HOOVER, Ala. – In a day that belonged to the lower-seeded teams, the No. 12 University of Arkansas baseball team couldn’t buck the trend in a 2-0 loss to Vanderbilt on the opening day of the 2010 SEC Tournament at Regions Park. Bo Bigham was 3-for-4 at the plate, his ninth game of the season with at least three hits, and Jeremy Heatley pitched five shutout innings for the Razorbacks. With the loss, Arkansas (40-17) will face top-seeded Florida in an elimination game Thursday. All four lower-seeded teams won Wednesday.
The matchup will begin approximately 30 minutes after the completion of the day’s first game between Auburn and South Carolina, which is set for a 9:30 a.m. start. Arkansas’ game against the Gators will be televised by CSS and carried by CST (Ch. 119 in Northwest Arkansas).
Making his first start of the career, Heatley worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the first inning. He walked two of the first three hitters he faced and gave up a base hit to right field off the bat of Aaron Westlake. With just one down and the bases full of Commodores, Heatley struck out Curt Casali and got Andrew Giobbi to fly out to get out of the inning without allowing a run.
Arkansas threatened in the bottom of the second with no outs and runners on first and second. Monk Kreder led off the inning with a single through the right side and Travis Sample was plunked by a pitch from Vanderbilt starter Sonny Gray. The two base runners were stranded, however, as Gray retired the next three Hogs in order. Kreder has hit safely in six straight and 10 of Arkansas’ last 11 contests.
With two outs in the bottom of the third, the Razorbacks tallied back-to-back singles by Bigham and Andy Wilkins. Bigham advanced to third on Wilkins’ base knock and Arkansas had runners on the corners for Kreder. Gray got Kreder to roll over a pitch and ground out to second base to end the inning and keep the Razorbacks off the scoreboard.
Heatley tossed a career-high five innings, holding Vanderbilt (41-15) scoreless on three hits. The senior right hander walked four and registered a career-high seven strikeouts, including a called third strike to Jason Esposito on his 100th, and final, pitch of the ballgame.
The Commodores posted the first run of the contest in the top of the sixth off reliever Sam Murphy. The tournament’s fifth-seeded team scored without benefit of a hit. Westlake drew a walk to lead off the inning and was sacrificed to second by Casali. He moved over to third on a groundout and eventually crossed the plate on a wild pitch to give Vanderbilt the 1-0 lead.
In his second inning on the mound, Murphy worked around a leadoff infield single to keep Arkansas within one run. After a sacrifice bunt by Mike Yastrzemski and a two-out walk to Anthony Gomez, Murphy induced a come-backer to the mound which he gloved and tossed to first for the third out of the seventh.
Arkansas put a man in scoring position with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. Kyle Atkins singled through the right side and swiped second base, his fourth steal of the season, with Collin Kuhn at the plate. Gray cut the opportunity short with a strikeout.
Westlake put the Commodores ahead by two with a solo shot to center field in the top of the eighth off DJ Baxendale. The home run for Westlake was his 12th of the season. Baxendale gave up one more hit in the inning but got help from Kuhn to cut down the runner, Andrew Giobbi, trying to stretch the play into a double. Kuhn leads the Razorbacks with six outfield assists.
The Hogs went in order in the bottom of the ninth as Chase Reid closed the game for Vanderbilt to earn his second save of the season.
In the day’s earlier action, Alabama defeated Auburn, 7-1; Ole Miss topped South Carolina, 3-0; and LSU beat Florida, 10-6. Play on day two of the 2010 SEC Tournament begins at 9:30 a.m. with South Carolina vs. Auburn, which will be followed by the Florida-Arkansas matchup. Action in the winners bracket will begin at 4:30 p.m. Log on to SECSports.com or check your local television listings for availability of Thursday’s games.