Kentucky takes over sole possession of SEC lead with 7-4 win over Arkansas


After a weekend in Kentucky, the Arkansas baseball team no longer controls its own destiny in a quest to win back-to-back SEC conference championships.

The overall league lead now resides with the No. 8 Wildcats, whose 7-4 win over the No. 2 Razorbacks on Sunday before 6,024 fans at Kentucky Proud Park gave them a series win and the overall league lead.

Kentucky (35-10, 18-6) had downed Arkansas 11-3 on Saturday in Lexington after the Razorbacks (40-9, 17-7) had won the series opener 10-3 on Friday night.

“…Really when you look at the series, we didn’t play great,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. “We didn’t hit. We didn’t pitch very good after Friday. And they just beat us.”

Arkansas still leads the SEC Western Division race by a game over Texas A&M (40-8, 16-8) and is tied with Tennessee (39-9, 17-7) a game behind Kentucky in the overall race.

“We feel good where we’re at,” Van Horn said. “As a coach, you just want to see your team continue to get better. I’ve seen us go up and down a little bit.

“I’ve seen the hitting fade a little bit, I’ve seen the pitching fade a little bit. Then all of a sudden, they kick it back in. But it’s just baseball. It’s just the way it is. I just want to make sure at the end of the season that we are healthy and that we have a chance when we get to the playoffs.”

The Razorbacks will look to bounce back against visiting Mississippi State (32-16, 14-10), whose head coach is former Arkansas pitching coach Wes Johnson.

The two teams will meet in a three-game series beginning Friday at 6:30 p.m. at Baum-Walker Stadium with game also scheduled for Saturday at 6 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

“We’ve had to play hard and pitch hard and it’s tough losing the series, especially on the road like this, when we felt like if we could have just swung the bats a little bit better, but we didn’t deserve to win this series, honestly,” Van Horn said.

“Now we got finals this week. Give the guys a few days off, get it back going again, hopefully play better against Mississippi State next weekend.”

Kentucky head coach Nick Mingione obviously feels good about his Wildcats, who had lost 5 of 7 games before winning Saturday and Sunday.

“I was happy for our team because when you lose a Friday game, you have to come back and beat that team twice,” Mingione said. “That’s a really good team. They are the number two team in the country for a reason and you’ve got to beat them twice and you end up doing it.

“That’s no easy task. Dave Van Horn is one of the greatest coaches to ever play college baseball. He is one of the all-time wins leaders and they have a great team, but so do we and I am proud of our guys.”

Kentucky had started SEC action 14-1 and a had a three-game lead over Arkansas, but watched that dissipate before the two division leaders met.

“A good word is resilient,” Mingione said. “A lotto times I feel like a broken record and I want to be respectful of them, but I feel like I need to come up with different ways to describe their overall competitiveness.

“I mean that is what they do. They compete at highest level, they have an edge about them and they have a real belief – a real belief.”

Arkansas did not have a hit Sunday against Kentucky starting pitcher Mason Moore (8-1) until the fifth inning when the Razorbacks were already down 6-0.

Moore went five innings while allowing two runs on three hits, fanning six and walking four.

“..Our deal starts on the mound and Mason Moore was so much better today,” Mingione said. “He was fantastic. He made adjustments. He had a couple of walks in a couple of innings, but boy did he work his way out of it. He found his way out of it.”

Van Horn was impressed with Moore.

“Well, he threw a lot of strikes,” Van Horn said. “He had movement. He had sink. We knew that. Needed to get his pitches up. Stay off the low stuff. Fastball had some sink. Threw a lot of changeups.

“They have sink, so you had to see the ball up. When we did that, we made him pitch. We made him throw more pitches, but he really never gave up a big hit. Credit to him.”

Emilien Petrie’s solo homer off Arkansas starer Mason Molina (3-2) in the bottom of the first got the scoring started.

The Kentucky advantage grew to 3-0 in the third when Molina walked Devin Burks and gave a two-run blast to Nick Lopez.

That ended the day for Molina, who lasted just three innings whole allowing three runs on three hits, walking three and fanning three while throwing 67 pitches, 40 from strikes.

The Wildcats greeted Arkansas reliever Will McEntire, who was followed to the mound by Christian Foutch and Gage Gaeckle, with a trio of runs in the fourth.

Grant Smith’s fielder’s choice plated a run as did Pite’s double and Burks’ sacrifice fly that made it 6-0.

Arkansas catcher Hudson Clark’s infield single – on which he dove head long into the bag – leading off the fifth inning was his team’s first hit.

Peyton Stovall, who was 3 of 5 on the day, and Wehiwa Aloy both followed with singles while Jared Sprague Lott’s sacrifice fly cut it to 6-2.

Kendall Diggs’ RBI single in the seventh make it 6-3, but Kentucky addd an unearned run in the bottom half of the inning.

Stovall led off the bottom of the night with his eighth homer of the season and Arkansas got the tying run to the plate.

But Kentucky closer Johnny Hummel finished off his sixth save by getting Diggs and Peyton Holt to fly out on a day when Arkansas got out-hit 9-7 and stranded 11 baserunners.

Photo courtesy of Razorback Communications

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