Razorback junior center fielder Christian Franklin was not having a good series. He had bounced into three double plays, including two in Saturday’s series finale against Auburn. With the game tied at five and the winning run on second base, the Tigers elected to intentionally walk sophomore second baseman Robert Moore, bringing Franklin, hitless on the day, up to bat for the sixth time.
“I knew I was feeling good at the plate and I knew I was going to get the bat on the ball,” Franklin said in the postgame press conference. “After they walked him, I just stayed ready and told myself to get a good pitch to hit and take a good swing.”
Franklin watched ball one, then hit another one on the nose past the diving third baseman. As the ball rolled into the left field corner, sophomore left fielder Zack Gregory came barrelling around third to seal a 6-5 victory and a series win.
“Very rarely do you leave 13 runners on hit into four double plays and you still win,” head coach Dave Van Horn said.
Senior left-hander Lael Lockhart did his best to keep Arkansas in the game, coming just an out shy of a quality start. After a bloop and a blast to begin the game, Lockhart recorded 16 outs in as many batters before losing steam in the sixth inning. He walked two of his final three hitters, prompting Van Horn to turn to sophomore lefty Caden Monke.
Auburn first baseman Tyler Miller sent a low line drive just over the fence in right-center field on Monke’s first pitch, extending the Tiger lead to 5-0.
For the third straight game, the Razorback bats struggled to find grass in the early goings. Junior first baseman Brady Slavens was the only Arkansas player with a hit through five innings, but everything changed when Robert Moore drew a walk to start the sixth inning, marking the first leadoff hitter to reach base all afternoon.
Franklin followed suit with a walk before senior designated hitter Matt Goodheart drove a single into center to get the Razorbacks on the board. Freshman right fielder Cayden Wallace added his fourth knock of the weekend to scratch out another run and pull within three.
During the seventh inning stretch, public address announcer Jon Williams tried to recreate his vital performance from Friday night, generating some noise from a Razorback crowd that had not had much to cheer about. The bottom seventh did not go as well as the night before, as the Tigers turned their sixth double play of the series, but Arkansas was not done.
Goodheart led off the eighth with a walk and advanced to third following singles from Wallace and Slavens. Senior catcher Casey Opitz bounced into yet another double play, scoring Goodheart at a premium cost. Auburn pitcher Mason Barnett walked the next three Hogs to bring the score to 5-4 before inducing a groundout to escape with the lead.
After another Goodheart walk in the ninth, Van Horn called on senior Braydon Webb to pinch run at first. Webb bolted to third on another Cayden Wallace single, and he scampered home on a sacrifice fly by Slavens.
Freshman righty Jaxon Wiggins took the mound for Arkansas in the 10th, working around a leadoff walk to set Franklin and company up for the walk-off hit and earn his second win of the series.
“All the runs (Auburn) scored today came on two swings, and other than that I thought the pitching staff did a great job,” Van Horn said.
The win was the Hogs’ 10th in their last 11 games, and improved their conference record to 7-2, good for a share of first in the Southeastern Conference West Division. After two midweek games with Little Rock, the Razorbacks will get the chance to break that tie with the No. 3 Ole Miss Rebels in Oxford, Mississippi.
“I talked to ‘em today before the game, I said ‘Hey, I’d really like you guys to score a little bit earlier than the fifth, sixth, seventh inning,’” Van Horn said. “That talk didn’t help at all, but it worked out.”