 3 2/3 innings of relief, the 6-foot-7 righthander gave up just one hit and allowed no runs.

"In a situation like that, you've just got to stay within yourself and remember the things that are important like pounding the strike zone," Mahler said. "We were desperate for strikes and luckily I was able to do that."

Still, the Razorbacks weren't too thrilled with Saturday's win even if it did help them prevent a three-game sweep to the Bulldogs (23-33, 9-21). Because all the while Arkansas was finishing off Mississippi State, it knew full well the SEC Tournament was out of reach.

"I don't know if there's a word to describe what's going on right now," said Forsythe, who went 2-for-3 with two RBIs on Saturday. "It's tough, you know. We came out here with a mindset that we had to win after letting two games get away.

"But we're looking at the scoreboard and we're trying to stay in our game at the same time. So it was tough. Because once we heard Kentucky lost (to Ole Miss) and then South Carolina came back and took care of their game, it's tough."

Even with SEC play coming to an end, Arkansas still has one more game on the docket. The Razorbacks will host Western Illinois at 6:35 p.m. Monday, hoping that won't be the final game of the 2008 season.

"We've got a great RPI, it's going to be Top 25 or better," Van Horn said. "So if any team deserves to be in (the NCAA Regionals) with all the injuries we've had in the second half, then it's us."

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