PALO ALTO, Calif. - Too little, too late.
Given several chances to put runs on the scoreboard, Arkansas instead found itself battling through another all-too-familiar offensive rut Friday in the opening round of the Stanford Regional. Stranding 10 runners on base - including two during a last-ditch ninth inning rally - the No. 3-seeded Razorbacks dropped a 4-3 decision to second-seed Pepperdine in front of a first day crowd of 1,448 at Sunken Diamond.
The loss moves Arkansas (34-23) within one game of elimination, which it will try to avoid today when it faces top-seed Stanford at 3 p.m. in the Stanford Regional loser's bracket.
"You've got to give credit to Pepperdine," Razorbacks coach Dave Van Horn said. "I thought they played excellent defense, they made all the routine plays. They pitched well, threw a lot of strikes. Their starting pitcher (Nathan Newman) had a very good out-type pitch, a downer splitfinger pitch and we didn't handle it very well. The few times when we had an opportunity to drive in a run from third off of him, we didn't handle it very well and we couldn't get it done. And that kind of stings when you lose by a run.
"Really, not much to say about us. They just played better."
For the first five innings, Arkansas was every bit as good as the Waves (37-19). Behind the pitching of junior left-hander Cliff Springston, the Diamond Hogs twice took a one-run lead - at 1-0 in the second and 2-1 in the fourth - and were still neck and neck at the midway point.
But in the sixth inning, the Razorbacks' failure to capitalize and their inability to play routine defense finally caught up with them.
After missing out on a golden opportunity in the top of the sixth by leaving a runner stranded on third, Arkansas lost the lead for the first time in the bottom of the inning. With one out in the Waves' sixth, shortstop Chase d'Arnaud blasted a solo home run over the left field wall for a 3-2 Pepperdine lead. Then after a costly fielding error by first baseman Tim Smalling, the Waves were able to extend the lead to 4-2.
"We kind of fell apart in (the sixth) inning," Van Horn said. "The catcher threw a ball into centerfield and then on an in between hop to first base, (Smalling) probably should have taken a step or two back instead of coming in and trying to play through it.
"And we felt like it was going to come down to defense."
Despite the two-run sixth for Pepperdine, the Diamond Hogs had yet another chance in their final at-bat.
With Newman (8-4) finally out of the game after fanning a career-high 10 batters, Arkansas got a leadoff walk from pinch-hitter Jacob House, followed by a one-out RBI single from Chase Leavitt to pull to within 4-3.
But after a Ben Tschepikow ground out and a two-out walk to Logan Forsythe, Pepperdine centerfielder Nate Simon made a diving catch to end the game, robbing Casey Coon of a potential game-winning hit.
"I think both teams had the same opportunities," Pepperdine coach Steve Rodriguez said. "Arkansas had some guys on base and they would either fly out or ground out. And then we had those same opportunities, had guys in scoring position and even had a chance to extend that two-run lead to three or four runs. But we just couldn't seem to find a hit.
"You know, but that's what's great about baseball. There's going to be those opportunities when you get those hits, and (Friday) it just happened to be a pitching and defense day and we were just fortunate to come out on top."
Arkansas has started 0-1 in an NCAA Regional for the first time since 2006 and will look to avoid an 0-2 result for the first time since 1996 when it plays today.
"As a baseball team, we're never going to give up and we're always going to battle," Leavitt said. "That just shows what kind of program we've got and what kind of coaching we've got.
"Unfortunately, we just couldn't put together that big inning and that's what we needed really badly."
Pepperdine 4, Arkansas 3
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