Arkansas made history against LSU on the baseball diamond over the weekend, logging three straight series victories over the Tigers for the first time by sweeping them in three home games.
In Thursday’s series opener, senior Connor Noland picked up right where he left off a week prior. Coming off a win over Florida in which he tossed seven scoreless innings, he breezed through five innings on the bump, only allowing one of 16 batters to reach base.
While LSU struggled to put up runs, Arkansas hung a pair on Tiger starter Ma’Khail Hilliard early in the contest. In the first inning, graduate senior Michael Turner made the Tigers pay for an error that put sophomore Cayden Wallace in scoring position by driving him in with a grounder to the right side.
Hilliard could not find the strike zone in the third, leading to four Hogs taking free passes and graduate senior Braydon Webb picking up an RBI on the final one with the bases loaded.
After getting two outs in the top of the sixth, the Tigers finally got to Noland, knocking four consecutive singles to scratch across a trio of runs and take a 3-2 lead over the Hogs. The ace was able to finish that half-inning, but he gave way to senior Evan Taylor in the seventh.
“I had a lot of things working,” Noland said. “Fastballs on both sides of the plate, and then obviously the curveball was the main go-to. Felt good through the fifth. And then they sort of put the ball in play, and they made an adjustment.”
After Taylor struck out the side — all looking — in his half inning on the bump, Arkansas retook the lead with clutch hits by Webb and junior Robert Moore, making the score 5-3.
Freshman Brady Tygart was tasked with recording the final six outs, and although he allowed an inherited runner to cross home and make it a one-run game, he prevailed and stopped the Tigers short of completing a comeback.
“It was a very interesting baseball game,” head coach Dave Van Horn said. “A little stressful, but…a big win for our team.”
Friday’s matchup was a much more convincing victory for the Hogs, a 4-0 shutout that clinched the series.
Freshman Hagen Smith had his best outing of the season — a week after having his worst against Florida — throwing seven scoreless frames while only allowing two hits and one walk on 98 pitches.
“It didn’t go good for him last week at Florida and he took it personal,” Van Horn said. “He was on a mission and pitched really well. He didn’t overthrow. He threw the ball 92, 93 miles an hour, 91, with his fastball. Then used his secondary pitches effectively.”
Smith’s potency on the bump allowed the Arkansas bats to go to work against Blake Money. The Diamond Hogs got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the third with a solo homer by redshirt junior Zack Gregory and a two-run shot from Turner.
Both left-handed hitters focused their approaches to the opposite field in response to a strong wind blowing in from right, and it paid off.
“I focus on left field and if they come in, I kind of just trust my hands to get to that pitch,” Turner said.
As Smith continued to roll through the LSU lineup on the other end, graduate senior Chris Lanzilli put up the Hogs’ fourth and final run in the bottom of the fifth with a solo home run launched over the left-center field wall.
Those four runs proved to be more than enough, as the tag team of graduate senior Zebulon Vermillion and Taylor threw two scoreless innings to polish off the Tigers.
With the series victory already secured, Arkansas widened its lead in the Southeastern Conference Western Division to three games by sweeping the Tigers away in the finale.
Sophomore Jaxon Wiggins overcame 12 baserunners allowed over 5 ⅓ innings, limiting the Tigers to two runs while striking out a career-high nine batters in his fifth victory of the season.
Early in the outing, Wiggins found himself stuck in a couple jams. He was mostly unfazed by runners on base, though, and became more effective as innings rolled on.
“I always think Jaxon gets better as the game goes on,” Moore said. “He lands more breaking balls and changeups for strikes, and when he does that, here comes 98, so it’s kind of hard to hit. Sometimes it takes him a little time to get in rhythm, but when he does it’s pretty good.”
It took four innings, but the Hogs chased Samuel Dutton from the mound in the fifth and jumped on Grant Taylor, scoring four runs with the help of a fielding error by the pitcher.
A two-run blast from senior Brady Slavens in the seventh added insurance to another impressive win for the Hogs.
The ample run support gave junior Zack Morris and Tygart more wiggle room, and they tossed nearly four scoreless innings in relief of Wiggins to put the Tigers away.
Arkansas bucked its historical trend of losing to its divisional opponent, bringing its overall rivalry record to 39-75. Moore thought the series provided the team some reassurance following its defeat in Gainesville, Florida, and he is looking forward to the conference tournament in May, he said.
“It’s easy to say you’re confident after sweeping LSU, but we’re pretty confident,” Moore said. “I think we’re going to go into the tournament and shake a lot of heads too with the team that’s at the top of the (SEC) East.”
The Hogs have a chance to extend their five-game winning streak as they shift their focus to Arkansas State in a midweek series starting 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. The game can be streamed on SEC Network+.