BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON

The SEC Western Division crown will be decided on Saturday’s final day of the regular season.

Alabama used a six-run fifth inning to rally past visiting Arkansas 8-6 Friday night in Tuscaloosa to clinch the Crimson Tide a berth in next week’s SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala.

The Razorbacks (38-15, 18-11), who will be the second or third seed in the event, stayed tied atop the West with Texas A&M (34-17, 18-11) as Ole Miss routed the Aggies 14-6 on Friday night to even up their series.

Connor Noland (5-4) took the loss for Arkansas while giving up five runs on six hits in 4 1/3 innings while the bullpen faltered on Friday night after pitching five shutout innings in a 7-3 win on Thursday.

Arkansas, whose 11 hits matched Alabama’s total, jumped ahead 4-1 on Friday night.

“Just a tough loss,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. “We battled and I think we had a three-run lead and, just, kind of a different story compared to last night as far as how our bullpen went.

“Connor wasn’t throwing strikes, getting behind in the count, giving up some hits, so we decided to go with (Zack) Morris. And Morris came in and didn’t throw the ball over the plate very well. They did get a couple of cheap hits on him, which was kind of the game works every now and then, but we got our hits. We just needed one more big one. We gotta get them tomorrow.”

Van Horn knows his guys are well aware of the situation entering Saturday.

“These guys know what’s up,” Van Horn said. “..I’m sure they know the (Texas A&M) score or they’ve looked by now. They’ll know what tomorrow’s all about, if we win tomorrow, that’s all we can do. We can only control what we can do.

“So …. anyway, did softball win?”

Arkansa did rally back and had a chance to win when Chris Lanzilli, who had three hits, came to the plate in the ninth as the go-ahead run.

“It’s hard to overcome a big number like six runs in an inning to somebody and we almost did,” Van Horn said. “We fought a little bit there, got a couple of big hits. We had a couple of big hits in the seventh, had a couple of runners on there in the ninth and a hot hitter in Lanzilli up there so I was proud of them for fighting… They never thought the game was over. I like that about our team.”

Alabama head coach Brad Bohannon was obviously pleased with his team’s win, one that comes in a last month in which his team has lost 12 one-run games.

“It really is a big win,” Bohannon said. “That is a heck of a team. I am really impressed with Arkansas and I think they are the best team we have played since Tennessee. They re a legitimate top 10 team that will be hosting a(n) (NCAA Tournament) Regional and probably win it.”

Jacob McNairy (6-2) got the win for Alabama (28-25, 11-17) while going five innings, giving up four runs on six hits, fanning seven and walking one.

“That was a really good effort by us,” Bohannon said.  I thought Jacob McNairy got us of to a good start and we were really good out of the bullpen. We got some production out of the line up and we got some big hits up and down the line up tonight, which we hadn’t been getting. So just really pleased to get a win over a great team.

“I’m looking at my box score here and I think everybody, well  at least seven of my nine players got hits, even some guys we hadn’t got a lot out of.”

The six-run outburst in one inning had not been something Alabama has done much this season.

“That’s what it takes to put up some crooked numbers,” Bohannon said. “You either have to hit a couple of home runs with people on baser get a lot of production up and down the line up. That is what we did tonight.”

The win meant Alabama, whose program has been down, has made the SEC Tournament two years in row.

“Making the NCAA Tournament is the ultimate goal, but you have got to get to Hoover before you can host a regional or whatever,” Bohannon said. “It has been a frustrating past month. I am not going to run from that  with 12 one-run losses.

“It’s been tough, but I’ll say this about the league this year. It may not be as good and down from what it usually is, but I think the bottom half of the league is as strong as it has ever been.

“It may be crazy to say, but I think we are a better team than we were last year. Our win-loss record doesn’t say that, but we have a lot of good pieces and have been really close. It’s been frustrating, disappointing and heart-breaking, but glad to be back in Hoover for a second year in a row.”

It’s like I told our guys, it didn’t go our way tonight. It’s hard to overcome a big number like six runs in an inning to somebody and we almost did it. We fought a little bit there, got a couple of big hits. We had a couple of big hits in the seventh, had a couple of runners on there in the ninth and a hot hitter in Lanzilli up there so I was proud of them for fighting… They never thought the game was over. I like that about our team.

Arkansas is slated to Jackson Wiggins on Saturday while Alabama will send out lefty Grayson Hitt (4-3, 5.02) for the 1 p.m. game.

Bohannon is optimistic about the chance to end a five-game series losing streak.

“Grayson is going to give us a great start and Arkansas is a team that has aboyut a 90 point different in splits better versus right handed pitching than left,” Bohannon said. “I know we will go out and battle.”