Paul Boyd is a sports reporter for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was voted Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2018.
Back on track: UA softball snaps out of recent funk
Arkansas designated hitter Danielle Gibson bats during a game against Kentucky on Friday, March 29, 2019, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — The No. 6 University of Arkansas softball team snapped out of its recent funk to claim its final regular-season home game Monday night in Bogle Park.
The Razorbacks tied a season-high with 13 hits, including three home runs, and never trailed en route to an 8-4 victory over No. 19 Missouri.
Arkansas (38-7, 17-4 SEC) pulled off a game-ending double play in the top of the seventh to snap its first two-game losing skid of the season and remain atop the SEC standings.
Hannah Gammill and Danielle Gibson each went 3 for 4 with a home run and 3 RBI as the Razorbacks’ offense awakened from its recent slumber. Arkansas Coach Courtney Deifel was pleased with her team’s response after being held to four hits combined in the previous two days.
“We challenged them [Sunday] and they completely stepped up,” Deifel said. “Had a great vibe from the time they got here. I felt like they did a great job of controlling the momentum.
“More than anything we just needed to get back on track. We were in a funk. It was big for that. Not big for the win or the loss, I don’t think.”
Arkansas never trailed, but Missouri made it interesting late.
The Tigers (34-11, 12-6) put two runners on with one out in the top of the seventh against Arkansas starter Mary Haff. Deifel elected to go to senior Autumn Storms, who was unavailable Sunday because of an undisclosed physical issue.
Storms walked Jenna Laird on four pitches to load the bases and threw two more balls to Hatti Moore before getting a called strike. Storms then induced Moore to ground into a snappy 4-6-3 double play to notch her fourth save of the season.
The Razorbacks jumped in front with a four-run bottom of first thanks to back-to-back home runs from Gammill and Gibson. Missouri starter Jordan Weber (9-3) walked the first two hitters to start the inning, and Gammill hammered a 1-1 pitch over the left-field fence for a three-run shot — her eighth of the season. The left-handed hitting Gibson followed two pitches later with her 15th of the year.
It was Arkansas’ first lead in the series since Gibson’s three-run home run put the Razorbacks up 3-0 in the bottom of the first in the series opener. The Razorbacks’ four hits in the inning also matched their offensive output of the first two games combined.
The Razorbacks added two more in the second thanks to Gibson’s RBI groundout to first and Linnie Malkin’s run-scoring single up the middle for a 6-0 advantage.
Kimberly Wert’s two-run home run to center field, her team-leading 15th, with one out in the fourth got the Tigers within 6-2. Emma Raabe followed with another two-run shot two batters later to make it 6-4.
Burnside answered leading off the bottom of the fourth with a laser out to left-center field to push the Arkansas lead to 7-4. Gibson added to it with a two-out RBI single in the fifth to make it 8-4. Burnside is again tied for the most home runs in the country with Oklahoma’s Jocelyn Alo.
Haff said it was big to see the Razorbacks answer after the Tigers scored in the fourth.
“I think it showed a lot of confidence,” Haff said. “I think Braxton’s home run really just sealed the deal for us. After they had that four-run inning, coming back and scoring that one run was really big for us to just kinda take back the momentum.
“Because that’s what they had been running on the whole series. That was the goal today was to keep the momentum.”
Kayla Green also finished with three hits for the Razorbacks. Haff (21-4) picked up the win, allowing 4 runs, all earned, on 8 hits over 6 1/3 innings while striking out 5 and walking 1.
The Razorbacks close the regular season next weekend on the road against No. 15 LSU. They now lead Florida (14-4) 1.5 games in the SEC standings, but the teams are tied in the loss column. The Gators, like every other SEC team besides Arkansas, have six or more games remaining.
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