FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Blaine Knight said earlier in the week Arkansas had no reason to be afraid of LSU this baseball weekend. His Razorbacks were the better team, he said.
On Friday night, anyway, they proved it.
Three home runs, an ace-like performance and a win over the hated Tigers. Celebrate, Arkansas. If only for a night.
The Razorbacks absolutely handled LSU in Game 1 of the three-game set, 9-3. In doing so, Arkansas (25-6, 8-2) kept itself tied atop the SEC West and eclipsed its conference win total for the entirety of last season. Its also tied with Kentucky at the top of the SEC overall, which matters more as a measure of seeding for the SEC Tournament in May.
Either way, no more need to wonder if Dave Van Horn’s team is legit or not.
The 10,741 souls who bought tickets for Friday night’s game amounted to the 11th most in school history. And the 9,500 who showed up saw a show.
Knight showed himself to be, perhaps, the best SEC pitcher no one outside the hardcore of college baseball knows about yet, Knight was glimmering. He kept the second-best hitting team in the SEC to just three base knocks. And while he did give up three walks – he entered the night with just two on the season – they didn’t harm him whatsoever. LSU (20-11, 5-5) didn’t get a base-runner beyond second base in any of Knight’s six innings.
Meanwhile, Arkansas was tacking on runs with regularity. Eric Cole started things. The sophomore outfielder served as the designated hitter Friday night and from the 8-hole wasted no time.
LSU starter Alex Lange, one of the SEC’s top pro prospects, left a fastball up and over the plate in the second inning. Cole got a good chunk of it and it seemed to get caught up in the stream out in left field. What looked like a deep flyout turned into a solo home run to open the scoring.
Lange’s command issues were prevalent all night. He made it just 4 1/3 innings, walking five and giving up six Arkansas hits. Cole knocked him again in the fifth with an RBI double. Jax Biggers followed immediately thereafter with a double himself to score Cole. That was it for Lange.
Arkansas tacked on three more in the sixth, all with two outs. Carson Shaddy knocked a bouncer up the middle to score Dominic Fletcher and Jared Gates took the very next pitch far over the right field wall for a two-run shot. The lead swelled to 6-0.
It went to 9-1 when Chad Spanberger destroyed a baseball. Not literally. But his three-run home run to right-centerfield went beyond trees, which are a good 20 feet past the fence not far from where the “400” sign is posted on the inside of the wall. It was a no-doubter.
The Razorbacks continue to hold a one-game edge on third-place Mississippi State and are now up three games on fourth-place LSU. Arkansas owns the tiebreaker against both teams.
Grading the Hogs
The Diamond Hogs scattered their hits (12) and runs (9). They walked a lot, too. The only problem, really, was they should have had four runs. Arkansas left the bases loaded in the first, second and third innings. Ultimately 13 runners were stranded on the night.
Knight was special. Again. Dominic Taccolini wasn’t very good in relief, though. He gave up three hits and walked two batters in his two innings. He also gave up all three LSU runs.
The Big Stick + Arm
The sophomore gave up three hits to the 23 batters he faced on a team that was hitting .300 entering the night. Sure, his walks for the season more than doubled, but he kept a WHIP of 1.00. His ace status is bona fide at this point.
Has to feel like “finally” for Cole. He’s been slumped since the second game of the season. But a 2 for 5, home-run, two-RBI, two-run performance brought him back over a .200 batting average and could signal a return for Arkansas’ fourth outfielder.
What’s next for Arkansas?
The two teams play again Saturday night, this time at 6 p.m. The series finale is Sunday at 1 p.m.