By Zach Swartz/Special to the Journal
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – With all six Western Division teams entering Thursday in contention for an SEC Tournament slot, the battle for a ticket to Hoover, Ala., could look something like an episode of Survivor when all is said and done.
Ole Miss (30-23, 13-15 SEC) and Arkansas (34-18, 13-15 SEC) are two of those teams trying to survive. Both played the survivor role well in a nail-biter Thursday, but it was the Rebels that ended up with a 2-1 victory.
Base hits were tough to come by. Arkansas ace D.J. Baxendale, who set a career high with eight strikeouts, took a no-hitter into the fifth before Matt Snyder’s line drive single ended it. Ole Miss’s Matt Crouse went pitch for pitch, allowing just one run on five hits to earn his seventh win.
Crouse made just one mistake. With one down in the sixth, Arkansas centerfielder Collin Kuhn knocked a home run just over the left-field wall to give the Razorbacks the night’s first run.
But the Rebels battled back in the seventh as three straight singles and a sacrifice fly from Matt Tracy gave Ole Miss the 2-1 lead.
When Arkansas got runners on first and third with one out in the bottom of the seventh, Crouse handed the ball off to flamethrower Jake Morgan, who had not allowed an earned run all season. A walk loaded the bases, but a double play to shortstop extended that streak and ended the threat.
It was the last threat the Razorbacks could muster.
Morgan shut the door on the Hogs to earn his sixth save, striking out four of the seven batters he faced. Baxendale, who entered the night tied for fourth in the SEC in wins, took just his second loss in eight and one third.
“(Crouse) and Baxendale were terrific,” said head coach Mike Bianco. “(Arkansas) put a lot of pressure on him…but I thought he did a good job of managing the running game and making pitches when he had to.”
Baxendale entered the game with an ERA of just 1.57, but it was Crouse who outshone. Improving to 7-4, the Rebel southpaw said that he was just happy to get a big game one win.
“I know (Baxendale) was good – he had awesome numbers and he was good tonight,” Crouse said. “Our offense was awesome, battled with them pitch for pitch, and we came out on top.”
Alabama now stands alone atop the West, with Ole Miss, Arkansas, Mississippi State and Auburn one game back. The Rebels go with right-hander David Goforth (4-7, 5.03 ERA) today, and Arkansas counters with lefty Randall Fant (2-3, 3.58 ERA).