The maroon-clad crowd at Dudy Noble Field held its breath Sunday afternoon as the tying run stood in the batter’s box. It was in the form of Mississippi State third baseman Kamren James, who lifted a fly ball into the glove of Razorback senior left fielder Braydon Webb to seal the Hogs’ third victory of the weekend as the locals exhaled in dejection.
Arkansas engaged in slugfest after slugfest with the Bulldogs, beginning with an 8-2 decision in Friday night’s series opener. Senior designated hitter Matt Goodheart, freshman right fielder Cayden Wallace and junior center fielder Christian Franklin all hit solo bombs in the first inning, setting the tone for the rest of the weekend.
“We wanted to come out and make a statement, and we knew the environment that we would be getting into, so we just needed to stick to what we knew and be ourselves out there, and go out there with a little bit of (a) chip on our shoulder and we did that tonight,” Franklin said after Friday’s game.
Franklin, whose first home run went to the opposite field, pulled a no-doubter to left in his second at-bat and made an acrobatic diving catch in the sixth inning, making him a front-runner for the Southeastern Conference Player of the Week award.
Mississippi State struggled mightily against the two Razorback hurlers Friday night. Junior lefty Patrick Wicklander earned the starting nod following a strong long relief outing a week earlier against Alabama. He was one of two pitchers all weekend to throw five innings, and he earned his first win of the year.
After the fifth frame, Wicklander handed the ball to sophomore righty Peyton Pallette, the typical Friday starter, who finished the game and earned a 12-out save. Both players allowed two hits and an earned run each.
“It was huge for Peyton,” head coach Dave Van Horn said. “He did a tremendous job, he gave us an opportunity to save our pitchers for the next couple of games, because obviously we’re going to need them all.”
Saturday’s game got off to a shakier start, as senior right-hander Zebulon Vermillion surrendered more runs in the first inning than he had in the past 16. Trailing 3-0 early on, the Razorbacks were undeterred.
Webb cut the Mississippi State lead to two runs with a leadoff tater in the fifth inning, and Bulldog starter Will Bednar began to crumble. The Hogs had two hitters reach on bloop hits with two out before Franklin launched his third homer in two games to go ahead, 5-4.
The Bulldogs responded with a leadoff bomb of their own to knot the score, but the Arkansas bats were not finished. Senior third baseman Cullen Smith reestablished the lead with yet another leadoff homer, and Goodheart went yard again with a runner on and two outs to extend the lead to three runs.
Senior right-hander Kevin Kopps took the mound for the Razorbacks in the bottom of the sixth, and did not yield the ball. In four innings, he allowed two hits, no runs, struck out seven hitters and earned a save as Arkansas piled on three more runs to take the middle game 11-5.
“Honestly, I never really think about much, I just kind of vibe with (senior catcher Casey) Opitz a lot,” Kopps said after Saturday’s game. “Just trust what he’s calling and trust my stuff and just attack the mitt.”
In Sunday’s finale, Goodheart opened the scoring with his third home run of the series. He extended his homer streak to four games, and leapfrogged Franklin to earn SEC Player of the Week honors Monday.
The Hogs tacked on four more runs in the fourth inning, jumping out to a 5-0 lead. Mississippi State chipped away in the next few frames but could not overcome the deficit, and Arkansas prevailed 6-4.
“It’s always huge to come into a place like this and get a series win like that,” Kopps said.
Arkansas held steady at No. 2 in the D1Baseball rankings Monday, still just shy of the Vanderbilt Commodores. The Diamond Hogs are slated to return home for a midweek tune-up at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday against Central Arkansas, before welcoming the Auburn Tigers for a weekend set.