TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Ben Tschepikow stood outside Arkansas' Sewell-Thomas Stadium dugout, ran his right hand through his hair and opened his eyes wide, seeping frustration after Arkansas' fourth straight defeat.
The 17th-ranked Razorbacks lost 8-6 at No. 21 Alabama, and the way the Crimson Tide's sixth straight victory materialized surely seemed familiar to Tschepikow and his teammates.
The Hogs led 5-1 after the top of the fourth Saturday, but fell to a Tide team that wasn't fazed by the early deficit.
Alabama discovered a gritty, creative path to a victory, much like Arkansas did so many times throughout its torrid 24-5 start.
"We're having trouble finding ways to win right now, and it just sucks," said Tschepikow, Arkansas' senior second baseman. "It makes your life horrible when you're not winning, to be honest with you, but especially when they're close games like they've been lately. We have to find ways to win games again."
Tschepikow's perspective reveals just how quickly fortunes can turn in baseball. Arkansas (31-16, 14-11), which has posted its fair share of comeback victories, has dropped four consecutive contests for the first time since a five-game slide in 2005.
Trying to spark his offense, which entered Saturday's game with four runs in its last three games, Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn sat five of his regular starters. Tschepikow, Chase Leavitt, Zack Cox, Brett Eibner and Ryan Cisterna all began on the bench, while six Razorbacks freshmen started.
The ploy worked during the early innings. Freshman center fielder Collin Kuhn crushed a solo home run in the third and belted another blast, a two-run shot, in the fourth to put Arkansas up 5-1. The Hogs had taken a 3-1 lead on freshman right fielder Jarrod McKinney's two-run double earlier in the fourth.
Kuhn entered the series with no career home runs; he now has three homers in the last two games.
"It was good to see that those guys can do this in this environment," Van Horn said. "We had some guys who weren't playing real well or were acting like they were tired or whatever the case may be, and I threw some younger guys in there. They did a great job. It shows we have some depth and competition there."
Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, Alabama (34-15, 16-9) responded immediately, scoring five runs in the next two innings off T.J. Forrest and Sam Murphy.
"The disappointing thing for me is we have to go out and get back in the dugout quick after we punch in four runs and take a four-run lead," Van Horn said. "But T.J. doesn't get them out. Then, we can't get them out again and before we know it, we're losing.
"That's where we could've slowed the momentum down there in the middle of the game and we didn't do it."
Freshman catcher James McCann tied it at 6 in the seventh with his first career home run. But the Razorbacks couldn't contain the slugger tied for the nation's home-run lead, and they couldn't touch Alabama's relief pitching.
Kent Matthes' 24th home run this season, a two-run blast on a hanging slider from Murphy, provided the game-winning runs. And much to the surprise of Alabama coach Jim Wells, Jimmy Nelson and Nathan Kilcrease combined to allow only one run on three hits in 5 1/3 innings.
"For one of the first times in a meaningful game, more than one person came in from our bullpen and did the job," Wells said.
Van Horn sounded optimistic that Arkansas could rid itself of this losing streak today, despite his team's recent failure to find ways to win, as Tschepikow alluded.
"We gave ourselves a chance to win the game," Van Horn said. "We just made a couple of big mistakes. The ball that Murphy gave up the two-run homer was a slider that just hung there. We knew it was gone by the time it left his hand. You just can't make mistakes like that."
o o o
Bama Batters Forrest
Arkansas starting pitcher T.J. Forrest struggled for his second consecutive start since returning to the Razorbacks' rotation.
Forrest was skipped in the rotation when Arkansas played two weeks ago at Tennessee. The 6-foot-6 junior right-hander gave up five runs on seven hits in 5 1/3 innings a week ago against LSU. He didn't last that long Saturday at Alabama.
Alabama tallied one run off Forrest in the second, two in the fourth and two more in the fifth. Forrest, who allowed eight hits and struck out two, was relieved by sophomore Sam Murphy with no outs in the fifth.
Van Horn sounded conflicted when asked whether Forrest would stay in the rotation.
"It's hard to say right now," Van Horn said. "You want your starter to give you five or six innings and we've only gotten three or four from him lately. We'll have to evaluate it. Right now, he's throwing the ball fairly well, but he got tired in the last couple of innings. Everything was up and they hammered him."
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The benches cleared during the top of the fourth inning Saturday, and a fight nearly broke out.
Arkansas loaded the bases with no outs in the frame, and freshman outfielder Jarrod McKinney drove in two runs with a double to right-center. Freshman Tim Carver was thrown out at the plate on the play, however, and some tempers flared afterward.
Carver tried to run over Alabama catcher Vin DiFazio, but DiFazio held on to the ball. DiFazio then bumped into Carver, who was on the ground, and stepped over him. Several of Arkansas' players were outraged and the benches cleared, led by Arkansas senior catcher Ryan Cisterna, who got in DiFazio's face.
There were plenty of shoves, but no punches were thrown.
"It was just a baseball play," Van Horn said. "The problem wasn't the collision. The problem was their catcher pretty much getting up and kneeing him instead of stepping around him. ... We didn't do anything wrong there."
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Van Horn coached in the third-base box Saturday, a rarity considering hitting coach Todd Butler has taken most of those duties this season. "Just trying to shake it up and get them going," Van Horn said. "I thought it'd be a change of pace, not a big deal. Just trying to change our luck a bit." ... McKinney went 3-for-4 and drove in two runs Saturday. He entered the game hitting only .121 (4 of 33). "I've been embarrassing myself," McKinney said. "So this was great. I saw the ball really well." ... Alabama's starting pitcher for today's game, 6-foot-1 freshman left-hander Adam Morgan, is returning from a biceps injury, making his first start since late March. ... The Hogs still haven't clinched a berth in the SEC Tournament. They need a victory or a Kentucky loss today. ... Alabama's Brandon May has eight hits, three home runs and nine RBIs in his last 11 at-bats.
Alabama 8, Arkansas 6
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