FAYETTEVILLE – James McCann drove in the game-tying and game-winning run with a two-run infield single in the bottom of the eighth, while Arkansas pitchers Cade Lynch and DJ Baxendale combined to allow just one run as the Razorbacks defeated No. 2 Vanderbilt 2-1 on Friday night in front of 7,937 fans at Baum Stadium.
"This series is real big for us, obviously," Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. "On the road we lost a one-run game and won an extra-inning game. We’ve been playing tight games. We just haven’t made that play or that pitch or got that big hit. To win on Friday is great, but we still have two more to go."
Arkansas moves to 18-4 on the season and 2-2 in Southeastern Conference play, while Vanderbilt falls to 20-3 and 2-2 in league play.
After being shut out by Vanderbilt starter Sonny Gray for seven innings, Arkansas finally got to the junior right hander in the home half of the eighth. Bo Bigham got the inning started with a single to center and moved to second on a base hit by Matt Reynolds. Kyle Robinson and Dominic Ficociello struck out for the first two outs of the inning. On the strikeout of Ficocielli, Bigham and Reynolds each moved up a base on a double steal. McCann then hit a grounder up the middle of the infield. Vanderbilt shortstop Anthony Gomez was able to knock the ball down to keep it in the infield. Bigham scored easily from third and Reynolds, who never stopped running on the play, was able to score from second as the throw to the plate from Gomez hit the top of the mound and Reynolds was able to beat the play at the plate to put the Razorbacks in front 2-1.
In the ninth, Vanderbilt was able to get a two-out base runner after a single to right-center field by Sam Lind. Baxendale got Riley Reynolds to strike out swinging to end the game and give Arkansas the win.
Lynch and Baxendale were outstanding on the mound for Arkansas. Lynch started and threw a career-long 6.2 innings, allowing just a run on three hits, while striking out six. Baxendale (5-0) entered with two outs in the seventh and was able to pitch 2.1 shutout innings, striking out two and giving up three hits.
"Cade Lynch gave us a chance tonight," Van Horn said. ‘He threw close to 100 pitches and got us into the seventh inning. When he left the game we were only down by a run with a couple runners on and DJ did a great job there and got us in the dugout."
Gray was the tough-luck loser, suffering his first loss of the season to drop to 5-1. Gray tossed his second complete game of the season, allowing two runs on six hits with 12 strikeouts in his eight innings of work.
Bigham led the Razorbacks with two hits, whiel McCann went 1-for-4 with two RBI. Collin Kuhn, Jarrod McKinney and Matt Reynolds each added a base hit in the victory.
Six different Commodores had one hit each to account for Vanderbilt’s six hits in the ball game. Jack Lupo scored the only Vanderbilt run of the ballgame.
Both teams had scoring chances in the first inning, but were unable to capitalize. The Commodores put runners on the corners with two outs, but Lynch was able to work out of the jam with a strikeout. In the bottom of the first, Arkansas loaded the bases with one out, but Gray got Dominic Ficociello and James McCann to strike out swinging to end the inning.
Vanderbilt broke the stalemate with a run in the top of the fifth. Jack Lupo led off the inning with a double just fair down the left field line. With one out, Riley Reynolds and Tony Kemp reached base thanks to consecutive hit by pitches to load the bases. After a fly out to center by Anthony Gomez, a wild pitch allowed Lupo to score from third and put the Commodores in front.
Arkansas was able to get the tying run to third in the bottom of the seventh, but was unable to bring him in. Sam Bates drew a leadoff walk and Kyle Atkins, who pinch ran for Bates, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by McKinney. A ground out to second by Tim Carver advanced Atkins to third. Kuhn hit a sharp ground ball to third but Vandy third baseman Jason Esposito was able to gobble up the grounder and retire Kuhn to keep Vanderbilt in front 1-0.
The Razorbacks and Commodores continue their three-game series on Saturday with first pitch scheduled for 2:05 p.m. Freshman righty Barrett Astin (2-0, 2.95) is the projected starter for Arkansas, while Vanderbilt will start junior lefty Grayson Garvin (3-1, 2.78). Single-game tickets are available for $10 and can be purchased at the Baum Stadium ticket office, while supplies last.