Arkansas clinches top four SEC finish by downing Ole Miss in DH night cap


FAYETTEVILLE – Perhaps it was the team talking it over or maybe it was the fan karaoke, but Arkansas flipped the switch during its doubleheader with visiting Ole Miss on Friday night.

The No. 8 Razorbacks clinched an SEC top-four finish by putting up nine first-inning runs en route to a 12-2 five-inning run rule victory over the Rebels to earn a doubleheader split at Bogle Park.

It was the polar opposite of the opener as Grace Sparks fired a complete-game three-hitter in a 6-0 win for Ole Miss (29-24, 6-17) over Arkansas (36-14, 14-9).

“I thought our character was on display today, just going from the first game to the second game,” Arkansas head coach Courtney Deifel said. “I mean, I told (the team it) was our worst collective effort that we’ve had all year. It just wasn’t good enough, and it’s not who we are.

“Figuring that out and just figuring out a way to be more competitive throughout and have a better competitive energy to them was really big.

“…This team has responded really well from day-to-day. They had about 30 minutes to figure out how to respond and they did that.”

The split assured Arkansas of its four straight top four finish and a bye to the quarterfinals of next week’s SEC Tournament in Auburn.

After Robyn Herron tossed a 1-2-3 top of the first inning of the night cap, Arkansas began the bottom of the frame with Reagan Johnson walking, Nia Carter singling and Bri Ellis getting a free pass to load the bases.

Hannah Gammill’s RBI single got the scoring started and was followed by Kennedy Miller’s sacrifice fly and Hannah Camezind’s single put Arkansas ahead 3-0.

Aynslie Furbush relieved Ole Miss starting pitcher Brianna Lopez at that point and was greeted with Rylee Cloud’s first career homer, a three-blast that pushed the lead to 6-0.

Nia Carter doubled home a run and Ellis singled home two more to make it 9-0 with seven of the runs scoring with two outs.

Cloud, who had a hit in the first game, got her first start of the season in the night cap, and was ready for the moment.

“I think it’s one of the toughest roles in softball or baseball, and the biggest thing is continuing to work and be ready when your name is called,” Deifel said. “Rylee is a worker, and she doesn’t take reps off. She doesn’t take days off. She grinds, and so today was just a really cool day to see her have that moment and make the most of it.

“I think that was kind of the dagger of that inning, but it was such a great effort throughout the lineup — walking, taking hits, everything, whatever we could do to pass the bat.”

That lead grew to 12-0 in the second inning on a run-scoring wild pitch and Reagan Johnson’s two-run single.

Herron would go on to pitch five innings, allowing two runs on two hits, fanning six and not walking anyone.

“I thought she was outstanding the entire game,” Deifel said. “The challenge to her was, ‘Just attack the zone. We have a lead. Be efficient. Go at them.’ She gave up two hits and two of them got out, but that happens sometimes with a rise ball pitcher.

“I thought she was great. She was exactly what we needed…. She had really good command and looked really good all night.”

Morgan Leinstock was the losing pitcher in the opening game.

The two teams will finish off the season with a 3 p.m. game on Saturday.

Photo by John D. James

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