FAYETTEVILLE – Just call Zack Cox "Captain Clutch."
The sophomore captain Cox had a career-high six RBIs, including a two-out, three-run double that tied the game in the eighth inning to help No. 16 Arkansas come-from-behind for a 9-8 win over No. 20 Alabama Friday night at Baum Stadium.
Cox, who had earlier hit a three-run home run in the fifth inning, came through with a double up the middle to clear the bases in the eighth inning and tie the game 8-8. Razorback designated hitter Monk Kreder followed with a sharply hit ball that went just beneath the glove and between the legs of Alabama shortstop Josh Rutledge, scoring Cox and giving Arkansas a 9-8 lead.
"The ‘C' on his jersey just might mean ‘clutch,'" Arkansas first baseman Andy Wilkins said. "He was huge today. He was as clutch as you can be.
"This is one of the most up-and-down ballgames I've ever been a part of. Emotionally, I'm just worn out. It was great to get the win. We'll enjoy it for a little while but the most important thing is to come back tomorrow and win the series."
Cox extended his hitting streak to 21 games earlier in the game, just nine games shy of the school-record set by Randy Bobb in 1987. Against Alabama he was 3-for-5, including a three-run home run in the fifth inning.
"Last year at the beginning of the year he was hurt and we didn't know it," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "In the second half of the year you could see him coming on and at the end of the year he was outstanding. He's healthy now and he's a good hitter and a good player. These are the type of performances you have to come back and win like that – you have to have someone to carry you."
Arkansas (16-5, 2-2 SEC) trailed 5-0 heading to the bottom half of the fifth inning. Cox pulled Arkansas within two runs with his fourth home run of the year before Wilkins blasted a two-run home run over the right center field wall to tie the game 5-5.
The home run was Wilkins' eighth of the season and the 35th of his career, tying him for fifth on the Arkansas career list.
"Andy hit that ball pretty good against the wind," Van Horn said. "It was a curveball and he knew he got all of it. That was all him. He hit it pretty good and tied it up."
Alabama (16-4, 2-2) scored two runs in the seventh inning to take a 7-5 lead, but not without controversy. Crimson Tide second baseman Ross Wilson singled to lead off the inning and advanced to second base on a wild pitch. When Razorback reliever Jeremy Heatley's second wild pitch of the inning landed just in front of catcher James McCann's glove, Wilson took off for third.
McCann fielded the ball and attempted to throw Wilson out at third but was obstructed by batter Jake Smith. Wilson was called safe, drawing Van Horn to argue the call with home plate umpire Joe Marion – one of four visits the Razorback skipper took on the night.
The inning ended with Alabama right fielder Brent Hendricks being picked off at third base. When Hendricks went in hard at the third baseman Cox, both benches and bullpens cleared.
Alabama added another run in the top of the eighth inning before Arkansas' rally in the bottom half of the inning.
The rally started when Bo Bigham, Matt Reynolds and Collin Kuhn all drew walks with one out in the inning. Brett Eibner flew out to right field, but with the wind blowing in none of the runners were able to tag, bringing Cox to the plate.
"I was sitting over there thinking the eighth inning looked like the seventh inning at LSU last weekend," Van Horn said, referring to a seven-run seventh inning that cost Arkansas in a loss last Saturday. "Collin was down 0-2 and ended up drawing a walk to load the bases. I'm thinking they were going to walk Cox and take one run to get to Kreder. He got up 2-0 but I didn't think they were going to throw him a strike and when they did he smoked it.
"I'm just really proud of the team. Things hadn't gone well last Saturday and Sunday and obviously in the first inning today."
Senior Mike Bolsinger went 5 2/3 innings for Arkansas, giving up two earned runs (five total) on four hits and four walks. He struck out five batters.
Alabama scored three runs in the first thanks in part to a pair of errors by the freshman shortstop Reynolds. Reynolds later redeemed himself by going 2-for-3 at the plate and turning the game-ending double play in the ninth.
"Mike didn't have his best stuff but I don't think we gave Mike the opportunity to have his best stuff," Van Horn said. "He should have been out of the first on about seven pitches and who knows what would happen after that?
"We would have left him in the game but was up to 102 pitches when I came and got him. But we won the game and that's the bottom line."
Senior TJ Forrest (3-0) earned the win by pitching 2/3 innings for Arkansas. Forrest returned to Arkansas earlier in the day after staying in Louisiana for tests run on his heart.
Freshman DJ Baxendale earned his second save in as many games and his sixth of the season.
The two teams will meet for the second game of the weekend series Saturday with the first pitch scheduled for 2:05 p.m.
Junior right-hander Brett Eibner will get the start for the Razorbacks while junior right-hander Jimmy Nelson will take the mound for the Crimson Tide.
Arkansas 9, Alabama 8
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