Arkansas 17, Kentucky 16
FAYETTEVILLE – Not even the Easter Bunny could deliver the treat Baum Stadium provided Sunday.
Arkansas and Kentucky turned in a holiday classic they'll be talking about for a long time at the ballpark. Collin Kuhn hit a grand slam with two strikes and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning to lift the No. 10 Razorbacks to a wild 17-16 win and series win over the visiting Wildcats.
"I don't know how many games I've been involved in as an assistant, as a player, as a head coach, but that might be the craziest game I've been involved in," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "There was a lot of emotion and both teams really wanted to win. They had a five-run lead, we had an eight-run lead and then all of a sudden we're down to our last strike.
"It was probably appropriate for it to end on a grand slam with how it went out of the park – wind-aided. He hooked it and you can't be more proud of that guy because he hung in there. We thought the fourth pitch was low and he'd be set up with a 3-1 pitch to hit the home run. Instead it was a 2-2 count and he just had to be defensive."
Kuhn's hit was the final comeback in a game in which both teams led by as many as five runs. The sophomore outfielder was mobbed at home plate by teammates as what was left of the crowd of 5,971 erupted.
"I was just looking for a pitch up over the plate that I could hit," Kuhn said. "It was an off-speed pitch a little out in-front. I stayed through it and hit it.
"This is up there, definitely. Coming from behind, you can't win a game better than that."
It took a lot of work to get Kuhn to the plate. Arkansas loaded the bases by working Kentucky reliever Matt Little into three separate full counts. Jarrod McKinney reached with one out in the inning on a 3-2 walk and advanced to third on a James McCann full-count single with two outs.
The Razorbacks (22-6, 6-3 SEC) then sent injured first baseman Andy Wilkins in to pinch-hit for Matt Vinson. Wilkins, who pulled his hamstring Saturday, worked another full-count walk to load the bases and set up Kuhn.
"I knew there was a chance I could get an at-bat but some things had to happen," Wilkins said. "Everything did happen so fortunately enough I got in there and got on base."
Arkansas had led by four runs heading into the eighth inning, but freshman reliever DJ Baxendale gave up seven runs to the Wildcats in the top of the inning. Kentucky center fielder Keenan Wiley hit a three-run home run with two outs in the inning to give the Wildcats a 16-13 lead.
"It just took the wind out of our sails," Kuhn said. "We knew if we put quality at-bats together and just kept building and getting guys on base that it would work out."
Kentucky (18-11, 2-7) led 5-0 after scoring five runs in the top of the second inning, thanks to a three-run home run by Taylor Black and a solo home run by Andy Burns off Arkansas starter Brett Eibner. In all, Kentucky hit five home runs on a day the wind was gusting more than 25 mph to left field.
Arkansas responded in the bottom half of the second, scoring eight runs to take an 8-5 lead. The Razorbacks sent nine batters to the plate in the inning before recording the first out.
James McCann's three-run home run pulled the Razorbacks within 5-4 and Arkansas tied it when Vinson scored on a Bo Bigham RBI double. Kuhn scored on an error, Bigham scored on a balk and Zack Cox scored on a Travis Sample RBI single to cap the inning.
Arkansas scored two more in the third inning and three in the fourth to build the lead to 13-5.
Eibner left in-line for the win despite giving up nine runs (eight earned) on nine hits in 5 2/3 innings. It was a drastic change for the junior right-hander, who had pitched well in recent outings without much run support.
In fact, Arkansas had scored just eight combined runs in Eibner's last four starts entering Sunday. The no-decision means Eibner has now gone five weeks without a win.
"I thought to myself, ‘Brett is finally getting all these runs in one game,'" Van Horn said. "We haven't done anything for him offensively all year and then he doesn't have a great game on the mound. It seemed like he'd get two out and then give up a two-run homer. They just kept chipping away and they weren't balls that were hit into the gap, but balls that were hit out of the park. Those are hard to defend."
Eibner let Kentucky back in the game with a pair of two-run home runs off the bats of Gunner Glad and Burns in the fifth and sixth innings that pulled the Wildcats within 13-9.
Razorback reliever Jeremy Heatley stopped the bleeding by pitching 2 1/3 scoreless innings, but was pulled in favor of the closer Baxendale heading to the eighth. Baxendale gave up seven runs on five hits in 2/3 innings.
Friday night starter Mike Bolsinger (4-1) pitched 1 1/3 on in relief to earn the win, making up for a rough outing two days earlier in which he was handed his first loss of the season.
Around the Bases
Collin Kuhn's grand slam was the Razorbacks' third walk-off hit of the season. Matt Vinson hit a home run in the 10th inning of a March 14 win over Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Tom Hauskey hit a pinch-hit single to beat Alabama last Saturday. It was the first grand slam to end a game since Jacob House hit one to beat South Carolina on May 9, 2008…Monk Kreder went 2-for-5 against the Wildcats Sunday, extending his team-leading hit streak to 10 games. Kreder made his first start at first base in place of Andy Wilkins, who wasn't in the lineup because of a hamstring injury suffered Saturday. It snapped a streak of 95 consecutive starts by Wilkins, dating back to 2008…Arkansas recorded 19 hits Sunday. For the three-game series the Razorbacks recorded 48 hits and scored 35 runs…With Ole Miss' series loss to Tennessee, Arkansas now sits alone in second place in the SEC West, one game behind LSU.
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