The home crowd at Baum-Walker Stadium roared as Alabama pinch hitter Will Patota swung through a changeup from Arkansas freshman righty Jaxon Wiggins, who put a bow on the Razorbacks’ 3-1 victory Sunday afternoon. The win claimed the series for the Hogs, and moved them above .500 in the Southeastern Conference.
Arkansas put on another pitching clinic in the series finale, with just four hits, three walks and one earned run allowed. Wiggins and seniors Lael Lockhart and Kevin Kopps littered the Alabama scorecard with strikeouts, fanning 13 hitters and catching two more looking at strike three.
“What a great job by our pitching staff the last two days,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said in a postgame press conference. After a 16-1 fiasco Friday night, Razorback pitchers surrendered just two runs and six hits in the final 18 innings of the three-game set.
Lockhart and Alabama’s Antoine Jean engaged in a pitchers’ duel early Sunday, giving up just one hit each in the first few innings. Lockhart worked around a leadoff walk in the top of the fourth, before junior first baseman Brady Slavens hit a solo bomb over the right field fence with two out to put Arkansas in front.
With two out in the road half of the fifth, Lockhart allowed a single which moved a runner to third base. Van Horn pulled him, despite his nine strikeouts and active shutout bid. The next Crimson Tide batter, switch-hitting Zane Denton, matched up better against left-handed pitchers, prompting the substitution for the right-handed Kopps, Van Horn said.
“Zane Denton is a really, really good hitter, but he’s really good from the right side,” Van Horn said. “We just felt like, in that situation, we needed to turn him back around.”
Kopps sat Denton down on five pitches to preserve the advantage. He proceeded to rack up three more innings, in which he retired nine of 10 hitters.
The Hogs made some noise in the sixth inning, when junior center fielder Christian Franklin drew a leadoff walk. Freshman right fielder Cayden Wallace moved him up with an infield single, and both runners moved into scoring position after a productive out by Slavens. With two outs and the bases loaded, senior catcher Casey Opitz singled past the diving shortstop to score two and pad the Razorback lead.
“(Tide pitcher Landon Green) threw me a backdoor curveball and I was able to get the barrel to it,” said Opitz, who earned SEC Co-Player of the Week honors after his five-hit, four-RBI weekend.
Van Horn gave Wiggins the nod in the ninth inning for his first SEC save opportunity. Wiggins, who had an unblemished ERA entering the game, allowed his first run of the season on an 11-pitch at-bat that culminated with a rocket into the Hog Pen.
After forcing a pop-up to get the first out, Wiggins issued an eight-pitch walk to get the tying run into the batter’s box. With the pressure on, he struck out the next two hitters to end the ballgame.
“Wiggins came out, and it was awesome to see him face a little adversity, that’s what he needs,” Opitz said. “That’s not so easy in the SEC, and he bounced back phenomenally after that home run and showed a lot of maturity.”
After a three-game losing streak last week, the Diamond Hogs dropped to No. 2 in D1Baseball’s Top 25 on Monday, and they sit second in the SEC West after the first weekend. They will welcome the Memphis Tigers for a two-game set beginning Tuesday at 6:30 p.m., and wrapping up with a 3 p.m. start Wednesday. Both games will be streamed on the SEC Network+.