FAYETTEVILLE – Behind two big innings, the No. 16 University of Arkansas baseball team rallied past Alabama, 9-8, Friday night at Baum Stadium. Zack Cox was 3-for-5 at the plate with a three-run home run and career-high six RBI and Andy Wilkins moved into a tie for fifth place on the Razorbacks’ career home runs list. Arkansas (16-5, 2-2 SEC) overcame five- and three-run deficits and used a four-run eighth to cap the comeback.
"I’m just glad to see our guys respond," head coach Dave Van Horn said. "Down 5-0, we could have rolled over but there was some serious attitude in our dugout and I’m sure tomorrow will be another good game.
"I think it really shows the determination in our dugout. We tie it up, 5-5, and next thing you know, we’re down, 8-5, and nobody was pouting or moping. There were guys getting after each other, saying ‘we can still do it’ and ‘let’s put together a big inning like we did earlier’ and that’s kind of what happened."
Arkansas’ four runs in the eighth inning proved to be the difference in Friday’s ballgame. With one down, Bo Bigham, Matt Reynolds and Collin Kuhn all drew walks from Alabama reliever Brett Whitaker to load the bases. Cox responded with his third hit of the game, a bases-clearing double to left center. All three of the sophomore’s hits were to the opposite field.
"These are the kind of performances you have to have to come back and win games like that," Van Horn said. "You have to have somebody carry you and tonight was (Zack’s) night with six RBIs and it was just enough."
The Hogs completed the comeback with the aid of Alabama’s third error of the game. With Cox on second, Monk Kreder grounded a shot to shortstop but the infielder misplayed the ball, allowing the game-winning run to cross the plate. TJ Forrest (3-0) recorded the final two outs of the eighth inning to pick up the win and DJ Baxendale earned his sixth save of the season by closing out the ninth.
The visitors from Tuscaloosa took advantage of two Razorback errors in the top of the first and jumped out to a 3-0 lead. Back-to-back misplays at shortstop gave Alabama a bases-loaded, one-out situation. Jake Smith drove in the first run with an RBI groundout, while the second run scored on a Jon Kelton infield single that hugged the chalk before settling in fair territory. The final run of scored on a wild pitch by Arkansas starter Mike Bolsinger.
Alabama (16-4, 2-2) loaded the bases with no outs in the third, but the Razorbacks limited the damage to one run with the help of a 4-6-3 double play. Kelton doubled down the line in left field to plate another run for the Crimson Tide and give his team a 5-0 advantage.
After the bumpy start, Bolsinger steadied to keep the Razorbacks in the game. The senior right hander retired eight hitters in a row after loading the bases in the third. In 5.2 innings of work, Bolsinger allowed four hits, walked four and tallied five strikeouts. Only two of the five runs he allowed against Alabama were earned.
Cox’s and Wilkins’ home runs in the fifth put the Hogs right back in the game and tied the contest, 5-5. After a pair of singles by Matt Reynolds and Brett Eibner, Cox deposited an Adam Morgan offering into the Arkansas bullpen, going the opposite way for his fourth home run of the season. During his 21-game hitting streak, Cox has at least two hits in 11 of those contests.
Following the three-run shot, Kreder doubled down the line into left field to set up the two-run blast by Wilkins. The junior slugger turned on a 1-1 pitch and produced the 35th home run of his Razorback career to pull Arkansas even on the scoreboard. Wilkins is now tied with Greg D’Alexander (1987-90) and Rodney Nye (1998-99) on the program’s all-time home run list.
The Crimson Tide reclaimed the lead in the top half of the seventh. Ross Wilson led off the inning with a single to left field and moved around to third on a couple wild pitches. He came in to score on a sacrifice fly by Smith. Brett Booth singled later in the inning to drive in another run. Alabama ran its lead to 8-5 with a score in the eighth before the Hogs’ rally.
Game two of the weekend series is scheduled for Saturday at 2:05 p.m. Brett Eibner is penciled in for the start for Arkansas, while the Tide will hand the ball to Jimmy Nelson.