Contributed by Nate Allen
FAYETTEVILLE – The LSU Tigers’ baseball dominance of Arkansas officially ended Friday night.
Following Thursday night’s 14-4 trashing of the Tigers, the Razorbacks’ late-game assault achieved an 11-6 lashing of LSU Friday night before a packed house 10,889 tickets scanned attending and 11,714 recorded paid at Baum-Walker Stadium.
Friday’s flogging following Thursday’s thrashing means the Razorbacks can do no worse than win 2 of 3 or even sweep the Tigers with the 3-game SEC West series concluding at 1 p.m. today televised by ESPN2 at Baum-Walker.
It was 2011 when Arkansas last bested LSU in their annual 3-game SEC West set, that one a sweep in Fayetteville.
Coach Dave Van Horn’s nationally No. 4 Razorbacks, 39-12, overall, take a 19-7 best in the SEC West record with only today’s game and the 3-game Thursday through Saturday series at Texas A&M remaining in the SEC regular season before the SEC Tournament.
Coach Paul Mainieri’s nationally No. 17 Tigers tumble to 30-21, 14-11 in the SEC West.
A game-changing doubleplay induced by winning middle reliever Kevin Kopps replacing starter Patrick Wicklander with the bases loaded one out and Arkansas down 3-0 in the third tabled the Tigers.
Meanwhile, the Hogs, five home runs among 15 hits Thursday night, unleashed a 12-hit attack. It was led by Heston Kjerstad, 2 for 4 with two RBI and his 14th home run to go with the 13th he hit Thursday, Dominic Fletcher, 2 for 4 with a Friday game-leading three RBI, Casey Opitz, 2 for 3 Friday following his Thursday home run, Casey Martin, two RBI Friday after four hits with a home
run Thursday, and Matt Goodheart, two Friday RBI.
However, it all began with Kopps arriving with the bases loaded and finishing the inning with the “cutter” that previously home run hitting catcher Saul Garza grounded into the doubleplay then throwing four scoreless innings until relieved by Jacob Kostyshock after tagged for his only hit, an eighth-inning double.
“That was huge to have a guy come out of the bullpen like that and slam the door,” Kjerstad said. “He came in and the bases were loaded, basically a tough spot for anyone to come into. And he pitched it well, he got the ground-ball turned into the doubleplay and that was huge to give us a little bit of momentum. And then after that, he just slammed the door on them and kept getting us back in the dugout very quickly and it ignited our offense.”
Van Horn called it a “big pitch.”
Kopps said it was made all the bigger finally silencing the questions why can’t Arkansas win a series over LSU?
“It feels really good to finally win a series since 2011 and kind of break that streak for us and the fans,” Kopps said.
LSU led Thursday’s game 1-0 after batting in the first and led 1-0 after batting in Friday’s first off freshman starter Patrick Wicklander.
After lengthy SEC official review, leadoff hitter Josh Smith was declared to have beaten out his grounder to second for an infield hit. Zach Watson’s forceout grounder erased Smith. Even running with two out, Watson did not get a good jump trying to score from first on Daniel Cabrera’s hit to right.
Arkansas right fielder Kjerstad never looked home. Instead, he threw too late to second as Cabrera, two solo home runs Thursday, completed an RBI double.
Van Horn was ready to berate Kjerstad but learned he needed to berate the instructing infielders instead.
“He should have thrown home,” Van Horn said. “But he was being told to throw the ball to second base because our middle infielders felt like Watson, who is one of the fastest players in the league was running on the pitch and would score. But they didn’t look again.”
In the LSU second, with two out and Brandt Broussard aboard with a single, No. 9 LSU hitting catcher Garza hit what appeared would be a deep but routine high fly to right suddenly wind gusted to a 2-run home run and 3-0 LSU lead.
Replacing Wicklander with the bases loaded and one out in the third, reliever Kopps turned the tables on Garza and the game inducing the inning-ending doubleplay grounder then blanking the Tigers until relieved by Kostyshock after Andre DuPlantis’ 1-out double in the eighth and Arkansas up 5-3.
It stayed 5-3 with Kostyshock retiring Cabrera on a fly to left and striking out pinch-hitter Cade Beloso.
“He (Kostyshock) saved me,” Kopps said. “He came in and fired some bullets and got some guys out.”
Opitz, a 2-run home thorn in the Tigers’ side Thursday, singled leading off Friday’s third. He was doubled home by No. 9 hitter Christian Franklin before LSU starter Eric Walker stranded Franklin consecutively retiring the top of Arkansas’ order.
Arkansas cut it to 3-2 and prompted LSU Coach Paul Mainieri to relieve Walker with ultimately losing reliever Zach Hess during the fifth.
Walker didn’t want out when yanked.
“I wanted to stay in there,” Walker said. “I was pretty upset. Obviously, we are understaffed right now, and I was pissed. But Coach has his reasons on everything. I don’t really know what they were in that situation to be honest.”
Hess came in firing 97 miles an hour heat but paid a price ultimately throwing 49 pitches in two innings tagged for five hits and three runs even while striking out four.
Opitz again singled leading off the fifth. Franklin walked and was forced out at second on Trevor Ezell’s grounder while Opitz took third. Casey Martin, four hits Thursday, just missed legging out an infield hit single to second and still got an RBI on the putout at first as Opitz scored. Hess first facing Martin, stranded Ezell at second striking out Matt Goodheart chasing a high fastball.
Kjerstad tied it 3-3 plastering a Hess pitch for a solo sixth-inning home run over center.
Bryant native Ezell led off Hess’ final undoing doubling in the 2-run seventh. Martin snapped the 3-3 tie for Arkansas’ first lead singling home Martin. Martin stole second and scored on Dominic Fletcher’s single.
Mainieri summoned reliever Trent Vietmeier to finish the seventh without further damage but down 5-3.
The Tigers batted in the ninth down 11-3 after Arkansas’ 6-run eighth. It included Goodheart’s base-loaded 2-run single, Fletcher’s 2-run double, Kjerstad’s RBI single and Jacob Nesbit’s RBI single.
Arkansas freshman Elijah Trest was supposed to mop the ninth, but Van Horn summoned ace closer Matt Cronin with the bases loaded and none out.
Trest’s three runners scored on Josh Smith’s 1-out triple followed by Cronin retiring the next two and throwing just nine total pitches.
Cronin, Kostyshock and totally fresh reliever Cody Scroggins stand ready to back Arkansas starter Connor Noland in today’s bid to complete a sweep.
LSU……….120 000 003 – 6 9 1
Arkansas…001 011 26x – 11 12 0
Walker, Hess (5), Vietmeier (7), Ripoll (80 and Garza; Wicklander, Kopps (4), Kostyshock (8), Trest (9), Cronin (9) and Opitz.
W-Kopps (5-3). L-Hess (3-4).
HR-LSU: Garza (4). HR-Kjerstad (14).