Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
Stone Cold Stopper
Hogs reliever snuffs late threat by Rebels
Arkansas pitcher Jacob Stone delivers a pitch during the ninth inning of a SEC Tournament game against Ole Miss on Wednesday, May 21, 2014 at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in Hoover, Ala.
HOOVER, Ala. — With the go-ahead runs on base for Ole Miss and the SEC’s leading hitter at the plate, new Arkansas closer Jacob Stone was a rock.
Stone struck out Will Allen, a .359 batter, to end the eighth inning and strand Rebels runners on first and second base as the Razorbacks held on to beat Ole Miss 2-1 on Wednesday at the SEC Tournament before an announced crowd of 5,941 at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
ARKANSAS VS. LSU
WHEN Approximately 4:30 p.m.
WHERE Hoover (Ala.) Metropolitan Stadium.
RADIO Razorbacks Sports Network statewide network. Not all games will be carried by all affiliates. Check local listings.
TV Cox Sports TV in Northwest Arkansas, Comcast Sports in Little Rock.
LSU 11, Vanderbilt 1 (7) Arkansas 2, Ole Miss 1 Kentucky 4, Florida 2 Mississippi State 12, S. Carolina 0 (7)
Vanderbilt vs. Ole Miss, 9 a.m. Florida vs. South Carolina 12:30 p.m. Arkansas vs. LSU, 4:30 p.m. Kentucky vs. Mississippi State, 8 p.m.
Allen took a called third strike after fouling off two 2-2 pitches.
“He’s a great pitcher and he did well, did his job,” Allen said of Stone. “For us, that’s a situation I want to be in. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. He’s got some great stuff. I missed a couple of pitches and fouled them straight back.”
Stone struck out Allen on a fastball on the outer half of the plate.
“On that last pitch, I didn’t really see it as well out of his hand,” Allen said. “You’ve got to be able to swing and fight it off, especially in that situation with guys in scoring position.”
Stone, who had two strikeouts in the eighth inning after coming in for Michael Gunn, allowed a two-out single in the ninth before getting Dalton Dulin to line out to right for his second save of the season.
“Jacob really closed the door on them,” Arkansas second baseman Brian Anderson said.
Arkansas (37-21), which advanced to play LSU (41-14-1) at 4:30 p.m. today, is 8-1 in its past nine games and improved to 18-14 against SEC teams after opening the tournament with a 4-0 victory over Texas A&M on Tuesday.
“We’re really starting to come together as a full squad,” Anderson said. “Our pitching has been there for us all year, and now we’re putting up a few runs for them.”
Razorbacks starter Chris Oliver (8-4) went 6 1/3 innings and held the Rebels to 4 hits and 1 unearned run with 2 walks and 1 strikeout Wednesday. He is 2-0 against Ole Miss — including going seven innings May 4 in the Razorbacks’ 11-1 victory at Oxford, Miss. — while limiting the Rebels to one earned run in 13 1/3 innings. His season ERA is 2.45.
“He’s a stud,” Allen said. “He’s got a great arm and can run his fastball up there 94, 95, 96 [mph]. But he really worked all of his pitches. He kept all of us off balance.”
Oliver said he had good velocity on his fastball but not consistent command, which resulted in him relying more on his change-up and slider.
“I thought he pitched really well today,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. “To me, it’s not about strikeouts. It’s about pitching and getting outs and getting back in the dugout.”
Ole Miss (40-17), which entered ranked No. 10 in the nation according to Baseball America, put its leadoff man on base against Oliver in five innings but managed only one run. Oliver helped himself by picking off runners at first base and second base.
“It’s difficult to string hits together against Oliver,” Ole Miss Coach Mike Bianco said. “I think he’s a great competitor. He’s a kid that you can see his emotion out there and you can see that his team believes in him.”
Arkansas took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning when Anderson hit a sacrifice fly to center field after the Razorbacks had loaded the bases with no outs against Ole Miss starter Chris Ellis (9-1).
“The disappointing thing for us was to let Oliver have the lead 1-0,” Bianco said. “They were able to pitch with the lead the whole game.”
Arkansas made it 2-0 in the sixth inning when Eric Fisher hit a leadoff single, stole second base, went to third on a groundout by Bobby Wernes and scored on a wild pitch by Ellis.
The Rebels made it 2-1 in the seventh inning when a leadoff runner finally scored. Sikes Orvis singled, went to second on a passed ball and to third on Oliver’s wild pitch.
Gunn — Arkansas’ closer most of the season before some recent struggles — came into the game and gave up an RBI single by Colby Bortles.
After Errol Robinson led off the eighth for Ole Miss with a single against Gunn and went to second on Braxton Lee’s sacrifice bunt, Stone struck out Auston Bousfield for the second out. Stone walked Austin Anderson — pitching around him, Van Horn said — and then got Allen when it looked like the Rebels were ready to tie the game or take the lead.
Van Horn said the Arkansas coaches made a decision several days ago to go with Stone as the closer with Gunn struggling.
“He wasn’t able to do what he’s been doing all year,” Van Horn said of Gunn. “Sometimes that just happens the way the game works, like a hitter going into a little bit of a slump.
“We felt like we’d bring Mike in earlier and use Jacob to try to finish things up.”
Sports on 05/22/2014