FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas took a 7-5 lead into the bottom of the ninth on Saturday, but saw Tennessee’s Max Ferguson send the home fans home happy with a three-run walk-off blast for an 8-7 victory.
Dave Van Horn chose to go with true freshman Jaxon Wiggins in the bottom of the ninth. Wiggins was coming off a very impressive showing against Arkansas State on Tuesday night. He didn’t record an out in the inning. Starter Peyton Pallette only lasted 3.1 innings, but both Caleb Bolden and Ryan Costeiu pitched well in relief.
“Just a crazy game, back and forth,” Van Horn said. “Again we spotted them two runs in the first and probably could have given up a couple of more in there but pitched our way out of it and played pretty good D right there and held them down a little bit. They scored again in the fourth and then Bolden came in and just did a tremendous job getting out of that inning. They had runners at first and third when we brought him in and they didn’t score. We kept it at three and then obviously we punched in three runs in the sixth. Some great at bats, clutch hitting, a couple of home runs, we just kept fighting.
“I thought our bullpen for the most part, Bolden, Costeiu did a good job and then obviously in the ninth inning Wiggins had kind of an unfortunate hit off the end of the bat. The hitter didn’t even know where the ball was because he didn’t run for a second. Robert didn’t know where the ball was either on the swing. It was kind of crazy. And then the walk and then the home run. It’s kind of way the game works. We battled and got the lead and couldn’t hold it and you know we’ll do it again tomorrow.”
Van Horn made it clear after the game, and rightfully so, that Kevin Kopps wasn’t an option after throwing 66 pitches on Friday night. He may not use Kopps on Sunday either.
“We’ll talk to him tomorrow morning,” Van Horn said. “It will be up to him on that. Probably just for a little bit. Definitely not today. I didn’t have his name on the board. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow.”
He also said sending Costeiu back out for the ninth despite him striking out four of the five hitters he faced wasn’t an option.
“Costieu, he was done,” Van Horn said. “That’s what he does, four outs maybe. Every time we’ve sent him out it hasn’t gone real good. So we either had to go with Wiggins or maybe (Zebulon) Vermillion. But Wiggins is a guy who has been closing games. We had a chance to win the series right there. So he was the obvious guy. If we’d have brought in somebody else and it hadn’t gone good we’d have second guessed ourselves. We went with a guy that had closed some games, had some saves, in some big games early.”
One move that Van Horn made that might have been questioned was starting left fielder Braydon Webb and then sticking with him after he struck out his first two at bats and entered the game hitting .147. All Webb did after that was a two-run home run and record a bunt single RBI.
“The situation that he had there getting a safety squeeze, he had a RBI on that,” Van Horn said. “And you know the home run, he’s got some power. We just felt like he’s been working hard, change it up a little bit. And it paid off today. He had a good day.”
As far as who will start on the mound Sunday, Van Horn said he isn’t sure. It would seem his options are Vermillion, Lael Lockhart or possibly Connor Noland.
“And as far as starting pitching for tomorrow, there’s a couple of guys we have in mind, maybe one left, one right,” Van Horn said. “That’s kind of where we’re at.”
Both Tennessee and Arkansas are 18-8 in the SEC.