By Nate Allen
FAYETTEVILLE – Friday night’s opener to a SEC series projected pitching duel between aces Isaiah Campbell of Arkansas and Garrett Crochet of Tennessee became a 28-hits, 5-errors 11-9 sloppy slugfest.
Hogs love slop, they say, and the Razorbacks proved it bringing home the 11-9 bacon before 9,766 at Baum Stadium.
Freshman third baseman Jacob Nesbit, six RBI going 3 for 3 with a 2-run home run, 2-run double, sacrifice fly, single, walk and stolen base, and Bryant native first baseman Trevor Ezell, 3 for 5 with a tie-breaking home run paced the Arkansas attack.
Relievers Jacob Kostyshock, a 1-2-3 eighth, and closer Matt Cronin, helped by left fielder Christian Franklin’s spectacular catch, closed a 1-2-3 ninth saving the victory for Kevin Kopps, the first reliever used with Campbell and Crochet both chased in the fifth inning.
Friday’s triumph boosts Coach Dave Van Horn’s nationally No. 7 Razorbacks to 32-11 overall, and a best in the SEC West 13-6.
The Vols, coached by former Arkansas assistant coach Tony Vitello, fall to 31-12, 9-10 in the SEC East with the 3-game series continuing at 6:30 tonight and 4 p.m. Sunday at Baum-Walker.
Both teams scored a run in the first.
Campbell threw but 16 first-inning pitches facing four hitters. But the third one, Andre Lipcius, clouted a solo home run over left-center.
Crochet, consistently hitting 97 on the radar gun but inconsistently hitting the strike zone, spent 27 pitches closing the first that Arkansas tied 1-1. Switch-hitting lead off man Ezell of Bryant, batting right-handed against lefty Crochet, stroked an opposite field single to right. Casey Martin walked on four pitches.
Matt Goodheart look at two straight balls and hit a game-tying RBI single through short on a 3-1 count.
Two strikeouts sandwiching a runners to second and third infield out allowed Crochet to avoid further damage but he had to spend nine pitches striking out Jack Kenley for that last out.
Campbell appeared battling home plate umpire Matthew Wilbanks and the Vols in Tennessee’s 3-run third all scoring on Evan Russell’s 2-out bases loaded single compounded by left fielder Christian Franklin’s two errors. Russell’s single through short scored two. Franklin fumbling in left allowed Alerick Soularie going from first to third. Then Franklin’s belated, errant throw kept Soularie going to score and Russell to third before Campbell struck out Pete Derkay on his 55th pitch.
Crochet appeared to battle Wilbanks and the Razorbacks in the Arkansas’ 3-run third. Martin led off beating out an infield single, advanced on Goodheart’s groundout and scored on Dominic Fletcher’s single to right. Tennessee coaches and Wilbanks got testy as Heston Kjerstad and Jack Kenley walked before Jacob Nesbit hit a full-count sacrifice fly scoring Fletcher ad advancing Kjerstad to third. Casey Opitz singled home the tying 4-4 run to right but Kenley, rounding second too far, got thrown out 9-6 by right fielder Justin Ammons.
The inning-ending base-running gaffe proved costly given Franklin singled leading off the fourth but was erased on a doubleplay.
Crochet finished the fourth on his 89th pitch whiffing Goodheart.
The worst, the best, and a fluke of Arkansas defense all unfolded before Campbell’s eyes in a fifth ending his shortest SEC start of this season. Shortstop Martin bobbled Ammons 1-out grounder for the error unlocking three Tennessee unearned runs. After Lupcius walked, Soularie smashed one to right center. Racing from dead center, Fletcher somehow stretched for a specular highlight film catch. However when Russell blooped one hanging in short center, Fletcher lost it in the lights. It netted Russell a 2-run double and for him to score on Derkay’s single finishing Campbell in favor of Kevin Kopps.
Vols second baseman Jake Rucker muffed Kenley’s potential inning-ending doubleplay grounder for all-hands safe first and third in the fifth. Nesbit’s 3-run home run tied it 7-7.
Upon Crochet throwing his 107th pitch, Vols reliever Andrew Schultz retired the last Hog in the fifth like Kopps had for Campbell.
Kopps survived Rucker’s leadoff double and sac bunted to third in the sixth. Catcher Casey Opitz throwing out SEC leading base stealer Jay Charleston trying to swipe second while Rucker held third before Ammons struck out.
Ezell snapped the 7-7 tie homering leading off the 4-run Arkansas sixth. Singling with one out, Goodheart injured his shoulder diving back into the bag on a pickoff. Gamely Goodheart stayed in the game and with a spectacular slide around catcher Landon Gray, scored from second on Kenley’s single to left. On the throw home as Gray protested the call, Kenley took second while Kjerstad, running from first after he was walked, took third. Nesbit doubled them home.
Nesbit’s 2-run double kept Arkansas ahead instead of tied after Tennessee batted in the seventh. Soularie’s double and Derkay’s 2-out RBI single banished Kopps for reliever Jacob Kostyshock. Kostyshock was struck for Ricky Martinez’s single and Rucker’s RBI double before striking out pinch-hitter Connor Pavolony stranding Vols at second and third.
Kostyshock whiffed two pitching a 1-2-3 eighth. Cronin whiffed two including the last one in the ninth.
Friday night linescore:
Tennessee… 103 030 200 – 9 12 2
Arkansas……103 034 00x – 11 16 3
Crochet, Schultz (5), Heflin (6), Wallace (7), Hunley (7) and Gray, Pavolony (7); Campbell, Kopps (5), Kostyshock (7), Cronin (9) and Opitz.
W-Kopps (4-3). L-Schultz (2-1).
HR-Tennessee: Lipcius (11). HR-Arkansas: Nesbit (3). Ezell (6).