Razorback outfielder Chris Lanzilli crushed a home run to left-center field to walk off a 10-8 win Sunday over Illinois-Chicago at Baum-Walker Stadium that gave Arkansas its first series sweep of the season.
The Hogs kicked off the weekend by doing something they had only done once before in the young season, winning the series opener with a score of 12-4.
The offensive explosion in the first leg of the doubleheader Thursday was propelled by home runs from senior Brady Slavens, sophomore Cayden Wallace and senior Jalen Battles, who were only three of five in the lineup to have multi-hit performances.
The Diamond Hogs had an improved approach at the plate overall, hitting 6-10 with runners in scoring position and reaching base four of eight times to lead off the inning.
Starting pitcher Connor Noland turned in another solid outing on the mound, throwing six scoreless innings before being pulled from the game one out away from completing his seventh inning of work. After allowing just one hit through six innings, he ran out of gas, giving up three doubles, all of which turned into runs. Despite sporting a black eye and feeling subpar pregame, he struck out 11 Flames and threw more than 70% of his pitches for strikes.
“I honestly didn’t feel too good in the bullpen, so I was kind of concerned,” Noland said. “After the first two or three innings I had the curveball in a good place.”
Game two of the doubleheader proved more difficult for Arkansas, with the Hogs requiring a four-run rally in the bottom of the eighth to pull off a narrow 5-4 victory.
“The second game was probably one of the more frustrating games that we’ve been involved in this year, because nothing would go our way,” head coach Dave Van Horn said. “Any time we did hit the ball hard it was at somebody, and we just left way too many runners on.”
Freshman Austin Ledbetter put together a serviceable outing in his first career start, striking out a trio and allowing a lone run in three innings on the mound. Unfortunately for him, the bullpen faltered down the stretch and the offense had to step in to salvage the game after going down 4-1 in the seventh inning.
Freshman Peyton Stovall was a big contributor to the comeback, making up for a rally-extinguishing double play in the fourth inning while pinch hitting. He added a pair of RBI singles later on, one of which tied the game in the eighth.
Red hot catcher Michael Turner put the cherry on top of the comeback with a two-out RBI single, bringing Stovall across the plate and shifting the score to 5-4.
After being called on to get the final out in the eighth inning, freshman Brady Tygart returned to the mound in the top of the ninth to shut the door on the Flames. The freshman showed off an electric repertoire on the way to recording his first win as a Razorback, reaching 96 miles per hour with his heater and striking out two.
Game three of the series featured another outburst by the offense en route to a 10-1 victory, despite starting pitcher Hagen Smith underperforming in the outing.
Although Smith was not as efficient as usual, throwing only 56 of 100 pitches for strikes, he managed to strike out eight and only allow one run in five innings while collecting his team-high third win of the year.
Lanzilli got the scoring started in the third inning with one of the Hogs’ more impressive home runs this year, which traveled 418 feet and came off the bat at a scorching 107 MPH. The three-run blast, his first of the year, was just the beginning of the air show. Slavens immediately followed with a solo shot of his own to go back-to-back.
Wallace broke the game open in the sixth, launching a grand slam 401 feet. Despite the offense’s performance this series, Wallace did not credit the Razorbacks’ success to the long ball.
“We’re not worried about putting the ball over the fence every time,” Wallace said. “We’re really focused on the little things. And as a whole I think we’re settling in well.”
Not to be outdone, Turner continued his tear at the plate with a 4-4 performance, including a solo home run that tied him for the team lead and upped his batting average to .419 on the year.
Sunday’s rubber match was thrilling, featuring five lead changes and concluding with a walk-off blast by Lanzilli.
Starting pitcher Jaxon Wiggins looked locked in to begin his start, consistently running his fastball up to 97 MPH, but struggled mightily with his control down the stretch, leading to him being pulled from the game after 3 1/3 innings of work. Although he only allowed one hit, his four walks, two hit batters and two wild pitches resulted in him allowing five runs, all of which came in the top of the fourth inning.
Led by Wallace’s six-RBI performance, including a go-ahead grand slam in the bottom of the eighth, the Razorback offense was able to overcome the deficit.
“I was just glad to get the job done,” Wallace said.
Arkansas was only three outs away from a win in the top of the ninth, but UIC scratched a pair of runs against Tygart to tie the game at eight.
Tasked with winning the game and completing the sweep in the bottom of the ninth, two offseason transfers rose to the occasion, with Turner leading the inning off with a double and Lanzilli immediately following with the walk-off home run.
Lanzili, a graduate transfer from Wake Forest, looked very comfortable in a Razorback uniform, and he now holds the second-highest on-base plus slugging percentage on the team at 1.039.
“I’m just super grateful to be here,” Lanzilli said. “I’m trying to live every day like that.”
Arkansas’ first walk-off win of the year was a fitting end to its first sweep, and the Diamond Hogs will look to carry their momentum into a midweek series against Grambling on Tuesday and Wednesday. The series starts at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and can be streamed on the SEC Network+.
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