FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The Southeastern Conference race will go down to its final day.
Trailing 3-2, No. 9 Ole Miss got a two-run single from Matt Smith with the bases loaded in the seventh inning and Kyle Henson followed with a monstrous three-run home run deep into the bleachers behind the left field wall.
Minutes later, Mississippi State got a run in the bottom of the ninth in Starkville to beat No. 2 LSU, 8-7. Ole Miss finished off a 9-3 win over Arkansas about an hour later, leaving the Rebels and Tigers with identical 19-10 records in the SEC. Kentucky knocked off Florida, 8-7, leaving the Gators at 18-11, one game back of the leaders.
“Awesome,” Smith said when he was informed of the results around the league. “Sweet.”
Ole Miss (39-15) pulled a full game ahead of Alabama Friday. The Crimson Tide was trailing Auburn, 3-1, in the fourth inning when rain stopped play at Plainsman Park. The two teams will resume today at 11 a.m. with plans to complete their three-game series.
Ole Miss will send Phillip Irwin (6-3) against Arkansas right-handed senior Justin Wells (2-0) Saturday at 2:05 p.m. Wells has a 3.43 earned run average in 21 relief appearances this season. It will be Wells’ first start of the season.
“I’m pretty excited about it,” Irwin said. “To go out and win an SEC title would be amazing. I’m already nervous and I still have time to sleep on it, so that’s good. I don’t really change anything. It’s just baseball. It’s hard to say that, but I have to trust my routine and know our offense is tremendous and I’m sure I’ll get more than enough support tomorrow.”
“We can’t control anything else,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “All we can control is how we play and fortunately for us, if we take care of our business, things will work out. I’m really proud of them.”
Weather could be a factor as well Saturday. The National Weather Service is forecasting a 70 percent chance of thunderstorms Saturday, tapering off into showers in mid-afternoon with gradual clearing during the evening hours.
Ole Miss’ offense had been relatively stagnant until the seventh when Evan Button led off with a walk. Jordan Henry followed and hit a tailor-made double-play ground ball to second baseman Ben Tschepikow. Shortstop Scott Lyons’ relay throw sailed into the Rebels’ dugout, allowing Henry to advance to second base. Logan Power followed with an infield single and Matt Snyder walked to load the bases, setting up Smith and Henson’s heroics.
“This was a game where you had to grind it out and finally we got the big inning that we played for,” Smith said. “We capitalized on some things tonight.”
“It was huge,” Henson added. “It had been a grind-it-out game. It was great to come back and break it open.”
Ole Miss added another run in the seventh when Zach Miller scored from first on David Phillips’ single and another Arkansas error. Henson singled in Smith, who had doubled, in the eighth for an extra insurance run.
Arkansas took an early 3-0 lead off Ole Miss starter Brett Bukvich, getting a two-run home run from Scott Lyons in the first inning and a sacrifice fly from Chase Leavitt in the second.
“It was not the start I wanted to get off to,” Bukvich said. “Lyons has been seeing the ball real well and I just didn’t make pitches to him. I fell behind and he turned on a fastball in. I just kept pounding away at the strike zone. I had a decision to make after the second, whether to pack it in or battle. We have the SEC championship on the line, so I had to keep battling.”
Ole Miss broke through for the first time in the fourth inning, scoring a pair of runs on an RBI-double from Henson and a sacrifice fly from Phillips.
Bukvich (9-2) got the win for Ole Miss, scattering five hits and a pair of earned runs over six innings while walking two and striking out four. Nathan Baker got his first save with three innings of scoreless, one-hit relief.
Arkansas (32-19 overall, 14-14 in the SEC) lost for the seventh consecutive time in league play. Razorbacks reliever TJ Forrest (2-5) took the loss, giving up three runs in an inning of work.
Neal McCready/Special to the Journal