FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - The 11th-ranked Razorback baseball team saw its amazing turnaround season come to a close Monday night, falling 3-2 to Missouri State in the NCAA Fayetteville Regional championship game at Baum Stadium.
Coming off a 26-29 season in 2016 and missing the postseason for the first time in 15 years, the Hogs not only got back to the postseason, but posted 45 wins, its seventh 40-win season in the last 10 years, and hosted an NCAA Regional for the sixth time in its history, first since 2010.
The Razorbacks got one of its gutsiest performances of the year from sophomore pitcher Kacey Murphy, who was starting for the second time in three games and one day after pitching Arkansas past Oral Roberts in its first elimination game.
Murphy threw five innings and gave up only two runs on two hits with eight strikeouts on 81 pitches. It was the fourth time this season that he struck out eight or more batters and fourth time he went five or more innings. In his two regional starts, Murphy threw 8.2 innings combined and struck out 14 batters, the most of any pitcher in the regional.
Missouri State took the early lead in the fourth, getting a single run from Jake Burger, who led off the frame with a double. After a fly out advanced him to third, he later scored on a deep sacrifice fly from Alex Jefferson to left field. Murphy retired the next four batters to get through the fifth and was relieved in the sixth.
Arkansas was able to respond in the bottom of the fifth and tie the game at 1-1 when Jared Gates hit his second home run of the tournament and second, ultimately, of the day. Gates homered earlier in the morning as part of Arkansas' big 11-10 victory over the Bears that forced the deciding final game.
Gates turned in a 2-for-4 night at the plate with the one RBI and two runs scored. Gates' game was his fifth multi-hit game of the season and first since May 4 against Tennessee. The sophomore was one of only three players to homer more than once in the Fayetteville Regional.
The Bears scored two more runs in the sixth inning to take a 3-1 lead, but Arkansas, again, scratched its way back with a lone run in the seventh on the help of a one-out double by Gates and then two wild pitches from Jordan Knutson that led to the run.
Unfortunately, Knutson was able to settle down and retire the final seven batters he faced to help give Missouri State the win.
All five of Arkansas' hits in the game came off the bats of Gates and sophomore Eric Cole. Cole turned in a 3-for-4 game, his fourth game of three hits or more this season. Cole had one of the hottest bats for the Razorbacks down the stretch, as he hit .372 combined in the SEC Tournament and NCAA Regionals with five multi-hit games, 10 RBIs, and five extra-base hits, including two home runs. He finishes the year at a .282 average, higher than his freshman season, and his runs scored (31), hits (58), doubles (12), home runs (5), and RBIs (25) all were an uptick from a year ago.