FAYETTEVILLE — The cheer and goodwill Arkansas had built over its past seven games — winning six and beating ranked Southeastern Conference opponents three times — all but dissipated Friday night.
Trey Killian’s starting effort on the mound was solid, unspectacular, and not enough to counter the Razorbacks’ cooled hitting. Arkansas managed six hits, including just two in the final four innings, and fell to Auburn, 2-1, in the opener of a three-game series at Baum Stadium.
The Tigers (24-19, 8-11) entered Friday in last place in the Western Division. Arkansas (27-17, 9-10) will need to win both games Saturday to take its first series against Auburn since 2009. Today’s doubleheader was scheduled early Friday to avoid Sunday’s expected thunderstorms.
The 2-1 loss is Arkansas’ seventh by such a score and 10th one-run loss overall. Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said it’s not easy to deal with such closer margins time and again.
“They are all tough. The later they get in the season they get a little bit tougher, especially when we have been playing so well,” he said.
Arkansas didn’t hit well, but Auburn wasn’t any better. Killian gave up four hits and a walk in eight innings. He also struck out a season-high eight batters. Both his runs allowed were unearned. The Razorbacks’ problems came from the last column on the box score.
The Tigers’ plated both runs in the sixth. Jordan Ebert scored scored the first after he opened the inning reaching base on a throwing error from Michael Bernal. Damon Haecker, who knocked in Ebert with two outs, scored from second base when Bernal committed his second error of the inning.
Bernal did well to move to his left and snap a hard grounder from Blake Austin behind second base. But he attempted a flip directly from his glove to Brian Anderson’s, who was standing on the bag, to get a forceout on Damek Tomscha running from first. The flip was short, Anderson couldn’t handle it and Haecker, running from the time the ball met the bat, came around to easily score.
Killian, who has lost three one-run decisions, appeared frustrated after the play, but took the blame for the loss postgame. He should have made a better pitch to Haecker, he said, and the rally never would have began.
“That one was on me. Our guys are going to make mistakes behind me and I’m going to make mistakes. Everybody does,” Killian said. “That’s the game of baseball and I’m not going to put that on our defense behind me. I’m going to put that on my myself. I’m going to take credit for that loss. Like I said, getting that pitch a little more outside, making more of a quality pitch on (Haecker) that scored the first run.”
The Razorbacks provided dramatics in the ninth when Andrew Benintendi and Brian Anderson reached with one out. After a long sacrifice fly from Michael Gunn, Auburn walked Eric Fisher to load the bases. Clark Eagan then pinch-hit for Wernes and flied to center on the first pitch he saw to end the game.
All but Benintendi’s walk to start the inning came off Auburn closer Terrance Dedrick. The Razorbacks couldn’t solve the Tigers starter Dillon Ortman.
Ortman finished 8 1/3 innings allowing six hits, striking out five batters and surrendering the lone walk to Benintendi. Arkansas’ run against him came in the fifth when Garrett Rucker scored on fielder’s choice by Jake Wise. Wise had an opportunity to give the Razorbacks a 2-0 lead later in the inning when he attempted to score from second base on a Bernal single, but he was thrown out on a close play at the plate to end the inning.
“I thought Ortman pitched extremely well. We had a couple of chances but the left fielder made a nice throw,” Van Horn said. “I thought that was definitely the right call sending him to the plate there … We had a chance to go up 2-0. We had a 1-0 lead and you saw what happened the next inning.”
Wise and Bernal, the bottom two hitters in the lineup, combined for three of the team’s six hits. Bernal doubled in his first plate appearance, picking up Arkansas’ first hit of the game in the third inning. It was the only extra-base hit Ortman allowed.
Today’s doubleheader begins at 4:05. Sunday’s game was moved up a day in order to avoid the likely thunderstorms.