HOOVER, Ala. – Second-seeded Arkansas could not overcome top-ranked Vanderbilt’s four-run first inning en route to a 7-4 victory to capture the SEC Tournament Championship on Sunday afternoon in front of 7,263 fans at Regions Park.
The Commodores’ march through the loser’s bracket marks the first time a team has lost its first game of the SEC Tournament – under is current format which dates back to 1996 – and then won five straight to capture the title.
Vanderbilt improves to 51-11 on the season and 2-2 against the Razorbacks, while Arkansas falls to 41-19 and awaits word on Monday who they will host at next weekend’s NCAA Fayetteville Regional.
Tyler Rhoden gave the Commodores the best start of the season with a career-high 6.2 innings. He allowed four runs on seven hits with six strikeouts to improve to 4-0 on the season.
Vanderbilt got to Dallas Keuchel early, allowing four runs on five hits in just one-plus inning of work to fall to 6-3. He allowed four runs – only one earned – on four hits in the first and then surrendered a leadoff double in the second and was replaced by right-hander Chris Rhoads.
Forsythe’s first inning throwing error led to the Commodores’ first run as de la Osa delivered a RBI double down the left field line. After an infield single by Alvarez put runners on first and third with one out, Ryan Flaherty smoked a double down the right field line to put VU on top 2-0.
A sacrifice fly to left field by Shea Robin and a RBI single through the left side by Parker Hanks accounted for the Commodores third and fourth runs of the first inning as they batted around.
Jake Dugger answered in the bottom half of the first with his sixth home run of the season and his first since April 14 against Florida. It was the first time a Hog has led off the game with a home run since Dugger did it against Mississippi State on April 6.
Danny Hamblin got the Razorbacks within one run at 4-3 with a towering-two-run home run that just stayed fair inside the left-field foul pole. It was a record-breaking homer for Hamblin who passed Ryan Lundquist on Arkansas’ career home run chart with his 57th. It was also his 22nd of the season.
Rhoads surrendered a single to the first batter but then got a strikeout and a double play to get out of the inning. Rhoads would pitch a season-high five innings and allow two runs on five hits with a season-high five strikeouts.
Vanderbilt finally got to Rhoads in the seventh inning – his sixth inning of work – as a leadoff walk to Alavrez and a double by Ryan Flaherty came around to score on a grounder back to Rhoads. He threw wide of first base for an error and the end of his afternoon.
Freshman Stephen Richards came on and gave up a 1-2 single up the middle to Shea Robin as Vanderbilt extended its lead to 6-3 with no outs in the seventh inning.
Casey Coon delivered a two-out RBI single to left field in the bottom of the seventh inning to cut the VU lead to 6-4. Jake Dugger scored on the play after drawing a leadoff walk and stealing second base. The RBI was the 70th of the season for Coon, which is the ninth-most in a single season in school history.
Richards worked around a leadoff walk in the top of the eighth inning with strikeouts of Dominic del la Osa and Alvarez.
The Hogs threatened in the bottom of the eighth inning but pinch runner Matt Willard was cut down at the plate by left fielder Matt Meingasner after a single through the left side by Wayne Hrozek. Hrozek extended his hitting streak to seven games with the hit.
Meingasner led off the ninth inning with a triple into the left-center field gap on an 0-2 pitch from Richards. He scored on a sacrifice fly by pinch hitter Ryan Davis to give VU a 7-4 lead.
Arkansas landed four players on the all-tournament team, including starting pitchers Nick Schmidt and Jess Todd along with Hamblin at first base and Coon in the outfield.
Postgame Notes – Vanderbilt
· Danny Hamblin became the Razorbacks career home run king in the second inning with a towering two-run home run down the left-field line. It was the 57th home run of his career, passing Ryan Lundquist, who hit 56 from 1996-99.
· Vanderbilt captured its second SEC Tournament championship (1980) in school history after making its third appearance in the last four years.
· Arkansas is now 0-3 in SEC Tournament championships games. The Hogs also lost the 1998 game to Auburn and the 1999 game to Alabama.
· The Razorbacks were awarded a NCAA Regional host on Sunday for the second straight year and the fourth time in school history.
· UA enters the NCAA Tournament with a 41-19 record. The NCAA Regional fields will be announced at 11:20 a.m. central on Monday on ESPN.
· The two home runs for Arkansas on Sunday gave them 72 for the season and moved them into fourth place in school history.
· The Hogs are 5-10 this season when the opponent scores first and the four-run opening frame by Vanderbilt proved to by the difference on Sunday.
· Chris Rhoads five-plus innings of work out of the bullpen was a season high. His five strikeouts were also a season best.
· Casey Coon’s RBI single in the seventh inning was his 70 run batted in of the season. It is the ninth-best mark in a single season in school history.
· Wayne Hrozek extended his hitting streak to seven games with an eighth inning single through the left side.