Arkansas looks to finish off SEC Championship

By Dudley E. Dawson
on 2023-05-20 11:33 AM


It’s Championship Saturday in the SEC baseball race and three teams are still alive for the conference title, but only one that controls its own destiny.

No. 2 Arkansas (39-14, 20-9) can wrap up the outright league title, the Western Division crown, a 40-win regular season and a series win over Vanderbilt (36-17, 18-11) with a victory in a 2 p.m. contest.

No. 5 LSU (42-12, 19-9) and No. 4 Florida (41-13, 19-10) also remain alive in the race.

The Razorbacks will send Hunter Hollan to the mound on Saturday after his masterpiece 113-pitch complete game last Sunday.

Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said Hollan will not be on a pitch limit.

“No, I think he’ll kind of show us how it’s going to go,” Van Horn said. “If he’s thrown a lot of pitches or struggling in innings with runners on or having to fight it, it’ll be a little shorter than normal. But he’s in shape, and it’s warm, so we’ll see how it goes.”

LSU is half-game behind the Razorbacks and faces Georgia (28-26, 10-19) at noon looking for a sweep while Florida is a full game back and plays No. 19 Kentucky (36-16, 16-13) at 1 p.m.

Arkansas’ Peyton Holt launched a three-run homer Friday night win the sixth inning and John Bolton added an RBI single in the eighth to give the Razorbacks 8-2 lead and on the verge of clinching the title Friday.

But Vanderbilt exploded for 8 runs in the bottom off eighth, capped by senior Trey LeNeve’s go-ahead, three run homer off Gage Wood, to grab a 10-8 victory that evened the series.

“Nothing’s changed,” Holt said. “Same mentality. Just go out and take it day by day. We’re going to go out tomorrow just like we did today, and we’re going to try to win, do our thing. It doesn’t really change our mentality.

“…I mean, it sucks. It’s part of it. You win some, you lose some. But overall I think we’re feeling really good about tomorrow.

Arkansas relief pitcher Zack Morris, who pitched three shutout innings while allowing just one hit, echoed those same sentiments.

“We can’t dwell on it too much, especially with a game tomorrow that dictates the series,” Morris said. “It was obviously like, ‘Yeah, that sucks.’ We hate losing, but we look forward to tomorrow, going out there and winning that game. We’re just focused on winning that game tomorrow.

“This team has been resilient all year,” Morris said. “These guys have been stepping up whenever their number has been called through unfortunate events with injuries and stuff.

“We just have to move on from it. It’s part of the game, especially with that homer that happened in the eighth inning. That’s just part of the game.

“The guy put a good swing on a good pitch. You just have to tell those guys, especially when they’re freshmen, it’ll start to get in their head a little bit, especially when it’s an outing that didn’t go their way. You just have to tell them, ‘Hey man, you’ve been one of our dudes all year and we’re going to need you. You’ve got to flush this. We all know you’re a guy. You just have to believe that, too.’

“I’ve already had those conversations with some of our guys today, like, ‘We haven’t lost confidence in you. This is just one outing, man. This moment doesn’t define you. Just go out there and go shove it tomorrow.’

Morris has faith in Hollan.

“Hunter’s been our guy all year,” Morris said. “Just like you said, he gave us a complete game last week, but he’s been having great outings like that all year. We’ll be behind his back tomorrow.

“Even with the guys who come in after him, we’re going to have their backs, especially as a pitching staff. We’re going to have our hitters’ backs whenever they do well or if they’re not doing well. We’re going to have their backs.

“That’s the whole motto right now, just having each other’s backs. Especially this late in the season, it can get into your head a little bit, but you just have to pull for each other and try to finish this season out strong.”

Holt noted that Hollan was simply “a dude.”

“We’re really confident whenever Hunter’s on the mound,” Holt said. He’s a dude. He competes every pitch, even if he gives up a hit or a run or whatever. He’s a really confident pitcher and he does a really good job attacking the strike zone, attacking the guys he’s facing.

“We’re just going to focus on playing good defense behind him and giving him some run support and go out there and try to win that game tomorrow.”

Photo by John D. James

(Last updated: 2023-05-20 11:33 AM)