Trailing 3-2 going into the bottom of the ninth, Auburn made some noise against Arkansas closer Stephen Richards, but came up just short. With two outs and nobody on, shortstop Casey McElroy fought off four two-strike pitches before hitting a liner to left field. Racing for second, McElroy unfortunately slid just off the bag and was tagged out to end the game and give Arkansas the win.
In a game that featured 10 hits by both teams, solid pitching and defense across the board, and only three combined walks, coach John Pawlowski said it was the little things that cost his team in the loss.
In a game that was so close from start to finish, mistakes cost Auburn dearly as the Tigers had a runner thrown out at the plate, another picked off first base, and two thrown out at second. Pawlowski said plays like that made the difference.
"That's what this game was billed to be," Pawlowski said. "You've got two very good college pitchers going at it toe-to-toe. I thought both pitchers did a great job. Unfortunately for us we made one or two mistakes and that was the difference. It comes down to little things in a game like this, can you execute, can you get a guy over, can you get a guy in? We just weren't able to manufacture very much offensively, especially early in the ballgame."
Sophomore pitcher Grant Dayton was the hard-luck loser for the Tigers as he pitched into the ninth before giving up the late home run. For the game he allowed three earned runs on 10 hits and struck out a season-high 10 Arkansas hitters. Unfortunately for Dayton, Arkansas starter Dallas Keuchel was just a little bit better. In eight innings he allowed nine hits and two earned runs to pick up his third win of the season.
The Razorbacks struck first in Friday's contest thanks to the power of Ben Tschepikow. With two outs and a runner on in the top of the third, the second baseman pulled a Dayton pitch over the wall in right field for his seventh homer of the season. That gave Arkansas the early 2-0 lead.
Auburn answered back in the top of the fourth off Keuchel. Senior Ben Jones led off with an infield single and moved around to third on a line drive single by Hunter Morris to right field. That brought Brian Fletcher to the plate. One of the few right-handed sticks for the Tigers, Fletcher lofted a fly ball to right field that just missed going out of the park. Chase Leavitt made the catch for the Hogs on the warning track, but Jones scored to cut the Arkansas lead down to 2-1.
Hunter Morris has two hits on the day for the Tigers.
That's how things would remain until the top of the fifth when the Razorbacks threatened again. With one out Leavitt doubled to left field and shortstop Scott Lyons followed with a single to right to put runners on first and third with one out for the heart of the Razorback order. Bearing down, Dayton struck out Tschepikow looking before getting DH Travis Sample on a pop up to end the inning.
Pumped up, Jones struck immediately for Auburn as he lined a pitch off the monster in left field. Rounding first, Jones raced for second base and appeared to easily beat the throw from Collin Kuhn, but was called out by umpire Scott Erby. Pawlowski raced on the field and argued his case, but to no avail. Auburn failed to score, but would again get a lift on defense in the seventh.
With one out and Dayton approaching 100 pitches on the day, Lyons singled to right field to get the Razorbacks started. One out later Sample singled to move him into scoring position for first baseman Andy Wilkins. Lifting a soft liner into center field, Wilkins looked as if he would extend the Arkansas lead, but Trent Mummey gunned down Lyons to end the inning and keep the Auburn deficit at one.
As happens many times, the player that makes a big defensive play comes through the next inning at the plate and that was the case with the Tigers. Catcher Tony Caldwell led off with a single, but was erased when Casey McElroy's bunt was fielded by Keuchel and thrown to second to cut down Caldwell. A single by DH Wes Gilmer brought Mummey to the plate looking for his first hit of the game.
Riding a 20-game hitting streak, Mummey drilled a shot into the gap in right-center to the base of the wall. The blast easily scored McElroy, but Gilmer was thrown out at the plate to end the inning and keep the score 2-2 heading to the ninth where the Razorbacks pulled out the late victory.
Jones, Morris and McElroy all had two hits for the Tigers while Wilkins led the Razorbacks with three hits on the day. Auburn relievers Bradley Hendrix and Rus Harper combined to pitch a scoreless ninth for the Tigers.
Auburn and Arkansas play game two of the series on Saturday with the first pitch scheduled for 3 p.m. at Plainsman Park. The Tigers will start redshirt freshman Jon Luke Jacobs while the Razorbacks will counter with T.J. Forrest.