FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas starter Trey Killian was impressive in leading the Razorbacks out of the single-elimination round of the SEC Tournament on Tuesday.
Teammate Chris Oliver was equally dominant in a 2-1 win against Ole Miss a day later, helping the Razorbacks slide into the winner’s bracket.
Oliver enjoyed a strong start against the Rebels for the second time this season, allowing one run on four hits in 6 1/3 innings. The right-hander also got help from Arkansas relievers Michael Gunn and Jacob Stone, who recorded the final eight outs as the Razorbacks (37-21) won for the eighth time in the past nine games.
The win pushes Arkansas into a winner’s bracket game against No. 3 seed LSU, which beat No. 6 seed Vanderbilt 11-1 in seven innings Wednesday. Ole Miss (40-17) will play an elimination game against the Commodores this morning.
“We’re getting hot at the right time,” Stone, who has replaced Gunn in the closer’s role the past two weeks, told the media in Hoover, Ala., on Wednesday. “We’re playing really good baseball right now.”
Arkansas is off to a 2-0 start this week because of a pitching staff that has combined to allow just one run in two games to start the SEC Tournament.
One day after Killian and Zach Jackson combined to shut out Texas A&M 4-0, Oliver (8-4), Gunn and Stone teamed to hold one of the SEC’s best offenses to one run. It was the second time this season Oliver held Ole Miss to one run.
“He’s a stud,” Ole Miss’ Will Allen told reporters in Hoover. “He’s got a great arm.”
But there was one big difference from the 11-1 win against the Rebels on May 4: Oliver never had much of a cushion to work with Wednesday, even though the Razorbacks did lead throughout the game after scoring a run in the first inning on second baseman Brian Anderson’s sacrifice fly.
Oliver worked to make sure the lead held up Wednesday.
“I thought he pitched really well,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “He threw a lot of strikes. When he did get behind, it seemed he was always, for the most part, able to make that pitch to get the count to 2-1 or whatever the case may be at the time. … He challenged a lot of hitters today and mixed it up well.”
Arkansas’ only other run came in the sixth, when Eric Fisher singled, stole second base, advanced to third on a groundout and scored on a wild pitch. It was just enough to beat Ole Miss starter Chris Ellis (9-1), who suffered his first loss.
“I thought the pitching for both teams was outstanding,” Van Horn said. “Both pens were good. I feel fortunate to win. We’ve played a lot of one-run games this year, so we were actually very comfortable with it.”
The Razorbacks can punch their ticket to the SEC Tournament semifinals — and earn a day off Friday — with a win against the Tigers. It won’t be easy. LSU cruised in its SEC Tournament opener and will start ace Aaron Nola (9-1, 1.42 ERA) today.
Nola has dominated the Razorbacks throughout his career, striking out 40 batters in 29 1/3 innings pitched. The right-hander struck out 13, allowed four hits and two runs in seven innings during a 5-3 win against Arkansas on April 11.
“Nola is as good as it gets in this league and maybe college baseball the last couple of seasons,” Van Horn said. “It’s definitely a big challenge. … It’s a guy you better go up there swinging because he’s going to be around the plate. You’ve just got to hope that you make contact, find a hole or two and score a few runs.”
Arkansas, meanwhile, will likely rely on a few pitchers to get them through its third SEC Tournament game with starter Jalen Beeks (elbow) unavailable.
Van Horn said left-hander Colin Poche (3-0, 2.55 ERA) will start for the Razorbacks.
“It’s going to help us that we played at LSU this year so we’ve kind of faced that before,” Anderson said. “It’s just a little bit of adversity. We’ve faced two Friday guys already and we’re probably going to face one (Thursday), really solid pitcher. We’re looking forward to the challenge. Whoever we throw out there is going to give us a quality outing and we’re going to try to put up some runs for them.”
2014 SEC Tournament Schedule
Tuesday, May 20
Game 1 #6 Vanderbilt 3, #11 Tennessee 2 (Tennessee eliminated)
Game 2 #7 Arkansas 4, #10 Texas A&M 0 (Texas A&M eliminated)
Game 3 #9 Kentucky 7, #8 Alabama 1 (Alabama eliminated)
Game 4 #5 Mississippi State 5, #12 Georgia 4 (10 innings) (Georgia eliminated)
Wednesday, May 21
Game 5 #3 LSU 11, #6 Vanderbilt 1
Game 6 #7 Arkansas 2, #2 Ole Miss 1
Game 7 #9 Kentucky 4, #1 Florida 2
Game 8 #5 Mississippi State 12, #4 South Carolina 0
Thursday, May 22
Game 9 9:30 a.m. #6 Vanderbilt vs. #2 Ole Miss [SPSO]
Game 10 TBD #1 Florida vs. #4 South Carolina [SPSO]
Game 11 4:30 p.m. #3 LSU vs. #7 Arkansas [CSS]
Game 12 TBD #9 Kentucky vs. #5 Mississippi State [CSS]
Friday, May 23
Game 13 3:00 p.m. Winner Game 9 vs. Loser Game 11 [CSS]
Game 14 TBD Winner Game 10 vs. Loser 12 [CSS]
Saturday, May 24
Game 15 Noon Winner Game 13 vs. Winner Game 11 [ESPNEWS]
Game 16 TBD Winner Game 14 vs. Winner Game 12 [ESPNEWS]
Sunday, May 25
Game 17 3:30 p.m. Winner Game 15 vs. Winner Game 16 [ESPN2]