Offense powers No. 18 Razorbacks to SEC semifinals
COLUMBIA, Mo. —
For the first time since 2001, the University of Arkansas softball team has advanced to the semifinals of the SEC Tournament with Thursday’s 8-3 win over eighth-ranked and No. 2 seed Georgia. The Razorbacks’ eight runs are the most scored by the program in an SEC Tournament game. Arkansas will face No. 12 South Carolina in Friday’s semifinal at 2 p.m. (CT) on ESPNU.
One of three Razorbacks with two hits in the game, senior A.J. Belans was 2-for-3 at the plate including a three-run homer while freshman Mary Haff tied the program’s single-season record with her 26th win in 3.1 innings of relief work. The No. 18 Razorbacks improve to 39-14 for the most wins by the program since the 2002 season.
Georgia (43-11) put together the game’s first threat by loading the bases with two outs in the bottom of the first. However, sophomore starter Autumn Storms got out of the jam by deflecting a shot up the middle toward Haydi Bugarin at second who gloved the ball and flipped to first for the third out.
The game was scoreless through two before Arkansas broke through with four runs on four hits in the top of the third frame. With two down and runners on first and second, junior Katie Warrick doubled to right field to drive in the first run and Belans followed with a three-run shot to right center to push the Razorbacks’ lead to 4-0. It was her fourth home run and the team’s 53rd of the season.
The Bulldogs scored one in each of the next two innings to cut their deficit in half but after a quiet fifth inning for both teams, Arkansas scored three insurance runs to cushion its lead. Warrick and Belans got things started with back-to-back singles and after a sac bunt by senior Loren Krzysko, the team had runners on second and third.
Fellow senior Tori Cooper delivered an RBI single to right field to score pinch runner Sydney Parr. The bases were loaded after Kayla Green took a pitch off the shoulder and Bugarin picked up an RBI of her own by drawing a walk that plated pinch runner Carley Haizlip. With the bases still loaded, freshman Hannah McEwen drove in the seventh run with sacrifice fly for her 53rd RBI of the year.
Haff entered the game to get the final out of the fourth inning. She worked out of a bases-loaded jam of her own in the fifth inning. The freshman responded by inducing a ground ball to third for a force out at the plate and got out of the inning with a lineout to Cooper in left. Georgia scored a run in the bottom of the sixth but the Razorbacks got that run right back on an RBI single by Cooper in the top of the seventh.
Despite plunking a hitter with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Haff went on to close out the game and clinch Arkansas’ spot in the semifinal. Her 26 wins are tied for the most by an Arkansas pitcher since Heather Schlichtman—also in her first year in Fayetteville—established the mark in 2001.