Arkansas Fans Get Last Laugh Even as Auburn Salvages Game 3

Arkansas baseball, Arkansas vs Auburn
photo credit: Craven Whitlow / Auburn Athletics

Arkansas was well on its way to another sweep Saturday when its bullpen collapsed — a rare occurrence this season.

No. 23 Auburn scored six runs in the sixth inning to erase a four-run deficit and beat the No. 1 Razorbacks 8-6, salvaging the final game of the series on the Plains.

It snapped a 15-game winning streak, but Arkansas (19-3, 5-1 SEC) still won the series and should retain its No. 1 ranking next week. On the other side, the Tigers (15-8, 1-5 SEC) picked up their first conference win of the season.

The game was played in front of a record crowd of 5,087 at Plainsman Park — a stat that prompted the kind of responses you’d expect from Arkansas baseball fans. Just check out the replies to and quotes of Auburn’s tweet announcing the record.

For perspective, Arkansas’ lowest announced attendance this season is 8,648 and that was for the final game of the season-opening series against James Madison, which had a noon start on a Monday. In three home games this year, the Razorbacks doubled Auburn’s record crowd.

To be fair, capacity at Plainsman Park is just 4,096 and $30 million worth of renovations are under way at the stadium.

What it doesn’t change, though, is the fact the record was set against Arkansas, giving fans an opportunity to circle back to comments made two years ago when the Razorbacks knocked off No. 1 Auburn in front of a record-breaking crowd at Bud Walton Arena.

Fans of the Tigers claimed it was Arkansas’ “Super Bowl,” ignoring the fact that the Razorbacks had already sold out the entire season — not just the Auburn game — and that particular game was significant because it was against the No. 1 team in the country.

Arkansas fans never forget.

Sixth-Inning Collapse

As for the actual game, it boiled down to a rare disastrous inning by Arkansas’ bullpen.

The Razorbacks were firmly in control with a 5-1 lead when Mason Molina came out of the game and then everything fell apart.

Right-hander Cooper Dossett, one of the heroes of Game 2, was first out of the pen and promptly gave up a leadoff home run to Mason Maners. It was the first hit the sophomore had allowed in 5 2/3 innings this season.

“Cooper Dossett comes in and man, he throws two really good pitches,” Van Horn said. “The count’s 1-2 and then he threw it right down the middle and the guy hit it out of the park. Kind of shocks you a little bit.”

He gave up another hit when he slipped trying to field a chopper up the middle by Chris Stanfield and that was it. Freshman Gabe Gaeckle was next and he wasn’t any better.

A shutdown closer all year, he failed to record an out. Gaeckle gave up a double to Cade Belyeu as a pinch hitter and then walked the next two batters. The second of those free passes came with the bases loaded and brought in a run.

At that point, the Razorbacks turned to freshman Colin Fisher. He got a couple of outs with only one more run scoring, cutting their lead to 4-3, but Cooper McMurray — who had mostly been held in check this weekend — launched a three-run homer that cleared the Green Monster in left field.

“He hit it good, but it was a fly ball, just barely cleared the wall as it was coming down,” Van Horn said. “That’s the way it works when you’re playing with quirky parks and it got us today.”

Molina’s Start

It wasn’t as good as some of his other outings, but when Mason Molina left the game Saturday, he was in line for the win.

The left-hander gave up one earned run on three hits and four walks while striking out four. That last number was much lower than what Molina typically has, but it also resulted in him keeping his pitch count down for a few innings.

Through three innings, he had thrown only 35 pitches and the coaching staff was thinking he’d be able to work deeper into the game than normal.

Instead, he struggled with his control in the fourth inning. He loaded the bases without giving up a hit, plunking a batter and then giving up back-to-back one-out walks. Molina got himself out of it, though, by getting Deric Fabian to pop out in foul territory and Javon Hernandez to fly out to right.

“I think he got frustrated,” Van Horn said. “He didn’t get some close calls. Usually that doesn’t help. The umpire a lot of times will not give you those if they see you out there frustrated. I think it was a good learning experience.”

The run Molina gave up came in his fifth and final inning. After a leadoff walk, Ike Irish hit a deep fly ball to center that Ty Wilmsmeyer seemed to track down, but it popped out of his glove and he bumped into the wall.

It was scored a double, but more importantly, Wilmsmeyer recovered and fired a strike to third to get Cooper Weiss trying to go first to third on the play. Irish eventually came around to score on an RBI single by Cooper McMurray.

Even though he had thrown only 74 pitches, the decision to pull Molina was probably pretty easy for Van Horn because the Tigers were starting to hit him and he had to work hard to get through the previous two innings.

Up Next from Arkansas Baseball

The Razorbacks will return home for a midweek game against Little Rock before welcoming LSU to Baum-Walker Stadium for what could be a top-5 showdown next weekend.

With one more game remaining Sunday, the Trojans have already clinched their conference series against Morehead State and are 13-10 overall.

Freshman left-hander Colin Fisher has been Arkansas’ midweek starter, but he threw 39 pitches in 2 2/3 innings Saturday and Van Horn wasn’t sure if he’ll be ready to start against Little Rock.

“We don’t know that yet, but we have a plan,” Van Horn said. “If he pitched today and he’s not ready to go Tuesday in any role, then that’s fine. Get him ready for the weekend. We’ve got some guys that are ready to go, that need to pitch.”

First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. CT Tuesday and the game will be streamed online on SEC Network-Plus.

Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits

  • With the loss, Arkansas had a seven-game winning streak against Auburn snapped. It has now won 16 of the last 20 games between the two schools.
  • After missing Friday’s game to return to Fayetteville and be there for the birth of his triplet grandchildren, Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn was back in the dugout Saturday.
  • As a team, the Razorbacks’ pitchers combined for only six strikeouts. That’s tied for their lowest total of the season, as they also had six in Game 2 against James Madison back on Feb. 17.
  • Kendall Diggs started the weekend 0 for 11, but then hit an RBI double and RBI triple in back-to-back at bats. “We need him, and he’s a tough out,” Van Horn said. “Takes a lot of pitches. Sometimes too many, but this weekend it just seemed like he went out of the zone a little bit. I think he started pressing, but for him to get a couple of big hits, a double and a triple, it was big.”
  • The first runs of the game came on a three-run home run by Jared Sprague-Lott. It was just his second homer of the season and first since the season opener against James Madison. Here are the metrics — distance, launch angle and exit velocity — for his long ball: 400 feet, 29 degrees, 100 mph.

Arkansas vs Auburn Highlights (Game 3)

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Postgame Interview

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Arkansas vs Auburn Box Score


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