HOOVER, Ala. — For nine innings Thursday night, Arkansas' defense was flawless.
The Razorbacks snagged sharply-hit grounders in the infield. They made perfect throws to first base. They did everything needed to match Georgia out-for-out in a tightly contested postseason game.
So when Georgia's Joey Lewis hit a ball to third base with the bases loaded, it was no surprise Arkansas' Zack Cox made a perfect stab. But there was one catch: His throw to home plate was off by just a little bit.
Georgia's Matt Cerione scored the game-winning run on a close play at the plate, giving the Bulldogs a thrilling 2-1 victory in 10 innings. Arkansas, which tied the game by scoring a run in the ninth inning, suffered its first loss in the double-elimination tournament and plays Florida today at 3 p.m.
But Cox and the Razorbacks couldn't be faulted for their efforts Thursday.
"We did play well," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "Georgia played well. It was just a postseason game. Both teams can play and we showed it (Thursday). It was a pitchers' duel and a defensive game."
The mentality was set from the first at-bat, when Arkansas' Chase Leavitt hit a grounder down the first-base line. Georgia's Rich Poythress dove, came up with the ball and recorded the first out by touching first base.
Arkansas starting pitcher Brett Eibner and Georgia's Trevor Holder were just as impressive. The defense and pitching kept both teams off the scoreboard most of the night. The teams combined for 13 hits in 10 innings. Only three went for extra bases.
"You couldn't let your guard down at all," said Holder, who allowed one run on five hits. "That's the beautiful thing about this game. You've got two guys dueling it out. I didn't budge. But he didn't budge either."
Georgia was the first to break through thanks to back-to-back doubles by Poythress and Bryce Massanari off Eibner in the sixth inning.
It broke Eibner's streak of shutout innings against the Bulldogs at 14. The sophomore, who allowed one run on five hits in six innings, threw a one-hit shutout at Georgia in April.
"I missed a few here and there, but I was pretty happy with it," Eibner said.
The run was nearly enough for Holder, who retired 15 straight batters between the fourth and eighth innings. The right-hander frustrated the Razorbacks until the ninth inning, when back-to-back singles by Leavitt and Ben Tschepikow ended his night.
Arkansas tied the game two batters later when Andy Wilkins hit a sacrifice fly off closer Dean Weaver (4-2) to score Leavitt. The Hogs had a chance to tack on the go-ahead run, but Cox grounded out to end the half inning.
"We put together a good inning in the ninth and were one hit away from taking the lead," Van Horn said. "We needed to get that big two-out hit and it just didn't happen."
Georgia got the clutch hitting in the 10th.
Cerione led off the inning with a single and Poythress followed with his second double. After Massanari was walked intentionally to load the bases, Lewis made contact with a pitch from Arkansas' Stephen Richards (5-1).
Cox fielded the ball diving to his right, got up and fired the ball toward home plate. The throw pulled catcher Ryan Cisterna off the plate as Cerione slid in to end the game.
"He made a pretty good play," Van Horn said of Cox. "He got a late jump. I don't think he read it off the bat right. He fielded it, got up and just threw it a little wide."
The Razorbacks fall into the loser's bracket in the tournament while Georgia is rewarded with a day off. Arkansas, which beat Florida 8-5 in the tournament's first round Wednesday, is 4-0 against the Gators this year.
"Ideally we wanted to win that game, obviously," Leavitt said. "But we've got to move on, go out (today) and keep fighting."
Matt Cerione slides in safely with the game-winning run as Ryan Cisterna catches the throw.
Cerione begins to celebrate.
The Georgia hero heads for his teammates.
Cerione is congratulated by his teammates.
Arkansas first baseman Andy Wilkins takes a pick-off throw from pitcher Brett Eibner.
Eibner gets congrats from catcher James McCann.
Razorback third baseman Zach Cox makes a great bare-handed grab of a bunt.
Cox tags out a runner who strayed too far off third.
Georgia starting pitcher Trevor Holder fires to the plate.
Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn watches the action.
Georgia 2, Arkansas 1
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