By DUDLEY E. DAWSON
It truly was a lost weekend in Georgia for No. 5 Arkansas.
Not only did the Razorbacks lose their center fielder to injury, their head coach to ejection, a four-run ninth inning lead, their hope to salvage a game while in Athens,, but also their SEC Western Division lead.
Georgia’s Connor Tate hit a game-tying grand slam off Arkansas reliever Ben Bybee on a 1-2 pitch and then Parks Harber blasted his next pitch out of the yard as the Bulldogs walked off the Razorbacks 9-8 and sweep the three-game series.
Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn, who was tossed from the game in the seventh, was not around at the end to see it, but noted it was one of his tougher losses to take.
“It was really one of the tougher ones because of where we are,” Van Horn said. “We fought like crazy. We had our No. 2 catcher (Hudson Polk) going. We were pitching with freshmen. Our center fielder (Tavian Josenberger) hurt his hamstring. Our three-hole hitter (Jared Wegner) has a broken thumb. I mean, we’ve got issues and we still almost won the game.
“I thought we fought well. We played pretty well. It’s just, we didn’t finish.
“Some people always wonder, well, why do you save that really good pitcher and don’t start him. Well, there you go. You’ve got to be able to finish the game.”
LSU (31-8, 11-5) has used two wins at Ole Miss this weekend to surge ahead of Arkansas (30-10, 11-7).
Georgia head coach Scott Stricklin was understandably overjoyed at his team’s last-inning heroics.
“I’m telling up that was unbelievable,” Stricklin said. “Unbelievable. I hardly know what to say or how to describe it.
“I do know this – the wind was blowing and I thought before the game that it might turn into a slugfest. It did, just at the end. Tate and Parks got two fastballs up and got ahold of them.”
Stricklin’s team started the SEC slate with a 1-9 mark, has now right itself, won six of eight and is 7-11 in league action.
“We have gone 6-3 in last three series against three top 10 teams and we are playing a lot better,” Stricklin said. “I mean that was just against a team (Arkansas) that is going to host a regional.
“We just have to keep it going. We’ve got one Tuesday and then we go to Ole Miss. “
Georgia freshman pitcher Jarvis Evans (1-0) got his team’s last four outs to get his first college victory after Arkansas’ Caleb Cali hit his second home run of the day – this one a three-run homer in the eighth to put the Razorbacks up 8-4.
“Again, we just found ways to win,” Stricklin said. “I really proud of Jarvis Evans. He’s a freshman and it’s been up an down for him. He came in and faced four lefties and got four outs. And he gets his first college win. That’s pretty dramatic.”
Arkansas starting pitcher Hagen Smith was in line for his sixth win after leaving the game with a 3-2 lead after five innings.
Smith threw 96 pitches while allowing two runs – both coming on freshman Charlie Condon’s 18th homer of the season – walking three and fanning 8.
“I thought he did a great job,” Van Horn said. “He would tell you he didn’t have his best stuff, but his stuff was good. He made a mistake, gave up a two-run homer on a breaking ball that he left up. And he knew it right when it left his hand.
“But other than that, he competed hard. I thought he finished strong.”
Those whiffs included the side in the fifth after which he let a chirping Georgia dugout hear about it.
“There was a lot of chirping going on between both teams there a little bit,” Van Horn said. “Well they were talking to him, too. He was just pissed off. They were over there talking a little crap. He finished off the last hitter with a strike.
“I think they didn’t like…He complained about not getting a strike. So they had a few words for him. And then he ended up getting the strikeout. That’s basically what went down.”
Liam Sullivan went six innings for Georgia, allowing four runs on three hits with the runs coming on Cal’s two-run homer in the fifth that tied it and Hudson Polk’s solo blast a batter later that put Arkansas up 3-2.
“Liam gives us a great start, but he left a couple of fastball ups and they did just what we did at the end,” Sticklin said. “He was really good for us, just like their guy.”
Georgia tied it 3-3 against reliever Gage Wood in the sixth, but took a
5-3 lead in the seventh on Hudson Polk’s sacrifice fly and John Bolton’s run-scoring bunt.
The Bulldogs cut it 5-4 in seventh and Christian Foutch came in to replace Wood, who was only able to get four outs.
Foutch loaded the bases to start of and was replaced by Bybee in the ninth.
“That threw us in a bind there, because that put a lot of pressure on Christian … Gage threw 52 pitches and got four outs,” Van Horn said. “Or five outs maybe. It made it a little tougher. Then give Georgia credit, man. Those dudes, they got their hits, and they got the big hit.”
Photo courtesy of the University of Arkansas