Nate Allen Sports
FAYETTEVILLE – The Arkansas Razorbacks couldn’t score many against Missouri but they scored enough to sweep the Tigers, 2-0, 4-3 and 3-2 Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the weekend’s first SEC series for both teams at Baum-Walker Stadium.
Casey Opitz’s ninth-inning single Sunday to right scoring pinch runner Curtis Washington of West Memphis with the game-winner sealed the sweep upping Coach Dave Van Horn’s 10th-ranked Razorbacks to 16-2 overall, 3-0 in the SEC West heading into a 2-game nonconference series with the Texas Longhorns Tuesday and Wednesday in Austin, Texas then on to Tuscaloosa, Ala. Friday through Sunday for a 3-game SEC West series with the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Mizzou falls to 11-8, 0-3 in the SEC East.
Arkansas led Sunday’s finale 2-0 on Jack Kenley’s home run and a Mizzou throwing error in a 2-run sixth until Mizzou’s Paul Zimmerman’s 1-out, 2-run home run tied it 2-2 in the ninth off reliever Jacob Kostyshock failing to save it for middle reliever Kevin Kopps but eventually winning it himself.
Arkansas starter Cody Scroggins threw shutout ball for five innings before replaced by Kopps starting the sixth of a then scoreless game.
Against Mizzou closer Cameron Dulle, who had relieved starter Tyler LaPlante starting the seventh, Heston Kjerstad singled opening Sunday’s ninth. Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn inserted pinch-runner Curtis Washington for Kjerstad, a key move it turned out. The quicker Washington was able to scramble back by an eyelash when Trevor Ezell’s bunt was caught in the air by Mizzou catcher Chad McDaniel throwing quickly to first. McDaniel’s glove then touched Dominic Fletcher’s swing for an automatic and crucial catcher’s interference putting runners at first and second. Switch-hitting catcher Optiz, on base four times the three games via three walks and a hit by pitch, but hitless for the series, literally saved his lone hit for last.
“It was so nice, much better than walking,” opined Opitz who was asked to describe his game-winning at bat. “Curveball, strike. Curveball, strike two. Curveball ball one. Curveball, base-hit, walk-off single.”
Ball one nearly looked like Strike Three a reporter remarked.
“ I’m glad I didn’t swing at it looking back on it,” Opitz said. “It was scary. At that point, any ball that was in the zone I was going to swing at it and hopefully get a hit.”
No Razorback got a hit through senior lefty LaPlante’s perfect five innings facing the minimum 15 hitters until Kenley led off the sixth parking his fourth home run of the season over the right field fence.
“LaPlante didn’t give us much,” Van Horn said. “It looked he might throw a complete game he was so efficient getting us out until Kenley got hold of a fast ball.”
Arkansas scored its next run in spite of itself. Jacob Nesbit singled overt the second baseman’s head immediately after the home run.
He was wild-pitched to second but with two outs seemed likely to be stranded. Preseason All-American Kjerstad, hitless for the series until his last two at bats, was fooled dribbling one to left side of no-man’s land between pitcher Dulle and catcher Chad McDaniel’s fielding domain. McDaniel retrieved it but threw barely too late to first baseman first baseman Tony Ortiz. Nesbit breaking with two outs, appeared ripe to score, but stopped between third and home. He scored only because neither Dulle nor McDaniel was in position to cover Ortiz’s errant throw home following the bang-bang play with Kjerstad.
“ I had a little brain fart for sure,” Nesbit said. “I was a little confused. I wasn’t quite sure if (Kjerstad was safe or out). And then all of a sudden the play was still on and I just ran. We were fortunate to get that run in.”
They sure were, Van Horn said, shuddering postgame at the gaffe but calling the run “huge.”
It really became huge when Zimmerman, “the awfully, awfully strong” Van Horn said, 7-hole hitter whose game-ending foul fly out Saturday was caught by Arkansas left fielder Christian Franklin over the glove of a young fan in the stands, smashed his 400-foot 2-run home run over the yellow line in dead center.
Scroggins of Bentonville hit the game’s first batter with the first pitch then struck out the next five while that initial batter was erased trying to steal.
Kenley made a big play in the fourth knocking down a single so it merely loaded the bases instead of scoring a run. Scroggins pitched out of the jam retiring Mark Vierling on a popup and Zimmerman on a foul fly to first.
Scroggins for his five innings allowed three hits and walked two with a hit batter against seven strikeouts.
“Scroggins saved the game in the fourth,” Van Horn said. “He was really good His stuff was electric but his pitch count got up.”
Kostyshock, in to close Sunday because Preseason All-American closer Matt Cronin was spent from saving the 2-0 and 4-3 games Friday night and Saturday afternoon, likely tired in Sunday’s ninth, Van Horn, coming in earlier than Van Horn would have liked to strike out Luke Mann after Kopps in the seventh yielded a 2-out single and walk.
Kostyshock had pitched Friday’s eighth after winning starter Isaiah Campbell threw a 2-hitter and struck out 11 against one walk in seven innings.
On Saturday, Arkansas freshman starter Connor Noland of Greenwood was one out shy of his first victory when he ran into enough trouble for Van Horn to relieve with Kole Ramage and Arkansas up 4-1 in the fifth. Ramage logged Saturday’s win on Cronin’s sixth save.
Freshman left fielder Franklin, a sacrifice fly and 2-run single for three Saturday RBI, won Saturday with bat and closed Saturday with his glove.
Nate Allen Sports