KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Offense is nice, but defense wins games and that is exactly what failed the No. 7 Arkansas Razorback baseball team in Knoxville, Tenn., on Saturday evening, as the Tennessee Volunteers scored the winning run in a 5-4 contest in the bottom of the ninth on a three-base failed pick off error.
The loss is the third in five Southeastern Conference games for Arkansas (28-12, 12-7 SEC) in the bottom of the ninth inning. Tennessee (20-24, 6-14 SEC) rushed the field to greet P.J. Polk who hustled around the bases after nearly getting picked off.
The bottom of the ninth inning began harmlessly with Arkansas reliever Mike Bolsinger getting two ground outs to third base on five pitches. Tennessee’s next hitter, Polk, worked the count to 3-2 before he singled to center field. Playing the percentages, Arkansas went to its bullpen to bring in left-handed pitcher Stephen Richards to face preseason All-American and left-handed batter Kentrail Davis.
As Richards set to deliver his first pitch, Polk broke for second while Richards made a pickoff move. With the runner seemingly picked off, Richards threw the ball over first baseman Andy Wilkins and down the right field line. Hustling the whole way, Polk was able to score on the errant throw and end the game.
For the second straight game the Razorbacks scored in the top of the first inning against the Volunteers, this time taking advantage of a Tennessee error. Ben Tschepikow’s ground ball to the second baseman rolled through the legs of the Volunteer and into left center field allowing Tschepikow to move to second. Arkansas’ next batter, Travis Sample, just missed a home run as he hit one high off the left-field wall for a double that scored Tschepikow.
Tennessee would tie the game at one in the bottom of the second on a home run by Jeff Lockwood over the left-field fence, but the Razorbacks took a 2-1 lead in the top of the fourth by manufacturing a run. Tschepikow singled and with one out Wilkins hit one off the pitchers glove and into an open space on the infield to place runners at first and second. A double steal put the runners in scoring position and a ground out by Collin Kuhn scored Tschepikow.
The Volunteers would tie the game again in the bottom of the fourth, this time at two, with a RBI single and then took a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the fifth with a walk and two-run home run.
Forced to play from behind, Arkansas chipped away at the Tennessee lead in the sixth when Tschepikow led off the inning with a triple to the left-center field gap. Travis Sample would get Tschepikow across the plate for the third time with a RBI single to the shortstop position, but Arkansas’ potential rally was ended quickly.
Andrew Darr appeared to be a huge factor in the contest in the top of the eighth when he stepped to the plate and stroked a solo home run with two outs over the right-field wall, but the heroics were short lived as Tennessee scored in the ninth to win the contest.
The Razorbacks smacked 11 hits off Tennessee pitching on Saturday but could only muster four runs. Tschepikow had a triple and two singles for his 10th multi-hit game of the season while also scoring three of Arkansas’ four runs. Chase Leavitt and Sample each contributed two hits to the cause with Wilkins, Kuhn, Darr and Tim Carver rounding out the hits.
Sophomore Brett Eibner got the start for the Razorbacks and threw 4.1 innings, allowing all four Tennessee runs on five hits. Bolsinger then came in to also pitch 4.1 innings and was the tough-luck loser of the affair as he surrendered just two hits and struck out three.
The Razorbacks and Volunteers conclude their series on Sunday afternoon at noon central. For more information regarding Razorback baseball or University of Arkansas athletics please visit ArkansasRazorbacks.com.