Thursday takeaways: Arkansas one step closer to SEC title; Who is going to Hoover?

 Barry Allen   in Baseball

Arkansas clinches share of SEC Western Division championship

Arkansas clinched a share of the SEC Western Division Championship with a 6-1 win over Florida in front of a packed house at Baum Stadium. The Razorbacks (40-10, 20-8 SEC) hold a two-game lead over Mississippi State (38-13, 18-10 SEC) with two games remaining.

Arkansas has clinched a share of its third straight division title and sixth overall (1999, 2004, 2007, 2018, 2019 and 2021). The Razorbacks hold a one-game lead over Tennessee (41-13, 19-9 SEC) for the overall SEC Championship. The Razorbacks won the SEC Championship in 1999 and shared the title with Georgia in 2004.

Right fielder Cayden Wallace belted two home runs in the win for the Razorbacks. He hit a go-ahead solo home run in the fifth and added a three-run homer in the eighth inning. He finished 2-for-4 with two home runs and four RBIs.

Catcher Casey Opitz accounted for the other two runs. He had a game-tying single in the fourth and added an RBI single in the fifth.

Wallace and Opitz were a combined 6-for-8 with two runs scored, one double, two home runs and six RBIs in the win.

That was more than enough offense for Patrick Wicklander and Kevin Kopps, who combined for 16 strikeouts in the three-hitter. Wicklander (5-1) had a career-high 11 strikeouts in six innings of work. He held the Gators to one run and three hits. Kopps added three hitless innings and struck out five batters for his eighth save.

First baseman Kendrick Calilao accounted for the Gators lone run with a solo home run in the second inning.

Hoover bound

LSU, Auburn, Texas A&M and Missouri all continue to battle for the final two spots in the 2021 SEC Tournament next week in Hoover.

Auburn cruised to a 15-6 win at Missouri on Thursday to put the Tigers in good shape for a trip to Hoover. With one more win, Auburn all but clinches a spot in the SEC Tournament. Missouri falls out of contention with one more loss.

Texas A&M kept its hopes alive with a 2-1 win over LSU. The Aggies have made the tournament every year since joining the league in 2013. The Aggies need two more wins over LSU or two losses by Auburn to reach the field.

Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M could all end up with identical 11-19 SEC records. If that’s the case, Auburn and Texas A&M would be in the SEC Tournament and LSU would be out based on tie-breakers.

Thursday night aces

The pitching shined bright on Thursday with several No. 1 starters turning in some impressive outings.

Ole Miss lefty Doug Nikhazy continues to baffle SEC hitters. On Thursday, he limited Georgia to four hits through seven scoreless innings with a career-high 13 strikeouts. He improved to 8-2 on the season for the Rebels. Ole Miss is 8-1 in his nine SEC starts this season. He missed the opening series with Auburn.  Right-hander Taylor Broadway recorded his 11th save with two scoreless innings in relief.

Mississippi State left-hander Christian MacLeod recorded 10 strikeouts in seven innings of work in the win over Alabama. He allowed two runs and five hits en route to his fifth win of the season. MSU right-hander Landon Sims closed the door with two scoreless innings and five strikeouts.

Auburn left-hander Jack Owen allowed two unearned runs in six-plus innings in the Tigers 15-6 win at Missouri. Owen allowed two unearned runs and four hits in 6 2/3 innings with seven strikeouts and one walk.

Texas A&M left-hander Dustin Saenz worked eight innings in the Aggies 2-1 win over LSU. He held the Tigers to one run and two hits with eight strikeouts and two walks. Saenz

Despite the loss, Alabama right-hander Tyler Ras tossed six shutout innings against Mississippi State. He held the Bulldogs to four hits in six scoreless innings. He ran into trouble in the seventh as the Bulldogs struck for four runs in the eventual 4-2 win.

Offensive stars

Auburn got a big offensive night from a trio of hitters in the win over Missouri. Shortstop Ryan Bliss, third baseman Rankin Woley and centerfielder Kason Howell combined for three home runs and 13 RBIs in the 15-6 win at Mizzou. Howell (3-6, 3 R, 2 HR, 5 RBI) launched two home runs and drove in five runs in the win. He belted a two-run homer in the sixth and smashed a three-run homer in the eighth. Bliss (4-6, R, 2B, 5 RBI) and Woley (4-5, R, 2B, HR, RBI) both had four hits.

Tennessee first baseman Luc Lipcius and second baseman Max Ferguson combined for two home run and six RBIs in the Volunteers 10-4 win at South Carolina.  Both Lipcius and Ferguson smacked two-run homers in the Vols six-run fourth inning. Ferguson has five home runs in his last six games for the Vols.

Texas A&M first baseman Will Frizzell hit a game-winning solo home run in the bottom of the eighth inning in the Aggies 2-1 win over LSU. Frizzell is third in the SEC with 19 home runs this season. He ranks second in SEC games with 12 home runs. He has six home runs in his last seven games for the Aggies.