The No. 5 Arkansas Razorbacks find themselves in an odd situation today when they suit up to face the Georgia Bulldogs for the second game of their three-game series on Foley Field in Athens.
The Hogs (30-8, 11-5 SEC) dropped the first game of an SEC series Thursday for the first time this season, falling 6-5 to the Bulldogs (21-17, 5-11).
That sets up a key matchup at 5 p.m. for the Razorbacks, who need a victory to have a chance to win the series against the Bulldogs and to ensure they retain their slight edge over LSU in the Western Division race.
The Hogs lost their series to the Tigers at Baton Rouge, La., but held a game and half advantage over No. 1 LSU in the SEC race before stumbling to the Bulldogs Thursday night.
Thursday was a night of almosts for the Razorbacks and that had to have left a sour taste in coach Dave Van Horn’s mouth as the Hogs failed to complete a comeback after falling behind 6-2.
The Razorbacks made the Bulldogs sweat the final inning, despite stranding 11 runners including five in the final two innings.
“We’ve normally done a good job of getting guys in this year,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said of the stranded hitters. Getting a bloop single and getting them in. I don’t know if it was their pitchers? We left too many on.”
Opponent: at Georgia
When: 5 p.m. Friday, April 21
Where: Foley Field, Athens, Ga.
1 p.m. Saturday — at Georgia (SEC+)
6:30 p.m. Tuesday — at Missouri State (ESPN+)
Arkansas third baseman Caleb Calli did have two RBIs on the night. He contributed the loss to the Razorbacks not taking advantage of the opportunities presented.
“Obviously we had some times where we missed the opportunity to score some runs,” said Cali said. “But it’s how the game goes sometimes. I think we’ve done a good job all year of making those hits matter for the most part, but tonight it just didn’t fall our way here and there.”
The Razorbacks threatened to take the game from the Bulldogs in the ninth with a one-out double by Kendall Diggs that plated Jace Bohrofen, cutting the Georgia lead to 6-5.
When Ben McLaughlin reached first by being hit by a pitch, it appeared like the Hogs might pull the comeback off; however, Georgia submarine pitcher Dalton Rhadans put out the fire, by forcing two pop flies to halt the Hogs’ rally.
Arkansas started quickly, plating two runs in the first inning and blanking the Bulldogs in first and second despite Razorback starter Hunter Hollan (6-2) facing some traffic on the base paths.
The Bulldogs broke through in the third with a five-run barrage — three on a homer by catcher Fernando Gonzalez — for a 5-2 lead.
“We got off to a really bad start there,” Van Horn said. “We gave them five runs there in the third — a couple of walks, an error, a big error — that they really took advantage of. They singled with two outs and that led to them putting up five (runs) instead of three.”
Georgia added their sixth run in fourth inning, and the Hogs’ started their comeback by scoring sing runs in the sixth, eighth, and ninth, but the Razorbacks missed too many opportunities along the way to complete a comeback.
“We had to try to climb out of a hole, but we gave ourselves an opportunity to win the game in the eighth and the ninth,” Van Horn said. “The eighth was a killer, we just couldn’t get the hit there (with the bases loaded).
“That’s the disappointment. You’ve got to put the bat on the ball, score a run and get a little bit closer. In the ninth we rallied again…We had a good opportunity and we had good hitters up there, but we couldn’t get it done. Credit Georgia’s pitching, and us not coming up with the big hit.”
The Bulldogs hung on to their lead, which pleased coach Scott Stricklin after suffering through a considerable amount of hard-luck outings this season.
“We gave them some opportunities and we certainly made it nerve-wracking,” Stricklin said of his Bulldogs escaping a tight spot in the eighth inning. “You’ve got the bases loaded, 6-4, nobody out and Leighton Finley strikes out the side.”
The Hogs are normally sharp in the field, but struggled in situations they usually don’t. A passed ball in third allowed a run to score and set-up Gonzalez’ game-changing three-run homer. Hollan’s control issues and miscues in the field set the table for a Bulldog upset.
Van Horn did not announce whom would start on the mound for the Razorbacks. Georgia’s usual Game 2 starter is left-hander Charlie Goldstein (1-1 5.67 ERA).
While Van Horn said that star closer Brady Tygart did make the trip to Georgia and threw a bullpen session on Wednesday, he will not play this weekend. Van Horn said Tygart could probably go, but wants to give him another week of rehab work. Van Horn added that Tygart’s target date to return had always been the last weekend of April.
This week’s SEC series
Fri.-Sat. — No. 5 Arkansas at Georgia
Fri.-Sat. — No. 3 Florida at No. 6 South Carolina
Fri-Sat. — No. 4 Vanderbilt at Tennessee
Fri.-Sat. — Texas A&M at No. 13 Kentucky
Fri.-Sat. — Miss. St. at Auburn
Fri.-Sat. — Alabama at Missouri
Fri.-Sat. — No. 1 LSU at Ole Miss