Steady clutch hitting, solid late-game pitching and a pinch of luck powered the No. 5 Razorbacks to a 7-5 victory over Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, in the opener of their four-game series against the Zags at Baum-Walker Stadium.
Arkansas (4-0) secured its fourth win of the season against Gonzaga (2-3) Thursday afternoon in a game that was tight from start to finish.
Sophomore outfielder Christian Franklin notched the game-winning RBI in the seventh inning, when he was declared safe at first after review, just barely beating out a double play that allowed junior outfielder Heston Kjerstad to score.
The teams were scoreless until the bottom of the second when freshman infielder Robert Moore dug into the box with two outs and the bases juiced and roped the first pitch he saw down the left-field line for a two-RBI double. The clutch knock accounted for Moore’s first RBIs as a Razorback. It was Moore’s only hit of the game, but the switch-hitting second baseman was getting solid contact all day.
“That was a real big swing,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. “He’s been swinging the bat pretty good. He hit another ball hard today that was caught deep in center field.”
Gonzaga responded in the next half-inning with a two-run homer that levelled the score. Although the Zags never led, they tied the game twice and had more hits and extra-base hits than Arkansas.
“They outhit us tonight, but I feel like we hit a bunch of balls hard,” Van Horn said. “We just couldn’t get that big hit to really get us over the hump.”
The Hogs had some fortunate moments that helped them get over that hump.
With runners on second and third and two out in the bottom of the third, Opitz hit a fly ball that sat up for a while before falling to the ground inches away from the glove of Gonzaga center fielder Josh Bristyan, who made a last-ditch effort to catch the ball after what looked like a miscommunication with his teammates. Both runners scored on the play, and Opitz ended up at second – a play that was deemed a two-RBI double.
“Baseball gods were on my side today,” Opitz said. “That’s baseball you know, especially playing out here. You get that crazy wind going wherever.”
Five different pitchers stood on the hill for the Razorbacks, none of them throwing more than three innings. Junior pitcher Kole Ramage started the game but was pulled in the third inning after giving up two runs, four hits, two walks and hitting a batter. Ramage is 1-0 in his five career starts, averaging just under 3 ⅔ innings pitched with an earned run average of 5.00.
Arguably the most impressive Razorback pitching performance of the day was sophomore pitcher Caden Monke, who surrendered just one hit and a walk in the two scoreless innings he pitched.
Monke’s shutout innings were followed by shutout innings from sophomore pitcher Elijah Trest and junior pitcher Zebulon Vermillion, who earned his second career save in the game, working his way out of a first-and-third jam to get the final out.
“I have a lot of confidence in (Monke),” Opitz said. “I’ve seen it throughout the fall. When he throws strikes, it’s really hard on the hitters. It’s really solid to have him in our pen.”