FAYETTEVILLE (UofA) - Arkansas clinched the Southeastern Conference Western Division title, sweeping a doubleheader from Ole Miss on Saturday afternoon at Baum Stadium.
The Razorbacks clinched their fourth Western Division title since joining the SEC and the first since the 2007 season. Arkansas finishes the regular season with a 36-18 overall record and a 15-15 mark in conference games. Ole Miss closes the regular season with a 30-25 record and a 13-17 record in league games.
Arkansas entered the second game of the doubleheader in a must-win situation if it wanted to advance to the conference tournament. With the win, Arkansas clinched the outright division title, finishing 15-15, a game ahead of Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State. A loss in the second game of the doubleheader would have forced a five-way tie for first place in the Western Division, but Arkansas would have missed out on the conference tournament due to tiebreaker rules.
Collin Kuhn homered in both games of the doubleheader and had four RBI. Kuhn finished the weekend hitting 4-for-8 with three homers and five RBI.
Tim Carver went 3-for-5 in the twinbill, while Bo Bigham went 3-for-6 with a RBI.
Barrett Astin pitched in both games of the doubleheader, earning a save in the first game and picking up the win in the second game. Astin combined for 4.1 shutout innings with three strikeouts.
Arkansas' lone senior on the roster, Kyle Robinson, and senior manager Trey Baughtman were honored in senior day ceremonies before the first game of the twinbill.
The Razorbacks earned the two seed in the upcoming SEC Tournament and open play on Wednesday, May 25, at 9:30 a.m. against seventh seed Alabama at Regions Park in Hoover, Ala.
Game 1: Fant pitches Arkansas to series-evening win
Randall Fant threw 6.1 shutout innings and Collin Kuhn homered as Arkansas defeated Ole Miss 2-0 to even the series on Saturday afternoon at Baum Stadium.
In a game that saw excellent pitching from both sides, Fant was masterful on the mound, giving up just three hits in his outing and striking out three. He tossed his fifth quality start of the season, finishing just two outs shy of recording his first career complete-game. After allowing a double and a walk in the first, Fant got out of the opening inning with a 3-6-1 double play. The twin killing started a streak of 16 straight batters set down by Fant, which lasted until a leadoff single by Alex Yarbrough in the top of the seventh.
Trent Daniel and Barrett Astin each threw a third of an inning in the seventh, with Astin recording the final out for his second save of the season.
Ole Miss starter David Goforth threw his first career complete game, allowing just two runs on six hits and striking out three in his six innings.
Kuhn belted his second home run of the series and his sixth of the season, finishing 1-for-2 with a RBI. James McCann also drove in a run and went 1-for-2.
Ole Miss had four players record one hit in the loss. Tanner Mathis, Matt Smith, Matt Tracy and Alex Yarbrough each had a hit for the Rebels.
The Rebels had a scoring chance in the top of the first. Mathis led off the game with a double, which Kuhn just missed grabbing on a diving attempt. After a sacrifice bunt advanced Mathis to third, Smith drew a walk. Fant worked out of the job by persuading Matt Snyder to ground into a 3-6-1 double play to end the inning.
Arkansas put a run across in the bottom of the first inning. Bo Bigham singled and Kuhn walked to start the inning. A sacrifice bunt by Dominic Ficociello moved each runner up a base. McCann hit a sacrifice fly to left field, bringing home Bigham.
The Razorbacks doubled their lead in the home half of the sixth. Kuhn led off the inning with a home run over the left field fence, his sixth of the season and second of the weekend.
Ole Miss wouldn't go quietly in the top of the seventh. Yarbrough led off the inning with a single. With one out, Snyder singled to advanced Yarbrough to second. Tracy followed with a single of his own into right field. Yarbrough attempted to score from second on the play, but McKinney made a perfect throw to the plate to retire him for the second out of the inning. Astin then entered the game and got Will Allen to ground out to third to end the game.
Game Two: Arkansas rallies late to win 5-3, clinch Western Division title
Facing a must-win situation to qualify for the SEC Tournament, Arkansas rallied with three runs in the bottom of the sixth to defeat Ole Miss 5-3 and clinch the outright Western Division crown.
Trailing 3-2 entering the bottom of the sixth, Arkansas put together a three-run inning to take a 5-3 lead. With one out, Matt Vinson walked and then pinch runner Kyle Atkins stole second base. Jarrod McKinney was then hit by a pitch to put runners at first and second with one out. Tim Carver then appeared to fly out to center field for the second out of the inning. However, the umpire at second base, Randy Watkins, called a balk on Ole Miss pitcher Bobby Wahl, meaning that the pitch did not count and both base runners were able to move up a base. Carver eventually reached first on a bunt single, laying down a perfect safety squeeze bunt up the first base line, which scored Atkins with the game-tying run. Bo Bigham drove in the eventual game-winning run, blooping a single to right field, which scored McKinney. The right fielder's throw home was high, allowing Bigham to advance to second and Carver to third. Collin Kuhn added an insurance run with a sacrifice fly to center field, bringing home Carver to make the score 5-3.
Ole Miss again put the tying runs on base in the top of the seventh. Matt Snyder and Matt Tracy walked to start the inning. After the walk to Tracy, Arkansas went to staff ace DJ Baxendale, who had thrown 8.1 innings in his start on Thursday night. Hamblin laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance the two base runners to second and third. With Will Allen at the plate, a Baxendale pitch got past James McCann. However, McCann hustled to the ball, which had rolled a few feet away and made a perfect throw to Baxendale at the plate, who slapped the tag on pinch runner Jordan King, who was attempting to score from third. Allen eventually drew a walk to put runners at the corners with two out. Baxendale induced a groundout to first by Austin Anderson to clinch the win and the Western Division title.
Collin Kuhn homered for the third straight game and drove in a game-high three runs. Bo Bigham and Tim Carver each had two hits and drove in a run in the win.
Pitching for the second time on Saturday, Barrett Astin was excellent in relief for Arkansas, earning the win to improve to 5-1 on the season. Astin struck out three and gave up just two hits in his four shutout innings.
Just two days after throwing 107 pitches in his start on Thursday night, Baxendale was called on to get the final three outs of the second game and came through, earning his third save of the season after throwing a hitless ninth inning.
Arkansas starter Ryne Stanek did not factor into the decision, allowing two runs on two hits in a third of an inning.
Ole Miss reliever Bobby Wahl took the loss to drop to 0-2. Wahl gave up two runs on a hit in 1.2 innings.
Rebel starter Austin Wright surrendered two runs on three hits and struck out four in 3.2 innings, but did not receive a decision.
Ole Miss jumped out to the early lead in game two, scoring twice in the top of the first. Tanner Mathis singled to left field and then moved to second on a wild pitch with one out. Matt Smith walked and Matt Snyder was hit by a pitch to load the bases with one out. A bloop single to left field by Matt Tracy drove in Mathis with the game's first run. Miles Hamblin then laid down a suicide squeeze up the first base line, with Smith scoring. Lynch was unable to field the bunt attempt, allowing Hamblin to reach first on the error. Lynch worked his way out of the jam by getting consecutive pop ups to end the inning.
The Rebels stretched the lead to three in the third inning on a leadoff home run by Snyder just inside the foul pole down the right field line.
Arkansas trimmed the lead with two runs in the home half of the third. McKinney drew a leadoff walk, but was retired at second on a fielder's choice groundout by Carver. Bigham then doubled into the left-center field alley. Carver attempted to score from first, but was thrown out at the plate for the second out. Kuhn came through with two outs, blasting a two-run home run down the left field line to cut the deficit to 3-2. The homer for Kuhn was his third of the weekend and seventh of the season.