Alabama Makes Statement With Upset Of Top-Ranked Arkansas
In the first month of the season, Arkansas has made a habit of late comebacks to open the weekend. In the first game of each of the first four weekends of the season, the Razorbacks fell behind early before mounting a late rally and winning the game.
Arkansas did it against Texas Tech, Southeast Missouri State, Murray State and Louisiana Tech. It made the Razorbacks the most entertaining team in the country as they raced to a 12-0 start and rose to No. 1 in the Top 25 for the first time in the rankings’ 40-year history. But it also made them vulnerable, if only some team could hold off the furious, late comebacks. Arkansas finally took its first two losses of the season in the last week, first Sunday at Louisiana Tech in the series finale and then Tuesday against Oklahoma.
On Friday, Opening Day of SEC play, Arkansas again ran into early trouble – and then some. No. 22 Alabama scored 10 runs in the second inning and went on to a 16-1 victory. It was the Razorbacks’ worst loss since March 24, 2018, when they lost, 17-2, at Florida and their worst home loss this century.
A lot went wrong for Arkansas (12-3, 0-1) on Friday. Starter Peyton Pallette, a second-year freshman making his first career SEC start, was knocked out in the second inning. Pallette and righthander Blake Adams combined to walk five batters and strike out none before veteran lefthander Patrick Wicklander settled things down. The Razorbacks went just 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position and got their leadoff batter on base just once.
Some of that was unforced. But Alabama (15-3, 1-0) had a lot to do with Arkansas’ struggles. The Crimson Tide rapped out 15 hits, including four home runs, and righthanders Tyler Ras and Connor Shamblin combined to stymie the Razorbacks’ offense.
Alabama coach Brad Bohannon said it was clear his team had plenty of fun Friday night.
“Scoring runs is a lot of fun,” he said. “They have fun with the home run chain. It was lit or hype or whatever the words are these days. I want them to have fun, to be loose and aggressive.”
The Crimson Tide’s loose attitude Friday was especially impressive because it was most of their first SEC game. Of their 10 starters, only catcher Sam Praytor, Ras and first baseman Drew Williamson had played in a conference game. While Baum-Walker Stadium may not have been quite as loud and energetic as it would be in a normal year, there were still 5,735 fans in the stands.
In anticipation of the difficult environment, Bohannon spent the last couple days trying to take the pressure off Friday night.
“I joked with kids a lot more in last 36 hours,” Bohannon said. “It was important that they not make tonight more important than what it was. It felt good at practice last night besides the fact it was about 38 (degrees).”
That feeling clearly translated to Friday’s game. Ras struck out six batters and held Arkansas to one run one six hits and two walks. The third-year sophomore has filled in ably at the front of the rotation with ace Connor Prielipp out due to an undisclosed medical condition. Ras on Friday improved to 3-1, 3.12.
“He’s been huge for us,” Bohannon said. “All these young pitchers want to be starters. If you want to start, you’ve got to pitch into the fifth or sixth every time out. He’s done that.”
Shamblin followed Ras with three scoreless innings to earn a save. DH Owen Diodati hit his fifth home run of the season and outfielder Andrew Pinckney collected three hits, including his first home run of the season.
While Friday was just one game, it was still a big statement for the Crimson Tide. They have spent the last few years in the SEC West cellar and while they appeared to in 2020 be digging out of that hole, the season was canceled before they could prove it in SEC play. They again were off to a strong start to this season, running their record to 30-4 over the last two years, but had not faced a challenge close to what playing top-ranked Arkansas on the road would provide.
Now, the Crimson Tide own perhaps the most impressive win in college baseball this season and have a chance over the next two days to earn the best series win to date. But Bohannon said it is important they don’t get ahead of themselves with 29 more SEC games to play.
“It’s one of 30 (games),” he said. “I’m pleased with the mentality and the result. If you come out tomorrow and you lay an egg, it’s disappointing.
“We keep talking about how we need to show maturity – we showed some tonight. There were real positives. Now we need to show maturity tomorrow that it went our way tonight, but we’ve got to bring it tomorrow. They’ll the same message when we get off the bus in the morning that it’s a new day.”