After a dull performance at the plate Thursday night, the Arkansas baseball team was headed for another dud Friday against the Auburn Tigers. At the seventh inning stretch, public address announcer Jon Williams took it upon himself to rile up the lifeless crowd at Baum-Walker Stadium.
“Come on, Razorback fans!” he shouted during a low-energy Hog call. The volume began to grow, and the Diamond Hogs, down 4-0, took notice.
Junior center fielder Christian Franklin stepped up to the plate and roped a double the other way to become the fourth Razorback baserunner of the night. Freshman right fielder Cayden Wallace singled, and Franklin trotted home after Auburn right fielder Steven Williams misplayed the ball, sending the locals into a frenzy.
“Are you serious?” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn asked WholeHogSports’ Matt Jones, who had asked if the team felt the energy. “We were waiting for the crowd to go crazy, and Jon must have got bored of watching us, he tried to get ‘em going. That’s what they’re supposed to do at home, that was awesome.”
Arkansas continued to chip away as senior catcher Casey Opitz joined the hit parade and drove in Wallace. Sophomore Zack Gregory made a dazzling pinch-hitting appearance, slicing an RBI triple to the wall in left-center field. Two batters later, senior Cullen Smith knotted the score at four apiece with a pinch-hit sacrifice fly.
With two away in the inning, sophomore second baseman Robert Moore recorded his first hit since his cycle Tuesday against Central Arkansas. It came in the form of a go-ahead single, and the crowd went bonkers as junior shortstop Jalen Battles crossed home plate.
The shellshocked Tigers did not go down quietly, as second baseman Brody Moore doubled off the top of the fence for his fourth hit of the game and his sixth of the series. He came around to score on a two-out single, evening the score once again.
Wallace drew a walk to lead off the bottom of the eighth, once again revitalizing the spectators. He took second base on a wild pitch, advanced to third after two more free passes and scored the winning run on another wild pitch.
Senior righty Kevin Kopps got the nod for the ninth inning, and he sealed the victory with a pair of strikeouts to earn his third save of the season.
“When he goes out there, it’s like ‘Okay, he’s going to get three outs real quick,’” sophomore righty Peyton Pallette said of Kopps’ recent hot streak. In 11 ⅓ innings during Southeastern Conference games this season, Kopps has yet to allow a run, surrendering just four hits and fanning 21 hitters.
Pallette backed up his strong long-relief outing last week against Mississippi State with 4 ⅓ innings of one-run ball against Auburn. He relieved senior righty Zebulon Vermillion, who has struggled in consecutive starts, potentially laying the groundwork for Pallette to return to the starting rotation next weekend at No. 3 Ole Miss.
Arkansas and Auburn are slated to square off at 2 p.m. Saturday in a rubber match. The Hogs will send senior lefty Lael Lockhart to the mound to take on Auburn right-hander Joseph Gonzalez, and the game can be streamed on the SEC Network+.
“Really proud of the guys for hanging in there,” Van Horn said. “We were struggling offensively, we hit some balls hard but we hit ‘em right at ‘em. They were swinging the bats extremely, extremely well, and we knew it was going to be tough to come back.”