FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — For at least one weekend, Tennessee fans will also need to be Kentucky fans.
The Vols lost 10-2 to No. 14 Arkansas in front of 8,523 fans at Baum Stadium Sunday and remain on the outside looking in for the 12-team SEC baseball tournament field.
In order for Tennessee to earn its first league tournament berth since 2007, the Vols (20-28, 7-18 SEC) must win one more game this weekend at home against Texas A&M than Missouri does at home against Kentucky.
After beating Arkansas 8-3 in Friday night’s series opener, the Vols were outscored 21-3 in the final two games and remain percentage points behind Missouri for the SEC’s 12th spot heading into the final week of the regular season.
Missouri (16-30, 8-19) gave up a two-run lead in the ninth inning and lost 7-6 to Alabama on Sunday. The Tigers have a .296 SEC winning percentage. Tennessee is at .280.
The more Kentucky wins against Missouri this weekend the better, as long as Tennessee can also have a successful series against the Aggies.
“You just made my day, even in a bad loss,” Tennessee coach Dave Serrano said when told of Alabama’s rally. “Obviously, we still have a chance and that’s all we can ask for.”
It didn’t take long for Arkansas to take control Sunday as the Razorbacks scored five runs on five hits against Tennessee starter Aaron Quillen (2-4) in the first inning.
Arkansas starter Randall Fant (5-1) threw 6 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out five and walking three. Tennessee didn’t get a hit until Will Maddox’s leadoff single in the sixth, and didn’t score until consecutive hits from A.J. Simcox, Scott Price and David Houser in the eighth.
“It’s just a lack of consistency that we’ve had through the year that continues to haunt us and it did it again,” Serrano said. “I think our guys were surprised we played so well on a Friday night and won and they may have been afraid we woke (Arkansas) up and sure enough we did and we acted like that the last couple of games.”
The Razorbacks (34-17, 17-9) scored a run off Trevor Bettencourt, who relieved Quillen in the second, and three runs off Drake Owenby, who worked 3 2/3 innings. Eric Martin worked the final two innings and gave up the final Arkansas run in the eighth.
Arkansas, which secured a first-round SEC tournament bye, out-hit Tennessee 14-6 and had five extra-base hits.
“(Fant) pitched, and I appreciate good pitching,” Serrano said. “I’ve been around good pitching my whole career, and he pitched and made it extremely difficult on our hitters because he had a good little wiggle on his pitch and he had an outstanding change-up, and that’s what wins in college baseball. He kept us off-balance and we weren’t able to make any adjustments.
“In retrospect, we were behind in the count, we elevated pitches, and they made us pay. I think every ball that was elevated they hit hard. This far in the season we refuse to learn that that’s not what is going to be successful.”
Every Arkansas starter had a hit, led by a 3-for-5 day from Matt Vinson.
“It was a great job by our entire team,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “I thought we came out and did a great job of being extremely focused the last two days after a disappointing first game. I felt like the lack of focus, combined by a great job by Tennessee’s pitcher, was the difference [on Friday].
“Saturday was outstanding for us, and today was just a carbon copy.”
The Vols host Morehead State in their final non-conference game at 6 p.m. Tuesday before opening the three-game series against Texas A&M on Thursday.
“Someone has to step up and do something for us to get in the tournament. That’s what this program needs and that’s where we expect to be, but again, we’ve got to do something for that to happen,” Serrano said. “It’s going to take the Vols to step up and play good baseball. I walk away disappointed with how we responded. It’s not that we lost the past two games, it’s how we lost the games. We need to step it up.”
Rick Harvey is a freelance contributor.