Nate Allen Sports
FAYETTEVILLE – After totaling 27 runs and 32 hits in Saturday’s lopsided 15-7 and 12-3 doubleheader sweep, the nationally No. 12 reigning national runner-up Arkansas Razorbacks needed a shortstop caught sacrifice fly, three sacrifice bunts and finally Heston Kjerstad’s ninth-inning RBI single to escape the Eastern Illinois Panthers, 3-2 Sunday at Baum-Walker Stadium.
Sunday’s success before 2,382 again braving temperatures in the 30s las they did Saturday completed the SEC Razorbacks’ 3-game sweep of EIU of the Ohio Valley Conference in the college baseball season-opening series for both teams.
Freshman reserve Curtis Washington of West Memphis, first inserted as a pinch-bunter, played a pivotal role, first working a walk when summoned to hit for designated hitter Jordan McFarland leading to an Arkansas run for a 2-0 lead in the seventh which EIU tied 2-2 in the eighth, and then scoring the game-winner having singled leading off the ninth, and advancing on Jacob Nesbit’s second successful sacrifice bunt to be in place for Kjerstad to single him home.
Arkansas starter Jacob Kostyshock, a 3-hit shutout for five complete innings, and freshman first-used reliever Patrick Wicklander, four strikeouts and one run through 2 1-3, pitched most effectively for the Razorbacks though junior Preseason All-American Matt Cronin logged the win as the pitcher of record when Washington crossed plate.
Thus Coach Dave Van Horn’s Razorbacks take a 3-0 record into a 3-game series with the Pac 12 power Southern California Trojans Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Los Angeles.
Both because of how well the Panthers competed Saturday despite the final scores and how obviously well his Hogs hit Saturday, Van Horn said he was not surprised Arkansas had to scratch and claw to succeed Sunday.
“Kind of what I expected to be honest with you,” Van Horn said. “Whenever you go out and score a bunch of runs it just seems like this is what you get in Game Three. First thing you aways tell the team no matter what just find a way to win,” Van Horn said. So that was good to see. Give them (EIU) credit. They fight.”
And his Hogs needed a good fight, Van Horn said.
“If we had another 15-2 game I don’t know how it would have affected us going to USC this weekend,” Van Horn said. “ They challenged us. To play a tight game, kind of let the lead slip away and then to come back and win it and kind of feel what we felt in the dugout, I think that’s good for our team.”
Arkansas opened Sunday’s game with a run-costing, base-running mistake. Casey Martin doubled to left and strangely tried to stretch it into a triple.
EIU shortstop Trey Sweeney’s relay from left fielder Keith Kerrigan easily nailed Martin.
Had he remained at second, Martin likely would have tagged up to third on Heston Kjerstad’s fly to center and waltzed home on Trevor Ezell’s single to right.
Van Horn said apparently Martin thought the throw in from left would be “air-mailed’ to second.
“I don’t know what he saw,” Van Horn said. “We would have had a leadoff double and instead we have nobody on and one out.”
Martin would atone for that with the sac bunt scoring Jack Kenley who had led off the seventh with a 4-pitch walk before Washington’s walk and Nesbit’s first sacrifice bunt.
Netting but six hits off five five EIU pitchers, the last one Blake Malatestinic, was charged with the loss, Arkansas scored one in the fourth when backpedaling EIU shortstop Sweeney fell down in short left after catching McFarland’s pop fly turned sacrifice fly as Kenley tagged up scoring from third.
Consecutive eighth-inning EIU doubles by Sweeney and Jimmy Govern, one against Wicklander, and one against reliever Zebulon Vermillion, and Hunter Morris’ RBI single off Cronin, tied it 2-2 in the eighth.
Washington singled on 0-2 leading off the ninth before the Nesbit sac bunt set up a potential doubleplay setting intentional walk to Preseason All-American Martin. Preseason All-American Kjerstad, striking out stranding Washington in the seventh, confounded the EIU ninth-inning strategy singling to center.
“ It was a bad at bat,” Kjerstad said of his seventh-inning whiff. “ I flushed it and I just went up there clear in the ninth with an easy approach of just trying to hit something hard up the middle to score C.J.”
In Saturday’s first game of the doubleheader, Isaiah Campbell threw four perfect innings then appeared to be affected by the long wait in the bottom of the fourth-inning cold while the Razorbacks were scoring eight runs.
Campbell got touched for three runs in the fifth but completed the inning to log the victory.
Freshman football quarterback Connor Noland of Greenwood debuted as a dual-sport baseball starting pitcher in Saturday’s game and went 4 2-3 exiting with a 4-2 lead.
Middle reliever Kole Ramage logged the victory throwing 2 1-3 innings starting with finishing the fifth on Noland’s behalf.
Arkansas whacked 18 hits in Saturday’s first game. Lonoke’s Martin and Bryant’s Trevor Ezell, Southeast Missouri State transfer Ezell debuted 4 for 8 for the doubleheader, each registered three Saturday first-game hits. Ezell, Kjerstad, a 407-footer clearing the right field bullpen, Kenley and freshman Christian Franklin, a 3-run shot, all homered during Saturday’s first game.
Arkansas logged 14 hits in Saturday’s second game with McFarland and Nesbit each knocking in three runs.