SEC Baseball Championship 2021: Arkansas Beats Tennessee for 1st-Ever Title Game Win

Jenna CiccotelliCorrespondent IIMay 30, 2021

Arkansas infielder Jalen Battles throws to first for the out on a Vanderbilt batter during the seventh inning of an NCAA college baseball game during the Southeastern Conference tournament Thursday, May 27, 2021, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
AP Photo/Butch Dill

After claiming the regular-season title, Arkansas proved it was the top team in the Southeastern Conference by defeating Tennessee, 7-2, in the conference championship game Sunday to earn its first-ever title game victory.

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The Razorbacks (46-10) were led by Jalen Battles, who had an RBI single to tie it up and then homered in the top of the seventh to give the Hogs a 4-1 advantage. He coupled his offensive performance with strong play at shortstop.

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A three-run eighth sealed the deal for the Razorbacks.

For the Volunteers (45-16), a quick start was quickly enveloped by the surging Hogs.

The Volunteers didn't let two outs stop them from taking a 1-0 advantage in the bottom of the first inning. Jake Rucker, who reached on a double, came around to score on a single from Drew Gilbert.

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But Arkansas pitcher Jaxon Wiggins was having some trouble finishing. After letting the run score following two strikeouts in the first inning, he walked back-to-back batters after striking out one and forcing a flyout in the bottom of the second.

Tennessee loaded the bases on a single from Liam Spence but a flyout to center ended the inning with no further damage.

The Razorbacks finally got something going in the top of the fourth, when they got their first hit courtesy of a Charlie Welch single, but couldn't capitalize and left him on the bag. It took them until the next inning to find some offensive power.

An RBI single from Battles was the equalizer, scoring Cullen Smith, who had walked.

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That left runners on the corners with no outs, as Casey Opitz moved to third base after reaching on a single of his own. Opitz made his way around on a single by Zack Gregory,  and after Battles came in on a sacrifice fly to make it 3-1, Tennessee decided to pull Will Heflin.

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He ended the afternoon with three earned runs on four hits with four strikeouts and two walks through 4.2 innings.

His replacement, Mark McLaughlin, didn't last long, and in his first inning to himself, he was replaced by Will Mabrey with one on and one out. It didn't exactly have the effect the Vols were looking for, since he hit the first batter he faced, but a double play got them out of trouble heading to the bottom of the sixth.

Conversely, the Arkansas bullpen did its job behind Wiggins, who finished with four hits, a run and five strikeouts through 3.2 innings. After a scoreless frame from Ryan Costeiu, Lael Lockhart got the ball for the bottom of the sixth.

Things got dicey when SEC Pitcher of the Year Kevin Kopps got the ball, giving up a one-run homer to Pete Derkay in the bottom of the seventh to make it 4-2.

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Arkansas increased the separation when Cayden Wallace scored on a fielder's choice in the top of the eighth, and then Smith hit a two-run homer to keep it going.

Kopps ended the afternoon with four hits and an earned run, fanning three through 3.0 innings.