FAYETTEVILLE – Lael Lockhart near perfectly pitched Arkansas into its Wednesday 11-2 victory over the Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC champion, Tuesday first-round bye earning top-seeded Razorbacks first game of the double-elimination SEC Tournament at the Hoover Met in Hoover, Ala.
Senior left-hander Lockhart set down the first 20 Bulldogs through 6 2-3 innings. With a 10-0 lead and the SEC Tournament’s 10-run rule after seven innings, Lockhart stood an infield single away from a perfect game shutout.
Georgia’s Joshua McAllister with two strikes beat out the single to deep short. Corey Collins followed with the 2-run home run breaking the shutout.
Lockhart struck out Riley King for the last of his 11 strikeouts against two hits and no walks through seven complete innings.
“Obviously, Lael Lockhart had a great game,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. “Just peppering the zone in and out, pretty good breaking ball. Got a little change-up going there and kept them off balance a little bit. But the key was keeping ahead, and he was on a roll.”
Van Horn winced that Lockhart came oh so close to the perfect game.
“I was disappointed for him” Van Horn said. ‘But I like the way he went out there and he finished it, got through the inning. Look for this next time he gets the ball.”
Freshman Heston Tole pitched the last two innings scoreless on only one hit.
Gifted 14 walks, including four with the bases loaded by five Georgia pitchers, the Razorbacks capitalized for a 6-run second inning, a 3-run fifth and solo runs in the fourth and eighth while advancing to Thursday night’s 8 p.m approximate winner’s bracket game between the late Wednesday night game between fourth-seeded Vanderbilt and unseeded Ole Miss, a 7-4 Tuesday single-elimination play-in winner over Auburn.
Cullen Smith, a double in the first and a leadoff home run in the fourth, struck Arkansas’ biggest blows.
“Offensively, we got a couple big hits,” Van Horn said. “They walked a lot, gave us some things, made a couple errors, and we took advantage of it. We never could really get that big hit in the middle of the game to put them away, but we just kept chipping away after we scored the six. Just a solid game by our team. We didn’t really make any mistakes.”
Unseeded Georgia, winning its Tuesday single-elimination game, 4-1 over LSU, plays the Vanderbilt vs. Ole Miss loser at 1 p.m. Thursday.
All SEC Tournament games except for Sunday’s ESPN2 televised championship game are televised on the SEC Network.
Georgia losing lefty starter Charlie Goldstein posted two strikeouts while setting the Hogs down 1-2-3 in the first.
Goldstein literally walked into trouble in the second. Leadoff walks to Christian Franklin and Robert Moore set the table for Smith’s RBI double. Smith vexed again homering leading off the 3-run sixth.
Smith’s second-inning double caused Georgia Coach Scott Stricklin to relieve with left-hander Charlie Polk. Polk struck out Casey Opitz but fell unfortunate prey to Jalen Battles’ Bermuda Triangle RBI single falling to earth among the converging Georgia second baseman, first baseman and right fielder. Two more walks with the 2-out bases loaded walk to Cayden Wallace of Greenbrier netting a run, preceded an unfortunate 2-run producing by Brady Slavens.
Slavens infield score one and the errant throw trying to get him at first scored another. However in his efforts to beat out the hit Slavens sprained his right ankle and had to be helped off the field.
Jacob Nesbit played third and Smith moved from third to first while first baseman Slavens watched from the dugout in a walking boot.
With nationally No. 1 Arkansas set to host a Regional next week, Slavens and his 60 RBI and 13 home run seem likely to sit out the remainder of Arkansas’ SEC Tournament.
A single, two walks and an error preceded Franklin’s fourth-inning sacrifice fly. Wallace and Franklin both worked bases loaded walks.
Van Horn said he’s eyeing either No.l starter Patrick Wicklander or Caleb Bolden, the Game 2 starter in Arkansas’ 3-game sweep of Florida last weekend, to start Thursday night’s game.