FAYETTEVILLE – The Arkansas Razorbacks’ baseball team discovered Thursday it’s tougher playing the now 2-2 Southeast Missouri State (SEMO) Redhawks of the Ohio Valley Conference at home than nationally ranked Big 12 powers Texas Tech, Texas and TCU on the road.
But scoring three runs in a wild ninth inning to tie it, then Jalen Battles bases-loaded infield single after teammate Cayden Wallace’s 14-pitch walk to win it, the Razorbacks prevailed, 6-5 in 10 innings in Thursday’s late afternoon home-opening start of a 4-game series at Baum-Walker Stadium scheduled to continue at 3 p.m. Friday, 3 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.
Advanced from No. 8 to No. 2 nationally by D-1 Baseball after sweeping the then No. 3 Texas Tech Red Raiders, No. 9 Texas Longhorns and No. 10 TCU Horned Frogs that included late-inning comebacks against Tech and TCU at last Saturday’s through Monday’s State Farm College Baseball Showdown at the Texas Rangers’ Global Life Field in Arlington, Texas, Coach Dave Van Horn’s now 4-0 Razorbacks played their first extra inning game Thursday after trailing 3-0 in the first and 5-2 starting the ninth after SEMO’s 2-run eighth.
Each team thought it won in the ninth.
First, Casey Opitz singled leading off Arkansas’ ninth. Wallace, the freshman right fielder from Greenbrier was robbed of a possible RBI double by SEMO third baseman Peyton Leeper backhanding Wallace’s smash to force Opitz at second.
“The third baseman made a tremendous play on it,” Van Horn said.
The Hogs would have won in the ninth had Opitz not been forced out.
Not hitting the ball nearly as hard as Wallace but more effectively it turned out, Zach Gregory and Battles blooped singles with Battles bloop to center scoring Wallace.
Judsonia’s Austin Williams, throwing what had been 2 1-3 scoreless innings of relief for SEMO until Battles’ RBI hit, was replaced by freshman lefty Kyle Miller.
Robert Moore greeted Miller with a high fly to deep right with runners at first and second tagging presuming the ball would be caught. It wasn’t, hitting near the top (according to SEMO Coach Andrew Sawyers’ hope and eventually the umpires ruling after replay) or at the top of the wall’s yellow stripe (Van Horn’s hope which would have been a game-ending 3-run home run.)
The runners advanced just a base on Moore’s long single.
Christian Franklin, who hit a third-inning solo home run off mostly superb SEMO lefty starter Dylan Dodd ( 10 strikeouts, three hits and two runs with Brady Slavens hitting a fourth-inning solo home run for six innings ) drew a run-scoring bases-loaded walk. Cullen Smith then lofted what Van Horn hoped would be game-tying sacrifice fly to left and what Sawyers appealed was a game-ending doubleplay deeming Battle left third too soon.
A review allowed the game-tying run.
“The tag by Battles, we knew it was really close,” Van Horn said. “We didn’t know which way it was going to go, honestly. We’re fortunate that they didn’t see that he left early.”
No, sweat, Battles said.
“I knew I was on the bag,” Battles said. “My foot was on the bag, but I already started moving forward, so that’s why it looked like it was close. But I was on the bag. I was really confident.”
Miller struck out Cullen Smith so on to the 10th.
Jaxon Wiggins, Arkansas’ sixth pitcher used Thursday, opened the 10th with the same 98 miles per hour fastball striking out the side his one inning against TCU. He struck out 2 of 3 returning the Redhawks in order logging the win.
Again a catalyst, Arkansas catcher Opitz doubled with one out in the 10th.
Wallace spent Miller fouling off 10 pitches in a 14-pitch at bat ending in Ball Four in the dirt.
“He just grinded it out,” Van Horn said. “Just a really tough at-bat in a really tough situation.”
Miller exited for lefty reliever Blake Cisneros. Cisneros hit Gregory with a pitch then couldn’t corral Battles’ game-winner richocheting off the southpaw’s glove.
“I was downs two strikes just trying to get the bat on the ball,” Battles said. “It’s really not how hard you hit it, it’s just where you place it and that’s what I did.”
Arkansas starter Caleb Bolden, superb in four hitless, scoreless relief innings against Texas, couldn’t place much in the strike zone Thursday. He didn’t survive SEMO’s 3-run first walking two, hitting a batter and yielding hit and retiring but one Redhawk.
Other than lefty Caden Monke tagged for two runs in eighth, his third inning of work, relievers Patrick Wicklander, for four innings replacing Bolden, Ryan Costeiu, finishing what Monke left, Monke, and Evan Gray and Wiggins for the ninth and 10th, kept SEMO from scoring.
“”We figured it out with just a tremendous job by our bullpen this afternoon, giving us an opportunity to climb back in the game,” Van Horn said.
Photos courtesy of Craven Whitlow, CW3, Sports Action