In Softball Like Football, Razorbacks Must Battle Officials Alongside Crimson Tide

Morgan Leinstock, Sam Pittman, Arkansas softball, Arkansas vs Alabama
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics / Craven Whitlow

Even when tasked with overcoming an egregiously bad call, the Arkansas softball team seems to have solved the riddle that is Alabama.

With an 8-0 run-rule win Sunday afternoon at Bogle Park, the No. 14 Razorbacks clinched their second straight series victory over the Crimson Tide — a program first.

It was quite the weekend for Arkansas, which needed extra innings to win Friday’s pitcher’s duel 1-0 on a walk-off single in the ninth and lost 5-1 Saturday in a game marred by a controversial no-call before bouncing back in a dominant five-inning win in the finale.

Prior to head coach Courtney Deifel’s arrival, the softball team was like pretty much every other program on campus — it consistently struggled against Alabama, which has historically dominated SEC softball.

From 1997-2017, the Razorbacks went 8-57 against the Crimson Tide, with nearly three times as many shutout losses (22) as total victories over that span, and never won a series against them. That includes getting swept the first time they met during Deifel’s tenure.

Since 2018, though, the Arkansas vs Alabama series is tied 8-8, with five of those losses coming by two or fewer runs, and the Razorbacks have won three of the five series — in 2018, 2023 and now 2024.

That’s a level of success against the Crimson Tide that has been hard to come by for the three major men’s sports on campus. The football team hasn’t beaten them since 2006, and one of the most recent losses came on the road in a game in which the referees made the wrong call against the Razorbacks three separate times on the same drive. Despite that additional obstacle, Arkansas was still able to score a touchdown.

In men’s basketball, Arkansas has lost four straight in the series, giving former coach Eric Musselman a 2-5 record against Nate Oats.

The Arkansas baseball team has an identical 8-8 record against Alabama since 2019, but it is much less impressive considering the Crimson Tide are typically near the bottom of the SEC standings, which the Razorbacks usually dominate.

Here are a few takeaways from this weekend that show how Deifel’s squad got it done…

Controversial Call in Game 2

After a dramatic walk-off win in nine innings Friday, the stage was set for a huge game Saturday night. Playing on ESPN and under the lights at a packed Bogle Park, with a school-record 3,900 fans in attendance — including new basketball coach John Calipari and transfer Zvonimir Ivisic — the Razorbacks again found themselves up 1-0 entering the fifth inning.

Robyn Herron retired 12 of the first 13 batters she faced, including seven strikeouts, but then things went sideways. She gave up a leadoff double to Kendal Clark and then a single by Emma Broadfoot put runners on the corners with no outs.

Kali Heivilin hit a fly ball to right that looked like it was going to be caught on the track, but Nia Carter dropped it. Clark would have scored from first via a sacrifice fly even if she held on to the ball, but the error put runners on corners again, still with no outs, with the score now tied 1-1.

However, Arkansas immediately protested, claiming that Heivilin ran past Broadfoot as the former rounded first and the latter returned to the bag. Replays showed that’s exactly what happened, meaning Heivilin should have been called out, but the entire umpire crew somehow missed it and, incredibly, it is not a reviewable play.

Had the play been properly called, Broadfoot still would have been at third base and scored on Lauren Johnson’s RBI single, but that should have been all the damage. Kenleigh Cahalan’s foul out should have been the third and final out. Instead, it was out No. 2, which brought Jenna Johnson to plate and she made the most of it with a three-run homer that blew the game open.

Considering it had scored just two runs the previous 13 innings, Arkansas’ four-run deficit probably felt more like 14. Sure enough, the final ended up being 5-1.

Arkansas Softball Breaks Through the Beaver Dam

The way that game unfolded, it wouldn’t have been at all surprising to see the Razorbacks come out flat and lose the next day — especially with Kayla Beaver in the circle for Alabama.

The Crimson Tide ace silenced Arkansas’ bats for 8 1/3 innings in Game 1 before finally giving up a walk-off hit in the ninth. Last year, pitching at UCA, Beaver threw a seven-inning shutout in a midweek game against the Hogs.

That’s why it was so shocking to see the exact opposite happen. Arkansas jumped all over its nemesis, knocking her out of the game in the first inning.

Beaver recorded just two outs before the Crimson Tide turned to its bullpen. She gave up four walks and four hits, with seven of those eight runners coming around to score. That included a two-run homer by Bri Ellis and two-run singles by Rylin Hedgecock and Nia Carter, with the seven run scoring via a passed ball.

It was easily the worst start of the season for Beaver and arguably the worst of her career, as she entered the weekend with a 1.42 ERA in 123 innings this season and a 1.51 ERA in 725 career innings.

The Razorbacks tacked on another run in the fourth with a sacrifice fly by Hannah Gammill — who is still second on the team with 32 RBIs despite her .222 batting average — and that was enough to invoke the mercy rule after the fifth inning. It’s the first time Arkansas has ever run-ruled Alabama.

It was an incredibly impressive bounce-back performance by Arkansas, which has now won four straight rubber matches against ranked opponents this month. It also took down No. 3 Georgia on the road, No. 11 Missouri at home and No. 25 South Carolina on the road. In those games, the Razorbacks have allowed just four three runs.

Arkansas is now 32-12 overall and 11-7 in SEC play, which is good for fourth in the conference standings with two series remaining — at No. 7 LSU (35-10, 11-10) and home against Ole Miss (25-22, 3-15).

Another SEC Pitcher of the Week?

The old saying in football is that if you have two quarterbacks, you probably don’t have one. That doesn’t apply to softball aces and the Razorbacks, as Morgan Leinstock and Robyn Herron have seemingly rotated who will serve that role from week to week.

Two weeks ago, Leinstock was named SEC Pitcher of the Week after helping Arkansas take two of three against Missouri. Last week, Herron earned her first honor of the season thanks to a dominant showing at South Carolina. This weekend, it was Leinstock’s turn again — and she very well could make it back-to-back-to-back weeks with the Razorbacks taking home that award when they’re announced Tuesday.

(UPDATE: Leinstock has, in fact, been named SEC Pitcher of the Week.)

It started Friday, when she tossed nine shutout innings in which she gave up only four hits and one walk while striking out six.

As if pitching in extra innings of a scoreless tie wasn’t stressful enough, the Southern Miss transfer also got the ball in the rubber match and threw another shutout — this time it was only five innings. She gave up three hits and one walk with five strikeouts.

Leinstock did come out of the bullpen and allow the three-run homer in Game 2, but she inherited two of those runners and the homer was unearned because of the earlier error.

In her two starts, though, she racked up 11 strikeouts in 14 scoreless innings while limiting Alabama hitters to a .140 batting average.

The Razorbacks truly have two aces and it’s also nice that Leinstock is a right-hander to complement Herron being a lefty. Here are their updated 2024 stat lines:

  • Leinstock: 117.1 IP, 12-2, 1.73 ERA, 120 K/32 BB, .206 BAA
  • Herron: 93.1 IP, 9-8, 1.80 ERA, 110 K/35 BB, .177 BAA

Hedgecock’s Secret Power Source

When sports teams run promotions like a t-shirt or bobblehead giveaway, it’s always for the fans. However, Rylin Hedgecock will probably be petitioning for Bark in the Park to become permanent for the rest of her final season of college softball.

While some athletes shine the brightest under the lights, the fifth-year senior from Valdosta, Ga., seems to shine the brightest when dogs are in attendance.

That was the case again Sunday when she went 1 for 2 with a two-run single in the aforementioned big first inning of Game 3. That was actually a pretty tame stat line compared to what she did last year.

During last year’s Bark in the Park game at Bogle Park, Hedgecock went 3 for 3 with two home runs and seven RBIs against Florida.

The Razorbacks were also the visiting team when Kentucky held its Bark in the Park day and she went 3 for 3 again, this time with all three hits being homers. She again had seven RBIs.

So, if you’re keeping track at home, she is 7 for 8 with five home runs and 16 RBIs across three games attended by dogs. Making that even more impressive is that she didn’t do it against a bunch of low-level non-conference opponents.

Not only was each game against an SEC team, but all three were ranked – No. 15 Alabama this year, plus No. 10 Florida and No. 20 Kentucky last year – and each of them resulted in a series-clinching victory for the Razorbacks.

Unlikely Hero for Arkansas Softball

A day before Parker Rowland – who was hitting just .176 – surprisingly sparked the baseball team to a critical Game 3 win at South Carolina, the Arkansas softball team also got a surprising contribution in a big victory.

Arkansas and Alabama were scoreless through the first seven innings of their series opener, so the game went to extras and finally, in the ninth inning, the Razorbacks broke through.

It started with a leadoff walk by Raigan Kramer, who moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt by Rylin Hedgecock. That set the stage for 9-hole hitter Lauren Camenzind, who delivered the game-winning hit with a single up the middle.

Prior to that hit, Camenzind was just 7 for 48 (.146) with seven RBIs this season. Talk about a heck of a spot to get RBI No. 8.


More coverage of Arkansas softball and Arkansas vs Alabama from BoAS… 

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