The #1 Razorbacks again proved why they were the best team in the country. In a hard fought battle, the #4 Volunteers came up just short as they tried to rally against the best closer in college baseball. The top 5 showdown was everything we wanted and more, two excellent teams, a great atmosphere, tons of drama, and all three games down to the wire.
Game 1: Arkansas 6-5
The Friday night matchup was the perfect primer for an explosive series between the two top 5 teams. Tennessee got the bats going early as the Vols went on to score 5 runs in the first inning to take the 5-0 lead to start the game. Unfortunately for the Vols, they would be held scoreless the rest of the game thanks to an incredible defensive effort from the Hogs.
The Razorbacks were unbothered, as Brady Slavens answered back with a 2-run HR to give Arkansas life in the top of the 2nd inning. The momentum continued for the Hogs, as they added 2 more runs in the 3rd inning on another 2-run HR by Robert Moore. Arkansas would eventually tack on 2 more runs to take the lead, hitting behind Kevin Kopps, who would allow 1 hit in his 3 innings of work. Arkansas took game one, but this series was far from over.
Game 2: Tennessee 8-7
Saturday’s matchup was arguably one of the best games in college baseball this season. Tennessee again jumped out front early, scoring 2 runs in the 1st inning, and 1 run in the 4th inning. On the mound for Tennessee, senior Will Heflin would retire 13 straight batters, and keeping the Hogs hitless through 5 innings.
Arkansas would only be silenced for so long. A big 6th inning for the Razorbacks evened up the score at 3 thanks to a 2-run HR by Braydon Webb and a solo HR by Christian Franklin a few batters later. Arkansas would take the lead in the 7th, as they went on to score 4 more runs in the game. Despite giving up yet another lead, Tennessee kept battling. Solo HRs by Jordan Beck and Max Ferguson in the 7th and 8th innings kept the Vols in striking distance. The Hogs added an insurance run in the 9th inning to carry a 2-run lead into the bottom half of the inning.
Tennessee brought the fireworks in the 9th inning. Connor Pavolony lead off with a bloop single to centerfield, followed by a 7 pitch walk by Liam Spence. All of a sudden, the Vols bring the winning run to the plate in Max Ferguson. All signs pointed to a sacrifice bunt to move the tying run into scoring position, but Max had other plans. Before stepping into the box, Max turned to ask assistant coach Frank Anderson what he wanted Max to do, Frank replied, “You might as well hit it over the (bleeping) fence!” On the first pitch of the at-bat, Max called game. A walk-off 3-run blast, won game 2 for Tennessee. WATCH:
Game 3: Arkansas 3-2
Sunday’s rubber match was the slugfest most expected. However, we saw an excellent pitching duel between Lael Lockhart and Blade Tidwell. Both pitchers keeping the game scoreless until the 5th inning when Tennessee struck first with a singe run in the bottom of the 5th. The Hogs answered with 3 runs in the last three innings.
The story of this game is… You guessed it, Kevin Kopps. Kopps took the mound in the 6th inning, and ultimately shut Tennessee down, like he has done all season. Kopps did allow a run in the bottom of the 9th, but the Hogs had the insurance run.
This series didn’t disappoint. What did we learn from this series? Arkansas is still without a doubt the best team in college baseball. Kevin Kopps is making his case for Pitcher of the Year, and its a good one. Tennessee is absolutely a top 5 team. We want to see this matchup again whether it is in Hoover, or Omaha.
Arkansas turns their focus to Florida as they are set to host another high stakes in Baum-Walker.
Tennessee looks to rebound on the road for their final series in Columbia, SC.
Both teams are still in the hunt for the top seed in the SEC, but Tennessee must sweep to have a chance. Facing a really talented Gamecock squad, that is no easy task!