Nate Allen Sports
FAYETTEVILLE – Four Arkansas arms and left fielder Christian Franklin’s bat and glove edged the Missouri Tigers and Mizzou ace lefty TJ Sikkema, 4-3 Saturday afternoon setting Arkansas up for trying to complete a 3-game sweep at 1:30 pm. of the season-opening SEC series at Baum-Walker Stadium.
Coach Dave Van Horn’s nationally No. 10 Razorbacks, 16-2, 2-0 in the SEC West, won 2-0 Friday night with Isaiah Campbell throwing a 2-hit shutout through seven innings followed by Jacob Kostyshock’s scoreless eighth and Preseason All-American closer Matt Cronin’s save striking out the side in Friday’s ninth.
Coach Steve Bieser’s Tigers, 11-7, 0-2 in the SEC, went down 1-2-3 in Saturday’s ninth to Cronin. The junior Preseason All-American lefty netted his sixth save Saturday following starter Connor Noland, Kole Ramage, 4-0 winning in middle relief replacing Noland to record the last out of the fifth inning, and Kevin Kopps who relieved Ramage during Mizzou’s 2-run eighth.
Freshman Franklin, battling the left field line fence and an overeager young fan with a glove of his own, recorded the game’s final out reaching to grab Peter Zimmerman’s foul fly ball.
“It (the fan’s glove) was right in front of my face,” Franklin said. “And as it was coming down that fan was reaching over with his glove and luckily it went a little bit over his glove and I was able to make that catch so that was good. Thinking about the wall, the fans, but I just tried to stay focused on the ball and watching it into my glove.”
Zimmerman had doubled and scored in Saturday’s fifth and posted a Saturday pregame batting practice to make Van Horn wince then be relieved there would be no foul ball reprieve.
“What a great catch,” Van Horn said. “That was a big strong kid at the plate and he was launching balls. Anything can happen on a day like this when the wind is blowing out and the air is thin.”
As a hitter against Sikkema and the lefty’s 0.46 pregame earned run average, Franklin knocked in three of Arkansas’ four Saturday runs with a second-inning sacrifice fly in the second and a 2-run single to center in the fourth which then had Arkansas up 4-0.
“We had a couple of chances to bust it open and we didn’t do it,” Van Horn said. “But Franklin came up with the big two-out hit he smoked through the middle. The base-hit was huge.”
Especially against the likes of Sikkema, now 2-1 and going the distance with a 6-hitter and 10 strikeouts against two walks.
“ He’s a good pitcher,” Van Horn said. “I feel fortunate to beat him. But I thought our pitchers did a great job.”
Freshman right-hander Noland of Greenwood struggled at the outset but got bailed out by a Mizzou base-running mistake. On a leadoff walk, bunt single, and muffed potential doubleplay become all-hands safe because shortstop Casey Martin dropped second baseman Jack Kenley’s throw at second, the Tigers loaded the bases in the first with none out. Noland struck out cleanup hitter Chris Cornelius then Mizzou cost itself a critical run. What would have been a run-scoring forceout at second because baserunner Kameron Misner too late started his slide more towards shortstop Martin than second base.
“He (Noland) actually got us two double play balls that inning,” Van Horn said. “We should’ve turned the first and we didn’t. The second, we probably should have turned but we were just fortunate their runner went way out of the line going after our shortstop. The rule states you have to slide straight into the bag. “
Van Horn noted Missouri did not argue the ruling.
“Well, my first thought is just really proud of Connor Noland for getting through that first inning,” Van Horn said. “He came out and can’t get the ball down. Maybe a little too amped up, opening up, bur he got it together.”
A throwing error by Mizzou shortstop Cornelius scoring Martin, leadoff single, staked Arkansas to a 1-0 lead in the first before Franklin’s three RBI.
Noland allowed just a second-inning single until Zimmerman’s 1-out double in the fifth. The freshman, still 0-0, needed just one more out for what would have been his first college win when Van Horn pulled him for Ramage after Josh Holt singled Zimmerman home.
“It’s always tough to pull a guy, especially when they need one more out when we have the lead to possibly get a win,” Van Horn said. “But we had such a fresh bullpen, and I think Connor would tell you it’s not about him, it’s about the team. His wins are coming. That is what Noland had to say postgame though he got a good-natured tease to Ramage, seated next to him, and for the second time winning on Noland’s behalf.
“I’m not too concerned about the wins and lost column,” Noland said, grinning as Ramage chuckled. “We’ll let Kole handle that. Excited to get a win out of that.”
Ramage retired Luke Mann ending the fifth and pitched a perfect sixth and seventh before Clayton Peterson singled leading off the eighth. Holt flied to center but Mann doubled home Peterson followed by Misner flying deep to left. On came Kopps. Cornelius greeted him with a RBI single but Kopps got his next man.