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Arkansas baseball drops the rubber game at Kentucky and loses SEC lead

Kentucky regained its SEC baseball lead from Arkansas on Sunday.

The eighth-ranked Wildcats defeated the second-ranked Razorbacks 7-4 at Kentucky Proud Park in a matchup of teams tied for the SEC lead entering the game.

Kentucky (35-10, 18-6 SEC) won its first series against Arkansas since 2012, rebounding after back-to-back series losses to Tennessee and South Carolina, and a 10-3 loss to the Razorbacks in the first game of the series. The Wildcats improved to 19-5 at home.

“You lose that game on Friday, and you have to come back and beat that team twice, and obviously that’s a very good team,” Kentucky coach Nick Mingione said. “They are number 2 in the country for a reason. We had to beat them twice and we finally succeeded. That is not an easy task.

“Dave Van Horn is one of the best coaches in college baseball. He is one of the leaders of all time. That man can really coach and he has a great team, but so do we.”

The Razorbacks (40-9, 17-7) maintained their lead atop the SEC West heading into next weekend’s home series against No. 21 Mississippi State. Arkansas will not play a midweek game due to final exams.

“As many games as we’ve played, it might be good for us to have some downtime,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said, “and just build them back up and see if we can make a push at the end can give your back. .”

Kentucky’s Emilien Pitre hit a solo home run in the first inning and Nick Lopez added a two-run home run in the third against Arkansas starter Mason Molina. The Wildcats added three runs against reliever Will McEntire in the fourth inning to take the lead 6-0.

Arkansas narrowed the lead to 6-2 in the top of the fifth when Wehiwa Aloy singled to score Hudson White (single), and Peyton Stovall (single) came home on a sacrifice fly by Jared Sprague-Lott.

The Razorbacks pulled within 6-3 on Kendall Diggs’ two-out RBI single and scored Sprague-Lott (walk) in the seventh. The Wildcats got the run back in the bottom of the inning on a two-out error by Arkansas center fielder Peyton Holt, allowing Lopez to score from first base on Ryan Nicholson’s two-out single.

Stovall led off the ninth with a solo home run against Cameron O’Brien, capping a 3-for-5 day in the lead role.

Arkansas made things interesting when Ben McLaughlin was hit by a pitch and Sprague-Lott walked with one out, but Diggs and Holt flied out on consecutive pitches to Johnny Hummel, ending the game. Hummel earned his sixth save.

The Razorbacks stranded 11 baserunners as they went 3 for 14 with runners on base and 2 for 10 with runners in scoring position.

“Really, if you look at the series, we didn’t play great,” Van Horn said. “We didn’t hit. After Friday we didn’t throw very well.”

Molina, who missed last week’s series against Florida with an ankle injury, had a second straight short start. He allowed 3 runs, 3 hits and 3 walks and struck out three in 3 innings. Molina threw 40 of 67 pitches for strikes.

“He didn’t throw enough strikes,” Van Horn said. “He had a very high pitch count through three innings.”

McEntire pitched for the second time during the series, allowing a leadoff double to Nolan McCarthy in the fourth inning. McCarthy scored on a successful squeeze bunt by Grant Smith to give the Wildcats a 4-0 lead.

Kentucky added when Pitre doubled and Smith scored. Ryan Waldschmidt (double) also scored on Devin Burkes’ sacrifice fly.

The Wildcats defeated the Razorbacks 9-7. Arkansas didn’t benefit from any wildness from Kentucky pitchers, who walked six and hit three batters with pitches.

Right-hander Mason Moore handled well in his five-inning start for the Wildcats. Moore allowed 2 runs, 3 hits and 4 walks while striking out six to earn his eighth win. He threw 50 of 93 pitches for strikes.

“He was fantastic,” Mingione said. “He made adjustments. He had a few walks in a few innings, but boy, did he find his way out.”

Arkansas dropped a series after winning Game 1 for the second time this season. The Razorbacks lost in similar fashion at Alabama three weeks ago.

With a one-game lead in the SEC, Kentucky has a more favorable schedule to end the season. The Wildcats finish with series at Florida and at home against No. 13 Vanderbilt, which will likely fall in the polls after the Commodores are swept by Georgia this weekend.

After the Mississippi State series, Arkansas will end with a series at No. 1 Texas A&M, which will fall in the poll after a series loss at LSU.

The Razorbacks would have risen to the No. 1 spot in the national rankings with a win Sunday. Instead, voters will likely elevate Tennessee or Clemson to the top spot.