FAYETTEVILLE — Behind four home runs in Friday’s series opener, Arkansas registered a 6-2 win over Georgia to secure a spot in the 2017 SEC Tournament.
In the victory, Nicole Schroeder tied the program’s single-season mark with her 15th home run and was joined in the jog around the bases by A.J. Belans, Katie Warrick and Madison Yannetti.
The Razorbacks improved to 31-19 overall and 7-15 in conference play.
While the offense was knocking the ball over the fence, freshman starter Autumn Storms responded with a complete game to pick up her 16th win of the season. Her win total is tied for the second most by a freshman in program history.
Prior to the game and in conjunction with the Bentonville Film Festival, Academy Award winner Geena Davis threw out the first pitch. Friday’s game was played in front of 1,228 fans, the sixth-largest home crowd in program history.
Arkansas is headed to the SEC Tournament for the first time since the 2013 season, and for the 10th time overall in program history.
In their second season under coach Courtney Deifel, the Razorbacks are sitting at a 14-win improvement over last year’s record, including a six-win increase in league play.
Play at the SEC Tournament begins Wednesday, May 10 in Knoxville.
“We never put a result-oriented goal on anything we did,” Deifel said of her team’s approach this season. “We just wanted to be better Razorbacks than the day before. Our girls have absolutely shown up every day and done that. They’ve lived that.
“For them to experience the SEC Tournament, and hopefully the NCAA Tournament, they’ve put themselves in a really strong position to be part of that conversation. I’m just so proud of them and I’m excited for them to get to experience that, especially for this senior class to get to keep playing.”
Yannetti opened the scoring with a two-out solo shot in the second inning, good for her sixth home run of the year. The Mesquite, Texas, native entered her junior campaign with two career home runs.
With the big fly, the Razorbacks have now hit a home run in six-consecutive games. Yannetti added a double in the fourth to tally her sixth multi-hit performance of the season.
In the fourth, the Razorbacks pushed their advantage to 3-0 with the help of a two-run homer off Schroeder’s bat. The senior from Yorba Linda, California, tied the single-season mark first established by Jessica Bachkora in 2010 and equaled by Devon Wallace in 2012.
Schroeder crushed the 10th pitch of the at-bat against Georgia starter Kylie Bass to center field, delivering her 36th career home run in the process.
Belans got in on the power display with a two-run blast to left field, her eighth home run of the season. The junior shortstop made a defensive impact on the game in the first inning.
With runners on first and third, Georgia (31-21, 4-18 SEC) looked to take the lead with a bloop to shallow left field but Belans ranged from her position and made the diving catch to snag the third out.
The Bulldogs got on the scoreboard with two runs in the sixth inning without the ball leaving the infield. With a pair of fielder’s choice ground outs, the Bulldogs cut into Arkansas’ lead and the score was 5-2 heading to the bottom of the sixth.
Warrick, in her first start since April 2, got one of those runs back with her fifth home run of the season, a solo homer to left and the lead was 6-2 after six frames.
Georgia put together a threat and had runners on second and third with two outs in the top of the seventh.
On a hot shot to third base, Autumn Russell secured the final out with a throw from her knees across the diamond to Ashley Diaz who picked the ball to end the game. Backing up Storms, the infield registered 14 assists and turned two double plays in Friday’s win.
Game two of the weekend series is scheduled for a 1 p.m. start Saturday at Bogle Park and will be streamed online at SEC Network+ through the WatchESPN app.
The first 75 fans in attendance will receive an Arkansas Razorbacks snapback hat. General admission is free to all home games with gates opening one hour prior to first pitch.