By Nate Allen Sports
MISSISSIPPI STATE (Thursday night) Call the Arkansas Razorbacks’ 5-3 SEC West victory over the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Baum-Walker Stadium a Small success with a Capital S.
Bulldogs ace Ethan Small with his heretofore 4-0 record and 1.83 earned run average baffled Arkansas for five full innings. With a solitary single in the fifth for a base runner, only 16 Razorbacks batted the first five innings. Eight times they struck out.
But with Casey Opitz’s leadoff walk, Christian Franklin’s 2-strike single to center and Trevor Ezell’s first-pitch sacrifice bunt setting the table, Casey Martin’s 2-run double over the center fielder’s head and Matt Goodheart’s RBI single Razorbacks solved the southpaw for a 3-run sixth en route to starter Isaiah Campbell’s well deserved seventh victory off his lone loss he didn’t deserve in a 3-2 SEC defeat at Vanderbilt last week.
Beating Small was big, Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn acknowledged Thursday.
“We knew what we were up against,” Van Horn said. “We were up against a quality pitcher that doesn’t really give you a whole lot. We talked about when we get a chance to get him we’ve got to get him because it might be one shot. We got a leadoff man on, then Franklin got the big two-strike hit and we were kind of off and running there. “
The nationally 10th-ranked Razorbacks’ Thursday night success before 4,077 at Baum-Walker over nationally No. 2 Mississippi State ties Arkansas with the Bulldogs for best in the West, at 10-6 going into Friday night’s 6:30 game. The 3-game series concludes at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Overall, Van Horn’s Razorbacks stand 28-10 while Coach Chris Lemonis’ Bulldogs are 32-7 overall.
Other than a leadoff wind-aided home run over right by Rowdey Jordan staking the Bulldogs to a 1-0 lead in the fifth, Campbell pitched brilliantly into the eighth inning. For his 7 2-3 inning Thursday Campbell held the Bulldogs, hitting . 327 as a team, to five hits while striking out 10 and walking none throwing 105 efficient pitches.
“I thought he (Campbell) was outstanding, “ Van Horn said. “No walks, 10 strikeouts, I mean, what more could you want? And limited one of the best hitting teams, if not the best hitting team in the league to five hits. That’s a great outing. “
Campbell also helped himself with a pickoff, erasing Mississippi State .398 hitting Jake Mangum after a game -opening single before No. 3 hole hitter Tanner Allen’s by then 2-out single would proved harmless.
Dustin Skelton doubled leading off the Bulldogs eighth. Campbell’s wild pitch advanced Skelton enabling him to score on Josh Hatcher’s grounder to short. Campbell also retired pinch-hitter Brad Cumbest on a groundout before Van Horn summoned southpaw Matt Cronin.
The All-American closer was not at his sharpest. He hit Jake Mangum with a pitch and walked Jordan Westburg before striking out Tanner Allen.
Only up 3-2, it behooved them to score in their eighth off reliever Riley Self, Van Horn said he exhorted his Hogs.
Dominic Fletcher, 3 for 4, obliged. With Bryant native Ezell aboard with a leadoff walk, Fletcher also got one helped by the gone to right wind for a 2-run home run and 5-2 lead.
A key clout, that. Elijah MacNamee crashed a no-doubt home run leading off the MSU ninth that would have tied it without the Fletcher 2-run home run before Cronin recorded two strikeouts and a game-ending pop to short for his eighth save.
“He tried to get us scared in the dugout,” Campbell said, smiling postgame. “Matt’s gonna do that but he’s tough and he’s going to get out of the game.”
Small threw smoke early, Martin and Fletcher said, then changed speeds well.
However Small again tried to pull a fast one on Martin’s 2-run double during Small’s 32-pitch sixth inning after totaling just 59 pitches the first five.
“We hadn’t been on time with his fast ball,” Martin said. “ So I was sitting fast ball. I just told myself just be on time and try to stay through the middle. He left it out and left it up and it worked right into my approach.”
It was a big hit in Arkansas’ “Small success.”
UA PINE BLUFF (Tuesday night) Officially the Arkansas Razorbacks now stand 1-1 against instate collegiate baseball teams.
Embarrassed, 17-7 by the University of Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans on April 2 at Baum-Walker Stadium, Coach Dave Van Horn’s Razorbacks led the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions, 12-1 after just three innings and prevailed, 16-4 on 16 hits including three home runs Tuesday night on a pregame agreed 7-innings 10-run rule before 3,097 at Baum-Walker Stadium.
Salvaging Sunday’s SEC game at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn. after losing Friday and Saturday, Tuesday’s nonconference triumph over UAPB of the SWAC (Southwestern Athletic Conference) boosts the nationally No. 10 (Coaches Poll) Razorbacks to 27-10 overall.
Tuesday night Arkansas center fielder Dominic Fletcher, a 3-run home run among his four RBI, shortstop Casey Martin, 3-run home run, single and double and four RBI, third baseman Jack Kenley, a home run, triple and three RBI, and Bryant native Trevor Ezell, a triple and two singles, led the Arkansas assault on UAPB.
The Razorbacks picked up Tuesday night in Fayetteville where they left off Sunday in Nashville.
They scored five in Sunday’s SEC ninth in Nashville to overcome Vanderbilt, 14-12 and they scored five in Tuesday’s first on UAPB.
Ezell tripled to right leading off. Martin singled Ezell home, Matt Goodheart walked. Fletcher dumped an all-hands safe sacrifice bunt thrown away by catcher Ricardo Sanchez. Martin scored from second on the throwing error. Heston Kjerstad doubled one home and Fletcher to third. Kenley’s infield out scored Fletcher. Jordan McFarland singled home Kjerstad before losing lefty starter Carlos Benoit retired No. 8 and No. 9 hitters Zack Plunkett and Curtis Washington ending Arkansas’ bat-around first.
“Obviously we got off to a really good start,” Van Horn said. “We came in and had a leadoff triple and it just kept continuing right there. Our offense did a great job of sticking to the plan. We knew the velocity wouldn’t be what we had been seeing. We had been seeing 92 to 97 all weekend at Vanderbilt and this was going to be a lot different. So we just really talked about staying through the middle and taking it the other way.”
Ezell singled leading off Arkansas’ 3-run second that chased Benoit for slow-balling right-hander Race Tittle to strike out the inning’s last batter. Fletcher (single) Kjerstad, (infield out) and Kenley (triple) drove home the second-inning scores.
Connor Noland, heretofore a SEC weekend starter chased without a retiring batter during Vanderbilt’s 7-run first of last Saturday’s 12-2 slaughter of Hogs, started against UAPB. The freshman right-hander from Greenwood threw 23 pitches for two shutout innings allowing two hits and striking out two without a walk. Noland, 1-2, was awarded the victory at the official scorer’s discretion as next reliever Elijah Trest yielded two runs in two innings.
“I thought Connor Noland came out in the first inning and got three outs on like seven or eight pitches,” Van Horn said. “We just want to get him out there and kind of get him untracked. I thought he was good. He’ll be available for the weekend by Saturday out of the pen.”
Arkansas trounced Tittle for four in the third. Goodheart’s RBI single preceded Fletcher’s 3-run home run over right.
Kenley solo homered, and Martin 3-run homered in the 4-run fifth.
Arkansas reliever Collin Taylor pitched a scoreless fifth, but reliever Carter Sells was charged with two UAPB runs in the sixth before reliever Marshall Denton finished the inning.
Liam Henry pitched the UAPB seventh extricating himself from a bases-loaded jam.
For the game, the Golden Lions mustered nine hits and drew eight walks.
UAPB Coach Carlos James said he appreciated Van Horn’s desire to change the Razorbacks’ policy of not playing against in-state schools.
“Arkansas is not looked at as the villain,” James said. “Everybody used to go, ‘They don’t want to play anybody in-state. There is now a mutual respect. They are No. 10 in the country and top five RPI so we actually got out of it pretty good. They were just much better than we we were. Sometimes that is both the simple answer and the correct one. There is no other answer I can really give.”
By Nate Allen Sports