Their meeting was brief, their discussion hindered by the post-game entertainment. And when they finished, Arkansas starter Dallas Keuchel sprinted past reporters, directly to the Razorbacks' locker room, a dismayed look spread across his face.
Hard to blame him. After all, the 6-foot-3 junior left-hander nearly outdueled Alabama ace Austin Hyatt, only to see the Crimson Tide tally the game-winning runs in the eighth.
"He did a great job all night," Van Horn said of Keuchel, who threw 74 of his 111 pitches for strikes. "He mixed it up, in and out. Then, the second half of the game, he started busting them in. He located a lot of pitches, and he got out of a lot of jams.
"Just giving up that lead on a passed ball was probably the most disappointing thing."
Van Horn was referencing the game-changing moment that occurred with two outs in the eighth before a crowd of 4,922. Keuchel, now 7-2 this season, had successfully gotten out of threats up until the eighth. In fact, Alabama (33-15, 15-9) put one runner on base in each of the first five innings but never scored.
But with a 1-0 lead in the eighth, No. 17 Arkansas (31-15, 14-10) helped the Crimson Tide out, catcher Ryan Cisterna in particular. Alex Kubal singled off Keuchel with one out and Taylor Dugas walked. The Tide had runners on second and third with two outs when Cisterna couldn't handle a low Keuchel pitch, which didn't hit the dirt first.
The ball trickled to the backstop, and the passed ball allowed Kubal to score. Two pitches later, Kent Matthes lined the game-winning RBI double into the left-field corner.
"That's kind of the way it's been going for us lately," Van Horn said.
Arkansas has now lost nine of its last 16 games since sweeping a two-game series from then-No. 1 Arizona State. The Hogs also dropped into fourth place in the SEC Western Division for the first time this season.
Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide clinched an SEC Tournament berth and proved that its hitting prowess shouldn't overshadow its pitching potential. Alabama entered Friday's contest with a .340 batting average, tops in the SEC by 27 points. But the Tide would be fourth in the Western Division today, not Arkansas, without Hyatt's fifth-career complete game.
The 6-foot-3 senior struck out seven, tossed 92 of his 129 pitches for strikes and retired seven straight Razorbacks three different times. Hyatt said he elevated his performance because of Keuchel's.
"It was a lot of pressure," Hyatt said. "(Keuchel) was out there pitching great. ... Really, it's great to win a 2-1 game. That's big for our team. We're used to winning 8-7 games, 10-8 games, not like this."
Hyatt, 8-1, had to endure a couple of scares in the ninth. With one out, Arkansas' Andy Wilkins battled throughout a 10-pitch at-bat before finally grounding out hard to first base. Freshman Zack Cox nearly tied the game, but his blast fell into Matthes' glove on the warning track in deep right-center field to end the game.
Arkansas freshman Collin Kuhn, who posted the Hogs' only run with his third-inning homer, said the ninth inning only magnified the Razorbacks' frustrations. And as the fireworks blasted off behind him, Kuhn vowed the Hogs would draw motivation from the outcome of this 2-hour, 27-minute contest.
"This was so tough," Kuhn said. "Keuchel pitched amazing. He had his stuff tonight and it was so disappointing that we couldn't more runs for him. We have to hit. We have to match them hit for hit, run for run. We obviously didn't get that done tonight."
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