SEC Tournament Report:

Defensive plays spur Arkansas

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Saturday, May 26, 2018
Arkansas outfielder Dominic Fletcher makes a diving catch on a hit from Florida's Nelson Maldonado during the third inning of a Southeastern Conference tournament NCAA college baseball game, Friday, May 25, 2018, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Arkansas outfielder Dominic Fletcher makes a diving catch on a hit from Florida's Nelson Maldonado during the third inning of a Southeastern Conference tournament NCAA college baseball game, Friday, May 25, 2018, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

HOOVER, Ala. — Arkansas Razorbacks center fielder Dominic Fletcher made a diving catch of a sinking liner, then popped up to throw out a tagging Florida runner at third base to turn in one of the top defensive plays at the SEC Tournament on Friday.

The catch-and-throw double play against Nelson Maldonado came with Florida threatening with two runners on base and SEC Player of the Year Jonathan India lurking on deck in the third inning.

Florida catcher Jonah Girand, who led off the inning with a double, was tagged out by third baseman Casey Martin several feet from the bag after Fletcher’s strong throw.

“When he went back and tagged, you know, he didn’t have a chance,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. “I don’t know it was so much that they were being aggressive, I just think it was a player made an aggressive play and it didn’t work out.”

Florida Coach Kevin O’Sullivan thought Girand’s tag-play out and India being thrown out at home plate on a ball hit to pitcher Blaine Knight in the fourth inning were costly.

“Yeah, we made two base-running mistakes,” he said. “Obviously with Fletcher running in, the ball’s in front of him, it’s probably go halfway there and then see.

“With India, he was kind of caught in-between. I think guys are just probably trying to do too much right now because we haven’t been playing our best baseball and that’s what happens. The bottom line is we’ll get back on track. We’re just trying to manufacture things that really aren’t there right now.”

Knight said he saw Ole Miss pitcher Parker Caracci overthrow his catcher on a non-force play at home plate Thursday, leading to two runs for Georgia.

“Yeah, I wasn’t going to let that happen,” Knight said.

Pitching plan

Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said sophomore right-hander Isaiah Campbell (4-5, 4.05 ERA) would start today’s SEC Tournament semifinal and that right-hander Jake Reindl is ready to go after not pitching in the first two games at the tourney.

“We’ll start Campbell,” Van Horn said. “It worked out good by winning the first game, so we get two more and we can get our weekend guys a start. If we’re fortunate enough to win tomorrow, we’ll figure out [a championship game starter] tomorrow night.”

More rain

The SEC Tournament has endured rain delays each of the first four days of the event. Morning showers delayed games involving Texas A&M in its victories over Vanderbilt on Tuesday and Georgia on Wednesday.

The following day, Ole Miss’ 6-4 extra-inning victory over Georgia had a delay of 1 hour, 54 minutes.

Not long after Arkansas finished off its 8-2 victory over Florida on Friday, the grounds crew rushed out to put the tarp on the field. A huge thunder shower moved in not long after that and started a lengthy delay before the elimination game between Ole Miss and Auburn could get started. The game began around 5:30 p.m.

Home run pace

Casey Martin’s third home run at the SEC Tournament, followed by Hunter Wilson’s grand slam gave Arkansas 83 home runs for the season, tying last year’s total.

The Razorbacks are nine home runs short of the school record of 92 in 2010.

He can hit

LSU pitcher Todd Peterson fibbed his way into an at-bat in extra innings late Thursday and it paid off big time for the Tigers.

Peterson told LSU Coach Paul Mainieri that he had been a power hitter in high school, but he failed to mention the hitting was pretty much limited to batting practice.

No matter the reason, Mainieri left Peterson in to hit in the 12th inning of LSU’s elimination game against South Carolina because the Tigers lost their designated hitter spot when Austin Bain moved from pitcher to first base.

Peterson delivered a two-run double to pad the Tigers’ lead to 6-3 in the top of the 12th, and the extra runs came in handy when South Carolina scored in the bottom of the inning before Peterson closed out the 6-4 victory.

The 6-4 right-hander pitched 5 innings against the Gamecocks and got the victory after allowing 4 hits and 2 runs, and now has a victory and a save in Hoover.

West is best

The SEC West has flexed its muscles at the SEC Tournament, with a 7-1 record against teams from the East following Arkansas’ 8-2 victory over Florida on Friday.

Florida has the only cross-division victory for the SEC East, a 4-3 win over LSU on Wednesday night.

Teams from the West have already eliminated four of their SEC East counterparts. Texas A&M took out Vanderbilt 3-1 and Auburn booted Kentucky 4-3 in the opening round, then Ole Miss beat Georgia 5-4 and LSU dumped South Carolina 6-4 in elimination games on Thursday. Three of those games went extra innings.

Jax is back

Arkansas shortstop Jax Biggers made his first start since breaking his left index finger May 11 against Texas A&M and had two hits on Friday.

Biggers went 2 for 3, scored a run and drew a walk from the nine hole during Arkansas’ 8-2 victory over Florida.

“I really liked what I saw, with Jax Biggers back with nine fingers and getting two hits today,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said.

Biggers received a cortisone shot to numb the finger.

“He’s real close to getting his stitches out,” Van Horn said. “But he’s been swinging the bat and hitting the ball good. It was just a matter could he field and he played catch yesterday with a couple of guys who can throw hard and he said he could barely feel it.

“He said he wanted to play. We wanted to get him some action because we want to have him ready for the regionals and it worked out good.”

Biggers was hit by the Aggies’ Mitchell Kilkenny while trying to bunt in the first inning of a 9-3 victory for the Razorbacks.

Cool hand Luke

Arkansas senior Luke Bonfield’s patented patience at the plate has been on display in Hoover, where he has 5 walks in 2 games and is 3 for 4 with 4 runs scored and an RBI.

The clean-up hitter drew three walks in Friday’s 8-2 victory over Florida and added a double.

“It’s just kind of the approach I’ve had all year, which is I like to see pitches,” Bonfield said. “I feel like the more pitches I see in an at-bat the more confident I am.

“Sometimes it doesn’t work out for me because I let good pitches go by, but when guys with big league stuff are trying to nibble the corners and don’t hit the corners it works out.”

Hogs in Hoover

Arkansas improved its all-time record at the SEC Tournament to 33-39 with Friday’s victory over Florida. The Razorbacks have won 12 of their last 19 games at the tourney in Hoover, Ala., in search of their first SEC Tournament title.


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