Hoover, AL (UofA) — The 13th-ranked Arkansas Razorback baseball team saw its magical SEC Tournament run come to a close Sunday afternoon as LSU defeated Arkansas by a score of 4-2, to win the championship at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
Arkansas got a solo home run from sophomore Eric Cole in the third inning, his second in as many games, but the offense couldn’t get much else going as it only managed five hits off LSU starting pitcher Eric Walker.
Cole finished the game 2-for-5 with two RBIs and a run scored. Over the course of the five games Arkansas played, Cole was one of the Hogs’ most consistent hitters, going 9-for-22 (.409) with six run scored, five RBIs and two home runs. His hit total tied for the second highest out of all tournament players, trailing teammate Jax Biggers, who finished with 10.
Juniors Luke Bonfield, Chad Spanberger, and sophomore pitcher Kacey Murphy were all named to the SEC All-Tournament team with Spanberger taking home Most Valuable Player honors. Spanberger finished the tournament as the leader in RBIs (10), doubles (3), home runs (5), and total bases (26).
LSU scored three of its runs on just three hits in the top of the fourth inning off Arkansas starter Kevin Kopps. Only one of the runs was earned as the Hogs committed a key error at the start of the inning that led to five of the first six batters to reach base.
Kopps ended up being saddled with the loss, his first of the year, but he gave Arkansas a solid start, allowing just three hits and no walks in his three innings of work.
Matt Cronin, Cannon Chadwick, Josh Alberius, and Dominic Taccolini all came out of the bullpen in the final six innings and kept LSU within striking distance for the rest of the day. The Tigers only got one more run in the sixth inning on a sacrifice fly by Nick Coomes that scored Antoine Duplantis.
Centerfielder Dominic Fletcher came up throwing and nearly beat Duplantis at the plate, but his slide came in just ahead of Grant Koch’s tag to make it 4-1.
Arkansas made things interesting in the ninth inning when Koch reached on a walk and Evan Lee reached on a hit by pitch. Cole then singled home a run to make it 4-2 and bring Spanberger to the plate with two outs. LSU decided to intentionally walk the hard-hitting first baseman to load the bases for Bonfield. Unfortunately, Bonfield hit into a game-ending groundout leaving the tying run in scoring position.
Arkansas will now wait to see where it lands in the NCAA Tournament field, which will be decided on Monday afternoon at 11 a.m. on ESPN2. The regional host announcement will come tonight at 7:30 p.m.
“I thought it ended up being a good game at the end. It was one that we felt from our side that we let a couple of opportunities slip away. We had 10 runners left on base and LSU had three. They put together the three-run inning and we gave them a couple of runs there by not making a play on the ground ball. I didn’t know if we were going to turn a double play, but needed to get an out there. We walked a runner in on a ball that we thought was strike three on a checked swing, and we didn’t get the call but that’s the way the game works a little bit. They punched in three but then we held them down a little bit. We had a couple of runners on second base that we couldn’t bring in.” – Head coach Dave Van Horn on the outcome of the game
“It was a pretty bold strategy, I’d say, because Luke [Bonfield] is as good of a hitter as I am. He’s hit three walk-offs this year already. He made the best out of a bad situation.” – Chad Spanberger on getting intentionally walked in the bottom of the ninth putting the tying run on second
“We didn’t want to lose that game obviously. We’re here to play, and we’re here to win. Going forward, it’s going to sting for about a day or so, but we can take this experience and learn from it.” – Josh Alberius on the loss