The loss eliminates the Tigers from the tournament and now they have to sit and wonder whether their year has been good enough to get them into one of 16 four-team regionals around the country. The victory moves Arkansas to 31-25 and it will face the loser of Alabama and Florida at 8 p.m. Friday.
After a pitcher's duel extraordinaire last Saturday night in Fayetteville, Auburn starter Levale Speigner and Razorback starter Gary Hogan Jr. both failed to deliver on Thursday. Speigner pitched just three and one/third innings and allowed six hits and three runs while Hogan made it four and one/third, but gave up 10 hits and five runs.
The story of the game was Arkansas reliever Scott Roehl as he pitched the final four and two/thirds innings to pick up his fourth win of the season. Giving up just one hit while striking out three, he kept the Tigers handcuffed and allowed his teammates the chance to put away the victory and stay alive in the tournament.
"It was a good win for us," said Arkansas coach Norm DeBryn. "I thought the key obviously was Roehl coming in. Hogan threw a lot of pitches and we made him throw a lot of pitches early. We didn't play as solid behind him as we should have, but Roehl came in and really did the job. That was pretty much the key."
For the Tigers this was once again a case of disappointment as they leave Birmingham without a win for the third consecutive season. For third baseman Jonathan Schuerholz the pain was obvious in his face as he talked about the hurt of losing two-straight in Birmingham once again.
"It's not a mental thing, it's just disappointing," Schuerholz said. "We come in here and we want to win games. We know we're good enough. Going two-and-out is a tough week."
In the first it was a case of the curse of two outs once again for the Tigers as Speigner cruised through the first two hitters without a problem before consecutive singles by Michael Conner, Nick Pitts and Cody Clark gave the Razorbacks a quick 1-0 lead.
The Tigers answered back in the bottom of the inning thanks to the short ball. Schuerholz led off with a bunt single and Sean Gamble then executed a perfect hit-and-run that he slapped through the left side for a single to put runners on first and third with nobody out.
Javon Moran was due up next and he also put down a perfect bunt that Hogan decided to go to third with instead of retiring him a first. Getting a good jump at second, Schuerholz was able to beat the throw giving Auburn the bases loaded with nobody out. Designated hitter Bobby Huddleston, Auburn's leading hitter, hit a slow roller to third base that Arkansas' Goodwin fielded, stepped on the bag and threw across the diamond for a big double play. Schuerholz scored on the play to tie game at one though.
Trent Pratt then lived up to his second team All-SEC status by lining a double to deep left field that easily scored Moran from second to give Auburn the 2-1 lead.
Auburn evened things up in the bottom of the third thanks to the top of the order. Gamble collected his second base hit of the game to lead off the inning when he dropped one just over the head of Arkansas third baseman Clay Goodwin for a single. Moran followed by lining a single to right field that Arkansas' Ryan Fox misplayed to allow both runners to advance, giving the Tigers runners on second and third with nobody out.
After a Bobby Huddleston groundout to the pitcher that didn't advance the runners, Trent Pratt lifted a fly ball to right field that scored Gamble.
Arnold Hughey came on in the fourth inning to replace Speigner who had continued to struggle with his control. The freshman retired the final two batters of the fourth, but wouldn't be as fortunate in the fifth. Conner started things off with a single to left field and one out later Clark singled to left on a hit-and-run to put runners on the corners with just one out.
Designated hitter Andrew Wishy then plated the first run of the inning when he singled just in front of Gamble in left field to break open the tie game and take a 4-3 lead. Fox then caught the Tigers by surprise by putting down a perfect bunt for a single to load the bases. After a sacrifice fly by Goodwin, Scott Hode finished the scoring with a double down the left field line that scored two giving the Hogs the 7-3 lead heading to the bottom of the fifth.
The Tigers would cut into that lead thanks once again to Gamble. Leading off the inning, he hit a soft roller to Scott Bridges at second base and was able to beat it out for an infield single. Moran was up next and the sophomore drilled a liner into right center field, but Conner came out of nowhere to dive head first and make a spectacular catch for the first out. But Auburn would get that back as Huddleston lifted a fly ball to Fox in right, but he dropped the ball looking back into the sun and just like that Auburn was in business.
A Pratt single to center field scored Gamble with the first run and after a Hulett single loaded the bases, Scott Schade lifted a fly ball into deep center field that easily scored Huddleston from third. Trying to get into scoring position, Hulett committed one of Auburn's several baserunning errors on the day as he was thrown out at second base to end the inning and the Tiger scoring threat. After five innings Auburn had crawled back to within two runs at 7-5.
Arkansas extended the lead back to three in the seventh thanks in large part to a Wishy single to right field that Doug Vines lost in the sun. That hit allowed Clark to advance all the way from first to third after he had reached after being hit by a Hughey pitch. A Fox sacrifice fly then plated Clark to make it 8-5 Razorbacks.
Auburn once again missed a golden opportunity to pull closer in the bottom of the inning as Gamble got his fourth hit of the game to lead off the inning. Moran followed with a sharp ground ball that Bridges couldn't handle at second, putting runners on first and second with nobody out.
Huddleston then hit a deep fly ball to left-center field that McConnell tracked down just short of the warning track keeping the runners on first and second. Pratt failed to deliver as he struck out for the second out. Hulett finished things off by flying out to left. That basically took the air out of the Auburn sails as the Tigers failed to challenge in their last two at-bats.
Gamble led the way for the Tigers with four hits and three runs scored on the day. Pratt was the only other Tiger with double figures in hits as he had two with three runs batted in. Freshman Steven Register pitched the final two and one/third innings for the Tigers and allowed three hits and no runs while striking out three. Conner, Clark and Wishy all had three hits for the Razorbacks while Hode added two hits and two runs batted in.
The Tigers are now left to ponder their fate for the postseason with Monday's Regional announcements the only drama left in the 2002 season.