By Otis Kirk
Special to the Nate Allen Sports Service
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas rallied for two runs in the bottom of the seventh to take a 7-5 win over Gonzaga at Baum-Walker Stadium on Thursday in front of 1,650 fans on a cold, windy day.
The game went back and fourth with Arkansas getting a 2-0 lead and then 5-2 lead only to have Gonzaga tie it back up. The Hogs got the separation in the bottom of the seventh with Christian Franklin hustling out a fielder’s choice that allowed Heston Kjerstand to score from third. Franklin was up with the bases loaded and one out when he hit the ball to second. Gonzaga narrowly missed turning a double play. The umpire called Franklin safe and then following a review the call stood. On the very next pitch with Jacob Nesbit at the plate, a wild pitch plated Matt Goodheart to finish the scoring.
“Well obviously the wind made it, not only that it was windy, but it was cold,” Van Horn said. “It made it a lot colder than what it was. It affected one ball that Braydon Webb almost gave up on and he caught it, probably a foot foul. Their center fielder lost a ball and then he found it, but then the wind pushed it by him. He ran past it and it cost them a couple of runs.”
On the play where Gonzaga center fielder Josh Bristyan misplayed Casey Opitz’s fly ball that resulted in a double. Casey Martin and Franklin scored on the play to give the Razorbacks a 5-2 lead in the bottom of the third. Kjerstad had scored earlier in the inning on a fielder’s choice by Nesbit.
“As far as hit, they out-hit us tonight,” Van Horn said. “But I felt like we hit a bunch of balls hard. Braydon Webb lined out three times, Goodheart a couple of times, and Heston and gosh Franklin. You could go on and on. We just couldn’t get that big hit to really get us over the hump. Felt fortunate to punch those two runs in in the seventh. And just kind of turned it over to a couple of older guys to give us one inning each. And we’re still experimenting a little bit and trying to figure it out. But Gonzaga is an older team. They’re going to fight you to the end. Just like they did against New Mexico in their last game, when they scored two or three runs (3) in the bottom of the ninth to win. They’re not going to roll over. They’ve got a good club.”
Opitz talked about the double that was aided by the wind.
“You have got to love that,” Opitz said. “That’s baseball, especially playing out here where you can get the crazy wind going wherever. Van Horn talked to us early and said ‘if the ball goes up, bust your butt and get to the next bag. The baseball gods were on my side today.”
Arkansas’ took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second when Robert Moore laced a shot down the left-field line with the bases loaded. The double allowed both Nesbit and Opitz to score.
“That was a real big swing there in the second inning,” Van Horn said. “That whole inning started with two outs, I think. A couple of two-out singles and maybe a walk and then Robert hit the first-pitch fastball down the line for a two-RBI double. I think it’s just helping him relax a little bit. He’s been swinging the bat pretty good. He hit another ball hard today that was caught deep in center field. He plays really good defense. I think he’s hanging in there. He’s doing good.”
Moore, who is a true freshman who came in at midterm, talked about what happened on the big hit.
“My mindset was batting in the nine-hole with Braydon (Webb) and all those guys coming up I thought they were gonna tag me early,” Moore said. “Looking for a pitch over the plate and I’m starting to figure out talking to Coach Thompson, picking out zones and to zone in on a pitch and not chase early. But especially keep your aggressiveness. I looked for a fastball in and I got one.”
The Arkansas bullpen pitched four shut out innings to close out the game. Caden Monke pitched two innings allowing one hit and striking out three. He picked up the win. Elijah Trest went one inning and retired all three batters he faced. Zebulon Vermillion pitched the ninth allowing two hits, but getting out of the inning to earn the save.
“I thought Monke did a really nice job,” Van Horn said. “He came in and threw the first couple of pitches for a strike, got ahead of the guy and got a couple of quick outs. Runner got on and he battled, got them out, got us in the dugout and we let him go back out. Last week when he went back out for his second it didn’t go as good, but today it went good. And that’s good to see. You know he gave us what we needed right there, a couple of shutdown innings and we could maybe get the lead, and that’s exactly what happened.
“And then Trest, I mean he came in and just pounded the strike zone. He didn’t get any strikeout, I don’t think, but he got outs. And it didn’t take very long. That’s what we want. Especially on a cold day, you don’t want to give them anything. It was good all the way down the stretch, the last three guys.”
Monke was asked about pitching on the very cold and windy day.
“I’m from Illinois so I’m kinda used to the cold as it is right now,” Monke said. “It really wasn’t too bad.”
What pitches were working for you today?
“Fastball and slider,” Monke said. “The two pitches that were working today.”
Arkansas (4-0) finished the game with eight hits while Gonzaga (2-3) had 11. Jacob Rutherford took the loss for Gonzaga. He was the third of four pitchers they used. Neither starter, Arkansas’ Kole Ramage or Gonzaga’s Keaton Knueppel figured in the decision. Ramage gave up two runs on four hits while Kevin Kopps allowed three runs on four hits.
“They both had good stuff,” Van Horn said of Ramage and Kopps. “They just didn’t have really good command. You can blame it a little bit on the weather, but they were both a little bit wild, pitching behind in the count. Kole, a couple of times 3-0 counts. Just too many pitches, really, more than anything.
“Kevin almost the same thing when you look at it. He’d throw one really good fastball and then he’s leave one up in the zone, and it’d be way up. He was throwing a cutter for a strike and they kind of started sitting on it. That was really what he could command. The good thing is with Kevin, we could bring him back later this weekend if we need to.”
Arkansas and Gonzaga will battle today in Game 2 of the series at 3 p.m. Connor Noland will start for Arkansas while lefty Mac Lardner will go for the Zags.