The top-ranked Arkansas baseball team brought the lumber to the yard over the weekend in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, racking up 28 runs on 32 hits to emerge victorious from yet another Southeastern Conference series. The Hogs disposed of the LSU Tigers 7-0 Friday night, before hanging 17 runs on them to clinch the series Saturday afternoon.
The Razorbacks, who have slotted in at No. 1 in every set of rankings for four consecutive weeks, are the only SEC squad with an unblemished record in series this season. Their 15-6 record is good for the outright lead in the conference, one game better than No. 2 Vanderbilt, No. 4 Mississippi State and No. 5 Tennessee.
Even in such a display of dominance against LSU last weekend, the Hogs took a while to produce even a smidge of offense. Right-hander Landon Marceaux tossed six no-hit innings for the Tigers to begin Friday’s contest, trading scoreless frame after scoreless frame with Arkansas junior lefty Patrick Wicklander.
The Razorbacks finally solved Marceaux in the seventh inning, when senior designated hitter Matt Goodheart became the first leadoff batter to reach base, busting up the no-no with a single to center field. Junior first baseman Brady Slavens followed suit, moving Goodheart to third base and advancing to second to set up a struggling Christian Franklin with one out.
“(Marceaux) was in the (strike) zone the majority of the game,” the junior center fielder said in Friday’s press conference. “I knew that he was going to be in the zone.”
Franklin lined a hanging curveball into center field and both runners darted home for a 2-0 Razorback lead. In the bottom half of the inning, he gunned down LSU left fielder Gavin Dugas at third base for the second out, Wicklander’s last before giving way to righty Kevin Kopps. The sixth-year senior struck out his eighth consecutive hitter to preserve the advantage.
Slavens doubled the lead with a two-out single, setting up Franklin with another RBI chance. After working the count to 3-1, Franklin launched a missile to left, admiring his work as it sailed over the fence to make it a 7-0 ballgame.
Kopps finished off the Tigers in perfect fashion, fanning four of the last six batters to seal a three-hit shutout in tandem with Wicklander.
“Wicklander was outstanding. Very efficient, (he) just attacked them,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said Friday. “Great job getting us to Kevin Kopps there, and obviously Kevin shut the door.”
Arkansas wasted no time jumping on the Bayou Bengals in the middle game, posting a five-spot in the first inning. Franklin and sophomore second baseman Robert Moore each collected two-run hits, and Moore scored on a double by senior third baseman Cullen Smith.
Sophomore right-hander Peyton Pallette surrendered a pair of runs in the next couple innings, but the Razorbacks put on another marathon inning in the fifth, striking seven times for a 12-2 lead.
After four more runs, Van Horn decided to take a chance on junior righty Connor Noland, a critical piece of the 2019 College World Series team who had not pitched in two months because of injury. The return to the mound did not go well, as LSU hung six runs on him before he could record three outs.
”You’ve got to be able to locate a fastball, which he didn’t do today, unfortunately,” Van Horn said during Saturday’s press conference. “He just had trouble commanding the ball.”
Noland’s inability to locate his fastball did not cost Arkansas at all, as all nine batters recorded at least one hit, one run and one RBI each, good for 17 runs and another seven-run victory.
With inclement weather in the forecast for Sunday, the two clubs played again Saturday night to finish off the series. LSU struck first, shelling senior lefty Lael Lockhart, who Van Horn hooked after recording only one out.
Trailing 3-0 early, the Hogs found little offensive success against Tiger pitchers Ma’Khail Hilliard and Garrett Edwards. The duo hurled eight innings and allowed a mere three hits, while the lone Arkansas run came in to score on a Franklin sacrifice fly, his 10th RBI of the weekend. Franklin totaled six hits and five runs during the series to earn SEC Player of the Week honors.
It was not until the ninth inning, when LSU led 5-1, until the Razorbacks threatened to go ahead. The leadoff batter, freshman right fielder Cayden Wallace, singled off Devin Fontenot, the Tiger closer, marking the first leadoff man to reach base all game. After a Slavens walk and a Franklin single, Moore came to the plate as the tying run with nobody out.
A sac fly and a frozen rope to third base later, the game fell onto junior shortstop Jalen Battles’ shoulders. He extended it with a two-run single, bringing the go-ahead run to the plate in the form of sophomore left fielder Zack Gregory. Ahead 1-2 in the count, Fontenot missed away with a breaking ball, but home plate umpire David Savage bailed him out with a generous third strike call to end it.
“It was a really good weekend winning two out of three on the road down here,” Van Horn said. “(It was) just disappointing that we didn’t have a chance to see that last inning through.”
The Diamond Hogs will return to Baum-Walker Stadium for their first home game in three weeks Friday, May 7, when the Georgia Bulldogs come to town. Georgia dropped two of three over the weekend at home against the Auburn Tigers, who the Razorbacks disposed of last month.