HOOVER, Ala. – Texas A&M suffered a heartbreaking 6-5, 11-inning loss to Arkansas in second-round action of the Southeastern Conference baseball tournament on Wednesday afternoon, but not all was lost.
A&M’s much-maligned pitching staff had a solid day as relief pitchers Shane Sdao and Ty Sexton combined for five innings, allowing only three hits.
“Sdao, he’s a strike thrower,” A&M coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “He’s now found a breaking ball that can keep people off his fastball. So yeah, those are good signs. And Sexton getting out there and getting out of a big jam and fielding his position really well, that's a good sign for us, too. We don’t have a lot of pitching depth. I think our depth got better today, and that’s kind of the silver lining of the loss.”
The fourth-ranked Razorbacks beat A&M with some solid relief pitching of their own and two game-changing swings, the last a walk-off homer from sophomore Kendall Diggs to lead off the bottom of the 11th. The left-handed hitting Diggs lined a 2-1 pitch from redshirt freshman Sexton over the fence in right-center field.
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“I knew he was going to challenge me with something,” Diggs said. “I was just trying to get the head [of the bat] out and it was good.”
Arkansas (40-15) advances to play third-ranked LSU (33-24) at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, while A&M will play 19th-ranked South Carolina (39-18) at 9:30 a.m. in an elimination game.
A&M, which was swept in the regular season by Arkansas, built a 4-0 lead with three runs in the third inning and one in the fourth. Arkansas battled back to take a 5-4 lead on graduate Jared Wegner’s grand slam in the bottom of the seventh.
The Aggies tied it on senior Austin Bost’s homer in the ninth.
Arkansas was in position to win the game in the 10th with two runners in scoring position with one out, but A&M foiled Arkansas’ safety squeeze attempt with Sexton teaming up with freshman catcher Max Kaufer for a nice play and then Arkansas junior Tavian Josenberger grounded out.
A&M junior right-hander Nathan Detmer threw 2 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing three hits with three walks and one strikeout. Freshman left-hander Sdao threw four innings, allowing one hit with four strikeouts and two walks. He allowed three runs, but only one was earned. Junior left-hander Brandyn Garcia threw 2 2/3 innings with two hits and two runs, striking out four and walking three. Sexton (1-3) allowed two hits in one inning.
Arkansas got help in its four-run seventh. Junior Parker Rowland walked on a full-count pitch. Diggs reached on a out-out fielding error by A&M junior shortstop Hunter Haas. Sdao was lifted for Garcia, who got ahead 0-2 on junior Jace Bohrofen who ended up walking. Wegner hit a no-doubt homer on the first pitch.
"In the previous two at-bats I was kind of late on a lot of fastballs and they were attacking me with fastballs," Wagner said. "And they brought in Garcia who has velo, and I was kind of hunting a fastball middle in and got it off on that first pitch."
Arkansas junior right-hander Cody Adcock had two solid innings, but the right-hander allowed a leadoff double in the third to senior Brett Minnich followed by a single by Kaufer and a four-pitch walk to Haas. He was lifted for senior left-hander Zack Morris who was touched for an RBI groundout by Jack Moss and a two-run single by fellow junior Trevor Werner. But Morris threw a solid five innings, striking out five and walking one. He was touched for a solo home run by junior Ryan Targac, but Morris retired the last 10 batters he faced.
“Honestly, he was just keeping us off-balance, mixing his fastball, slider and change-up on both sides of the plate,” Bost said.
Junior right-hander Will McEntire (7-3) got the victory, allowing only two hits in four innings.
“McEntire has given us fits before,” Schlossnagle said. “He’s a good pitcher.”
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn is hopeful his pitching staff also took a step forward.
“Maybe it gives us a chance to get back on track,” Van Horn said. “Zack Morris was the story. Just a super job by Zack. Then Will coming in and just throwing nothing but strikes.”
Diggs and junior Peyton Holt each had two hits for Arkansas. A&M had seven players with one hit each.
A&M, seeded 10th for the SEC tournament, advanced from the first-day elimination games with a 3-0 victory over Tennessee as sophomore left-hander Troy Wansing allowed only one hit in eight innings, continuing a trend as freshman left-hander Justin Lamkin and junior reliever Will Johnston both threw well against Mississippi State as the Aggies won the last two games of that series.
“Garcia, we’ve been asking a lot of [him] lately,” Schlossnagle said. “And I thought he continued to keep us in the game. [He] gave up a grand slam, emotionally, that can shut you down, but he kept us in the game.”