The Razorback baseball team came into its midweek series against Dayton with the plan to lean on freshman to give upperclassman a chance to rest. The freshman were up to the challenge in an 11-0 victory over the Dayton Flyers on Thursday.
Freshman pitcher Hunter Milligan played with fire in his two innings of work. He got two quick outs each time but then allowed two straight base runners. In the first inning, he got Dayton junior left fielder Connor Echols to flyout, and in the second, he got junior second baseman Pat Meehan to strikeout to end the threats.
Milligan was replaced in the third inning by freshman Bryce Bonin. Milligan finished his day pitching two innings and striking out four.
The Razorbacks finally broke through in the bottom of the third. Freshman catcher Casey Opitz got the Hogs first hit with a flare that dropped between three fielders. Sophomore shortstop Jack Kenley walked, and freshman third baseman Casey Martin got a single past the diving shortstop to score the Razorbacks’ first run. Kenley advanced to third on a long flyout by junior right fielder Eric Cole and trotted home on a sacrifice fly by freshman left fielder Heston Kjerstad.
“We got off to a slow start today,” Arkansas manager Dave Van Horn said. “I feel like their pitcher was fooling us. He had us fooled for a couple innings.”
Arkansas senior first baseman Jared Gates added to the Razorbacks’ lead with a shot into the Flyers bullpen in the bottom of the fourth, his second home run of the year.
Flyers sophomore pitcher Tyler Jones replaced starting junior pitcher Austin Cline with one out in the bottom of the fifth after Martin singled, stole a base and advanced to third on a wild pitch walk to Cole
Kjerstad welcomed the new pitcher with a three-run blast that cleared the Flyers bullpen to give the Hogs a six-run lead.
“I was down in the count, and there [were] runners in scoring position, so I was just trying to drive in a run and give our pitching some more run support,” Kjerstad said.
Senior designated hitter Luke Bonfield doubled, and after advancing to third on a flyout by Dominic Fletcher, scored on a gap hit to center by Gates.
Cole led off the bottom of the seventh with a walk, prompting Flyers manager Jayson King to make a pitching change to sophomore pitcher Dom Coconcelli. Coconcelli was brought in to get out Kjerstad, which he did, then sophomore Josh Nixon replaced him.
Bonfield reached base on catcher’s interference. Nixon followed that up with a wild pitch that scored Cole from second and allowed Bonfield to head to third. Fletcher struck out, then Bonfield scored on a wild pitch to widen the lead to nine runs. Nixon got out of the inning by striking out sophomore first baseman Jordan McFarland.
Arkansas freshman pitcher Kole Ramage came in to replace Bonnin in the top of the eighth. He got the Flyers to go down 1-2-3 with a strikeout.
Dayton brought in junior Ben Hughes to pitch the bottom of the eighth. Arkansas senior second baseman Carson Shaddy led off with a triple. Opitz followed with an RBI double. Kenley walked, but freshman third baseman Easton Murrell grounded into a double play, moving Opitz to third. In an unconventional move, Van Horn let Ramage hit in the DH spot, and he knocked a single that brought in Opitz.
Ramage stayed in to try to finish the game for the Razorbacks. Dayton freshman outfielder Michael Cleary hit a one-out single, followed by another single by sophomore pinch hitter Jeff Steuck. Ramage proceeded to strike out sophomore pinch hitter Nick Spiliotis and freshman catcher Brett Wells to finish off the game for Arkansas.
Bonin got the win for the Razorbacks, pitching five innings and giving up no hits. He struck out six.
“It felt great,” Bonin said. “Credit to our defense. Shaddy made some plays, Kenley made some great plays, Eric Cole made a catch against the fence. It makes it a lot easier to have guys behind you that can make plays for you.”
The three freshman pitchers combined for nine innings, four hits and struck out 13. Three Razorbacks had multiple hits in the game, and Kjerstad led the team with 4 RBIs.
The Razorbacks will welcome the University of Southern California Trojans to Baum Stadium for a three-game series starting tomorrow. First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m., and the game wil air on SEC Network Plus.