FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Arkansas pitchers struck out a season-high 12 Southwest Missouri State batters and held the Bears scoreless in the final eight innings as the Razorbacks defeated SMS 7-2 on Tuesday night at Baum Stadium.
The win gave Arkansas (20-28) its third-consecutive win for the first time since March 11 and snapped a three-game losing streak to SMS (19-27), which lost its third game in a row.
UA starter Matt Riethmaier (1-4) gave up two runs (earned) on five hits and struck out three in five innings to earn his first win of the season. In his first appearance since returning from suspension for a violation of team rules, Cliff Lee struck out a career-high nine while yielding just one walk and one hit in four innings of scoreless relief en route to his first career save.
The first of four SMS relievers for starter Andrew Jefferson, John Hardin (5-4) suffered the loss in relief for the Bears after giving up two runs (unearned) on one hit in the fourth inning, his only inning of work.
Arkansas exploited the second of SMS shortstop Dan Firlit’s two errors to take the lead with two runs in the bottom of the fourth inning. After an RBI groundout by Brad Hagedorn tied the game at 2-2, Jeff Fletcher poked a two-out single up the middle that scored Justin Riley for a 3-2 Razorback lead.
Kyle Washburn celebrated his 22nd birthday with a two-run homer in the fifth inning that upped the UA lead to 5-3. Washburn’s homer was his third of the season.
After striking out twice to set the UA career strikeout record with 169, Brian Kirby responded with a two-run homer in the eighth inning for the final 7-2 margin. Kirby’s homer was his eighth of the season and 29th of his career, moving him into sole possession of eighth place on the Razorbacks’ career home run list.
Arkansas had to rally from an early 2-0 deficit for its 12th come-from-behind win of the season and third in its last five games. SMS took an early lead on a bases-loaded, two-run single by Greg Mathis with two outs in the top of the first.
Riethmaier settled down after the first inning as the UA defense helped him out of trouble with an inning-ending double play in the second. Catcher Greg Blum aided Riethmaier’s cause, throwing out Mark Collier trying to steal second base in the third inning and picking John Gallia off first base in the fifth.
Lee needed little help from the Razorback defense as he struck out nine of the 14 batters he faced, including five called third strikes.
Jack Welsh led the Hogs with two hits, extending his hitting streak to eight games.
The game was the first meeting between the teams since SMS rallied for a 9-8, 10-inning win over top seed and host Arkansas in Game 4 of last year’s NCAA Fayetteville Regional. In that contest, SMS trailed 8-2 after seven innings before tying the game on a two-out, two-strike home run in the bottom of the ninth. Firlit won the game in the bottom of the 10th with an RBI single, sending SMS to the championship game and leaving the Razorbacks stunned. Hours later, Clemson ended UA’s season with a 12-4 win and advanced to face SMS for the second time in the regional. The Tigers defeated the Bears twice the next day to claim the regional title and advance to an NCAA Super Regional against Texas A&M.
Arkansas concludes its home Southeastern Conference schedule this weekend, hosting No. 1 South Carolina in a three-game series at Baum Stadium. Friday’s and Saturday’s games are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. CT while Sunday’s series finale is set for 1 p.m. CT.