Razorbacks make early exit from SEC Baseball Tournament

Third-seeded Kentucky built a 6-0 lead after five innings en route to a 9-6 victory that gave second-seeded Arkansas a quick boot from the SEC Baseball Tournament at the Hoover Met Thursday.

Now the wait for the real postseason begins. Arkansas will learn its fate for the NCAA Tournament on Selection Monday beginning at 11 a.m. CDT. The Selection Show will be televised by ESPN2. The Razorbacks are a projected top eight national seed by D1Baseball and Baseball America. Both had the Diamond Hogs as the No. 5 overall seed in its Field of 64 projections entering the week.

Both teams took a different approach to Thursday’s game.

Arkansas starter Hagen Smith pitched only two innings, while Kentucky starter Trey Pooser threw five scoreless frames to earn the victory for the Wildcats, whose bats shined early and often.

Ryan Waldschmidt drew a five-pitch walk to open the bottom of the first and advanced to second on a failed pickoff attempt from Smith. Emilien Pitre followed with a single that put runners on first and third. Waldschmidt scored on an RBI groundout from Devin Burkes for the game’s first run.

With Nick Lopez batting, Pitre stole third and scored when an errant throw from Hudson White sailed into left field for a 2-0 Kentucky lead. Smith recovered in time to strike out Lopez and Mitchell Daly but not before throwing 20 pitches in the inning.

In the top of the third, it became evident that Smith’s day was done when he was seen leaving the dugout after a discussion with coach Dave Van Horn.

Smith threw 36 pitches in two innings of work, allowing two unearned runs on two hits. He struck out four and walked one, finishing a shortened afternoon with 36 pitches, 21 strikes.

“That’s about what we wanted him to throw right there — 35, 40 pitches, two to three innings max,” Van Horn told reporters afterwards. “We thought, ‘Hey, that’s enough.’ So give him a little opportunity to have a couple days’ rest more than normal leading into next weekend.”

Ryan Nicholson padded Kentucky’s lead with a 421-foot solo home run to right-center in the fourth inning off Gage Wood. It was Nicholson’s 18th blast of the year and it gave the Wildcats a 3-0 lead.

In the fifth, Waldschmidt got a pitch from Wood that was down in the zone and drove it well over the back wall in left-center to up the lead to 4-0. Pitre and Burkes followed with back-to-back singles. Both scored when Lopez  hit a two-run single that made it 6-0. Wood left after allowing four runs on six hits in 2 2/3 innings.

Arkansas made good contact off Pooser but couldn’t push across a run against the right-hander. Pooser’s day was done after throwing 76 pitches in his five scoreless innings. He struck out three, allowing three hits and one walk.

After Pooser left, the Razorbacks’ bats started to awaken in the sixth. Arkansas loaded the bases off Jackson Nove and plated their first run on an RBI groundout from Wehiwa Aloy.

Peyton Holt briefly got the Diamond Hogs back in the game with a three-run homer just past the reach of Waldschmidt’s glove in left. Holt’s blast cut the deficit to 6-4.

Brady Tygart threw a scoreless sixth inning for Arkansas before running into trouble in the seventh. Waldschmidt got his second home run of the day and 13th on the year when he clubbed a hanging breaking ball from Tygart over the wall in left for a two-run shot that extended Kentucky’s lead to 8-4. Later that inning, Daly hit an RBI sacrifice fly off Mason Molina that capped the Wildcats’ scoring and gave them a 9-4 advantage.

Holt hit his second home run of the day when he lined a solo shot over the wall in left to make it 9-5 in the eighth. An inning later, Evan Byers allowed a two-out solo home run to Sprague-Lott, the third baseman’s eighth of the season. Hudson Polk struck out to end the game.

Holt’s two home runs were his fifth and sixth of the season. His four RBIs were part of a 2-for-4 performance at the plate. Stovall (2-4) and Sprague-Lott (2-5) also had two hits apiece for the Razorbacks, who totaled nine in the game and left eight men on base.

Smith (9-1) suffered his first loss of the season with Pooser (5-1) earning the win. Kentucky totaled 10 hits and went 6-for-9 at the top of the order with Waldschmidt (2-for-4), Pitre (2-3) and Burkes (2-2) all notching two hits.

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Story originally appeared on Razorbacks Wire