HOOVER, Ala. — The 13th-ranked Razorback baseball team jumped out to an early lead after a first inning home run by Luke Bonfield Thursday morning in its first game of the 2017 SEC Tournament. However, the Hogs were unable to hold off the fifth-seeded Mississippi State Bulldogs, which scored all of its runs in eighth and ninth innings to win, 4-3, at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
The defeat sends Arkansas to loser’s bracket of the tournament, where it will face the No. 8 seed Auburn Tigers later tonight. Game time is still to be determined, but it will be televised on the SEC Network.
Bonfield’s two-run home run in the first inning off Mississippi State starting pitcher Denver McQuary jumpstarted the Hog offense that built a 3-0 lead after two innings. Bonfield took advantage of a one-out walk to Chad Spanberger and rocketed an 0-1 pitch over the left field wall for his ninth homer of the year.
The home run was Bonfield’s first since May 12 against Vanderbilt and is a new season high. Last year, the New Jersey native had eight home runs over the course of 49 games played. He is one of three Razorbacks with nine or more home runs this year. As a team, Arkansas continues to lead the conference with 71 home runs this year.
Unfortunately, the home run was Bonfield’s only hit of the game. Arkansas struggled to drive runs in as only five hits were tallied and eight men were left on base. Eric Cole, Carson Shaddy, Jax Biggers, and Jack Kenley all turned in single-hit games.
Kenley, a freshman, finally secured his first collegiate hit, an RBI double to deep centerfield in the second to give Arkansas a 3-0 lead at the time. Coming into the game, Kenley was 0-for-19 at the plate with three runs scored, but made his fourth start of the year at third base, a position he has not made an error at this season.
On the mound, junior pitcher Trevor Stephan had a great outing, scattering eight hits with only one run given up with five strikeouts over six innings. Stephan had to dance out of danger in the fourth and fifth innings when the Bulldogs put multiple players in scoring position, but were unable to deliver the key hits off Stephan to break into the run column.
Thursday marked the fifth-straight outing that Stephan has thrown six or more innings and given up three runs or less. In all five of those appearances, he has five strikeouts or more. For the year, the junior has 108 strikeouts, which is now eighth-most in a season in program history.
When Jake Reindl relieved Stephan after one batter in the seventh, Arkansas looked to be in a good position with SEC’s ERA leader in conference games (0.93) taking the mound. Reindl escaped the seventh with two left on, but ran into trouble in the eight when Mississippi State loaded the bases with nobody out.
Redshirt freshman Kevin Kopps relieved Reindl and minimized the damage, letting just one run score and getting a big double play to end the frame. Kopps went on to start the ninth before Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn decided to go to the bullpen after one batter faced.
In the ninth inning, the Arkansas’ bullpen of Cannon Chadwick, Josh Alberius, Evan Lee, and Kacey Murphy were unable to keep Mississippi State down as the Bulldogs worked around two runs on three hits to take the lead for the first time and then hold it in the bottom half for the win.
Four-seed Arkansas returns to the Hoover Met tonight for an elimination game with eighth-seeded Auburn. Game time is still to be determined, but it will be the third of four tournament games today. All games of the SEC Tournament are televised on the SEC Network.