FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The big inning was kind to Arkansas on Friday. If it came with rectifying a trouble spot that had been lingering for the Diamond Hogs, all the better.
Two of them? Gravy.
Arkansas dropped four runs in the first inning and another five in the fifth. Didn’t get any more, but none more were required in a 9-3 win over Texas A&M.
Important win for those of the belief the Razorbacks need four wins in their last six games to feel good about getting a top-8 seed for the NCAA Tournament. Instead of winning 66 percent of its games, Arkansas needs now to only win 60 percent. Stronger chance the Diamond Hogs hosting through Super Regionals with the new percentage.
The fifth inning was the back-breaker for Texas A&M. Aggies starter Mitchell Kilkenny loaded the bases with nobody out after giving up two singles and a walk. He induced a tapper to third base to pick up the first out prohibiting an Arkansas run, and the groans were practically audible among the large Baum Stadium crowd. The Razorbacks were just 5 of 29 with the bases loaded in SEC play after that at-bat.
Texas A&M coaches probably should have left Kilkenny. Asa Lacy came on in relief and subsequently walked Jack Kenley, hit Hunter Wilson with a pitch and gave up a single to Eric Cole. Just like that, four runs and Arkansas’ lead stretched from 4-3 to 8-3. A Casey Martin sacrifice fly tacked on another and left Blaine Knight room to breathe.
His night was a bit odd. Mostly he was good. Great, even. His stuff certainly was. Knight’s command did need a bit of work, though. Texas A&M’s three runs came on two home runs – one in the second and another in the fourth; that one a two-run shot. Around it, Knight dealt 11 strikeouts and gave up only three more hits. He also didn’t walk a single Aggies batter. The strikeout total tied his career high and set a season high.
Things weren’t all golden for Arkansas, though. Jax Biggers was hit with a pitch in the first inning on his finger. It badly bled and he was removed from the game. In the eighth, Arkansas made an announcement Biggers suffered a fracture. It isn’t enough to force him out. Biggers can play as, per statement, “as pain allows.” Jack Kenley played shortstop most of Friday as the usual back-up shortstop Wilson started at first base.
Arkansas (34-15, 15-10) maintained a half-game lead over Ole Miss in the SEC West. The difference is a half-game as the Rebels have already played two of their three games this weekend against Auburn. Arkansas has played one fewer.
Grading the Hogs
Two mistake pitches. Theory: Knight’s stamina isn’t where it was. He’s given up three earned runs or more in each of his last four starts. Before that he had only given up three earned runs or more once. Still, the strikeouts show it was a good night for ‘stuff.’
It wasn’t even the big innings in which Arkansas had their knocks. The fifth-inning outburst occurred on just two hits. Not a perfect night spreading them through the lineup, but fair. Ten hits overall, plus four walks and the hit batsman.
The Big Stick + The Arm
Arkansas’ ace deserves some rest before the NCAA Tournament. He probably won’t get it at Georgia in a week, but after that? Possible. Knight threw 105 pitches in his seven innings Friday.
Stick: Dominic Fletcher
He continued his hot hitting in SEC play. Fletcher went 2 for 4 with an RBI and two runs.
Two more with Texas A&M on Saturday and Sunday. After that, only the final weekend of the regular season remains: at Georgia.