BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
No. 4 Arkansas came into Saturday’s SEC Baseball Tournament first semifinal with Texas A&M with a share of league’s regular season championship and a virtual lock to be one of the NCAA’s coveted eight national seeds.
Nothing about that has changed, but the second-seeded Razorbacks (41-16) won’t be playing in the SEC championship game on Sunday after falling to the 10th-seeded Aggies 5-4 Saturday in Hoover, Al.
“Yeah, really awesome win for our program,” Texas A&M head coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “Congratulations to Arkansas, great year, great regular season. Obviously they have a long postseason ahead of them, I’m sure.”
Arkansas rallied with a trio off runs in the ninth and had the go-ahead runs on base, but could not pull off a fifth win in as many tries over Texas A&M (36-24), including a 6-5 one in 11 innings earlier in the event.
“First off, congratulations to A&M,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. “ They pitched great today. Both teams played very good defense for the most part, and yeah, was just one of those games, really frustrating for us, especially on the offensive side. It’s like their pitchers did a great job against our top five hitters (3 of 23), and that ended up being the difference in the game.
“You move down past that, and 6 through 9 (7 of 14), they fought pretty well, and they got that rally going there in the top of the ninth, but great tournament. Just we played three tight games…Feel very fortunate to win two of them.
“You hate to lose and leave, but now it’s time for us to switch gears mentally and regroup a little bit and build up a little strength and get ready for next weekend.”
Arkansas, which won two of its three SEC Tournament games with a 5-4 win over LSU as well, and 63 teams will learn of next action via the NCAA Basketball Tournament Selection show on ESPN Monday at 11 a.m.
“Well, I feel good about some things,” Van Horn said. “I feel good about if we don’t make very many mistakes — I don’t think we made an error in three games here. I think we made one at Vanderbilt, and it might have been on a pitcher.
“So I feel like if we can continue to do that, feel like our starting pitchers for the most part are in good shape. They’ve got some rest. We didn’t over-pitch them, and a couple of bullpen guys had pretty good outings.
…I don’t know, I feel good except we’ve got to get our offense going. It’s the older guys. They’ve got to do it. If we don’t get the offense going, it’ll be a quick weekend for us.”
Schlossnagle, who came to Texas A&M after a successful run at the Big 12 member TCU, and his Aggies will play fourth-seeded Vanderbilt in Sunday’s 2 p.m. championship game.
Vanderbilt downed top-seeded Florida 11-6 in the other semifinal.
He summed up the challenge of playing in the SEC, a league that is projected to get four of the top eight nationals seeds (Florida, Arkansas, LSU and Vanderbilt) and could have as many as 8 of the 16 host sites when sites announced on Monday.
“It’s utter insanity, this conference,” Schlossnagle said. “Every single game is a street fight. It’s not even a boxing match; it’s a street fight until the very last out is made.
“Every now and then there’s one game that’ll get out of hand, but the level of play, the talent, the coaches. I’ve talked many times about what I think of Coach Van Horn.
“Again, like I said yesterday, I think all the other SEC coaches say the preparation that it gives you for whatever is beyond this week is better than anywhere else.”
Texas A&M took a 1-0 lead on Trevor Werner’s double in the third inning on Arkansa starting pitcher Brady Tygart.
Tygart threw 64 pitches – 32 ball and 32 strikes – as he continued to build up his arm strength after having surgery for a UCL strain.
He allowed one run on three hits, walked two and fanned three in his outing while matched up with Texas A&M starter Matt Dillard, who went four shutout innings.
“Yeah, Brady didn’t have the stuff that he’s had the last couple outings,” Van Horn said. “Fastball, 91, 92. He can throw it 95 if he needs to, if you want him to close the game. He can do that.
“But he didn’t have the command that he had had the first three outings. I just feel like hopefully got this out of the way and we can see him take a step forward next weekend, and I’m sure in a big game.
It stayed 1-0 way until the sixth when Arkansas pitchers issued four straight walks and Texas A&M scored a trio of two-out runs to push its advantage to 4-0.
Austin Bost’s two-out double off reliever Will McEntire gave the Aggies a two-run lead before freshman Gage Wood entered, allowed a walk after finishing off a 2-0 inherited count and then issued a run-scoring free pass to Hunter Haas.
Fellow freshman Parker Coli would follow with a walk to force in another run before retiring Trevor Werner to end the sixth.
Arkansas cut it to 4-1 in the seventh when Caleb Cali doubled and pinch hitter Ben McLaughlin delivered a run-scoring single.
Jace Laviolette’s RBI single off Arkansas pitcher Austin Ledbetter in the eighth gave the Aggies what proved to be the game-winning run before Christian Foutch – the third freshman pitcher the Razorbacks used – got our of the inning.
LaViolette’s RBI in the bottom of the eighth proved to be a massive run,” Schlossnagle said. “That’s why you just have to keep playing and keep scoring, especially against a great program like Arkansas, who you know is going to cash in.”
Arkansas did indeed make it interesting the ninth when Cali led off with a single, Peyton Holt was hit by a pitch and John Bolton drove home a pair of runs with one out to cut it to 5-3.
That brought on Texas A&M’s Troy Lansing, who pitched eight innings in a win over Tennessee earlier in the tournament.
Tavian Josenberger’s followed with a single to put runner at the corners and Bolton scored to make it 5-4 when Kendall Diggs reached via an error.
Lansing then fanned Jace Bohrofen and Jared Wegner to end the game.
“We almost batted around,” Van Horn said. “I’ll tell you about the last two outs. We swung at some bad pitches. Had two of our best hitters up there, and that was probably the most disappointing part to me about that inning.
“I loved that inning. I loved the way we rallied. John Bolton’s at-bat, fouling off pitches and smoking one opposite field down the line, just did a great job there fighting to get to the next pitch.
Obviously we needed another hit to tie it up, and had the 3 and 4 hole hitter up and a guy throwing pretty much exclusively sliders, and they didn’t find the barrel at all. Congratulations to Wansing. He did a great job finishing us up.”
Photo courtesy of the University of Arkansas