FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas reliever Colby Suggs said he pressed too much to return from an oblique injury last month.
The junior was elected a team captain and named a preseason All-American. He was the team’s closer. So Suggs admitted he felt obligated to be on the field even though he wasn’t quite right and the early results were disappointing.
Suggs said he’s completely healthy now. He proved it Friday night.
Suggs came out of the bullpen to get Arkansas out of a bases loaded jam in the ninth inning, hurling the Razorbacks to a 5-4 win in front of an announced crowd of 5,047 in Baum Stadium. The Bulldogs (22-7, 2-5 in SEC) threatened to tie the game or take the lead after scoring one run in the ninth, but Suggs recorded the final two outs to help the Razorbacks (20-7, 5-2) win their sixth straight.
The last batter – Mississippi State cleanup hitter Alex Detz – watched as Suggs blew a fastball by him for the third strike to end the game.
“That was just a gutsy performance,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “He came in and closed the door against South Carolina (last Sunday) and was down there ready to roll (Friday). … You saw what he did to finish it off to a .360 hitter.”
Suggs’ performance helped Arkansas survive a wild game in which it lost a two-run lead in the top of the seventh, regained it in the bottom of the inning thanks to a bases loaded triple by Matt Vinson, and fought through some late mistakes.
The ninth inning began with freshman Trey Killian on the mound and Arkansas holding onto a 5-3 lead. But the right-hander walked the first batter he faced and hit the next to put the Razorbacks in a difficult jam.
Trent Daniel came out of the bullpen and didn’t fare much better. MSU catcher Nick Ammirati laid down a sacrifice bunt to move the runners over, but ended up scoring a run. Daniel fielded the bunt and tried to get the force out at third base. His throw missed the mark and Mississippi State’s Brett Pirtle ran home to make it 5-4.
Daniel did get the next batter to pop out for the first out before Van Horn called for his closer. Suggs was Arkansas’ sixth pitcher in the game.
“I was pretty pumped,” Suggs said. “Just being in that situation, you’re going to have a lot of adrenaline with runners on second and third and one out.”
Suggs got the second out when MSU center fielder C.T. Bradford popped out to shallow left field. The Razorbacks then intentionally walked right fielder Hunter Renfroe — who was 4-for-4 — to load the bases and bring Detz to the plate.
Detz was dangerous as well. He entered the game hitting .364 and was 2-for-4 with an RBI double off Arkansas starter Barrett Astin on Friday night.
Suggs had no trouble with the left-hander, striking him out on three pitches.
“He’s our closer,” Arkansas outfielder Matt Vinson said. “He’s the best closer in the country. It was good to see that and I’m really glad to see him back.”
Van Horn and the Razorbacks let out a big sigh of relief when it was over after nearly blowing a two-run lead for the second time Friday night.
The ninth inning pitching issues were the glaring problem. But Van Horn looked all the way back to the third inning, when Arkansas missed an opportunity to take control of the game off Mississippi State starter Luis Pollorena (4-1).
The Razorbacks led 1-0 and had the bases loaded with no outs, but only managed one run. Dominic Ficociello struck out on three pitches for the first out and Vinson walked to score Joe Serrano and make it 2-0. Willie Schwanke then struck out looking and Jake Wise flew out to center field to end the inning.
“We could have been in control of the game if we'd had a little better third inning,” Van Horn said. “I mean, we loaded the bases with no outs. Fortunately we scored a run and made it 2-0, but it would have been nice to be up 4-0. I think we could have relaxed a little bit where done a better job. But give them credit, they got out of it.”
Mississippi State — which was second in the SEC in team batting entering the series — took its first lead in the seventh inning after finally getting to Astin (5 2/3 innings, 2 runs, 7 hits, 6 strikeouts) and reliever Brandon Moore.
But Arkansas found itself in another bases loaded situation in the bottom half of the inning. This time, Vinson made sure the Razorbacks capitalized on the opportunity.
The senior – who also had the game-winning hit in Sunday’s 11-inning win at South Carolina — clubbed a bases-clearing triple off Mississippi State reliever Myles Gentry to push Arkansas back to a 5-3 lead. Vinson finished 1-for-2 and tied a career-high with 4 RBIs. He had a bases loaded walk in the third inning.
“I was just trying to get it deep in the outfield and get that run home and get somebody over,” Vinson said. “It happened to get over (Bradford’s head), which doesn't happen much because he can run some balls down.”
The three-run seventh-inning proved to be all the Razorbacks needed at the plate even though the ninth inning wasn’t easy.
Arkansas — which has won four straight SEC games — can win the weekend series when the teams meet again today at 2:05 p.m.
“Obviously, I feel great about getting a win,” Van Horn said. “It ended up being a Friday night type game. It was just a little different. A lot of pitching changes.
“It almost got away from us.”