Arkansas baseball fans who didn’t already know who Big Country was certainly know his name now after Friday afternoon’s heroics in Baton Rouge, La.
In his first career SEC at bat, freshman Reese Robinett blasted a pinch-hit three-run home run to break a 10th-inning tie and spark No. 4 Arkansas baseball to a 9-3 win over top-ranked LSU in the series opener at Alex Box Stadium.
The Razorbacks have now won 15 straight games, their longest in-season winning streak since opening the 1996 season 18-0, and just need to split Saturday’s doubleheader to clinch their fourth consecutive series against the Tigers.
A native of Kennett, Mo., Robinett — whose nickname originated back in the fall when Dave Van Horn randomly called him Big Country one practice and it stuck — also broke a 1-1 tie with a fourth-inning solo homer in Tuesday’s win over Southeast Missouri State.
To say Friday’s swing came on a much grander stage would be an understatement. Not only did it come in extra innings of an SEC game, but he hit it against arguably the top reliever on the unanimous No. 1 team in the country at its own ballpark.
However, it was Robinett’s performance in that midweek game, in which he also singled in an 0-2 count and Arkansas ended up winning via run rule, that gave Van Horn the confidence to make him his top left-handed bat off the bench.
“I think sometimes they kind of show you what you need to do a little bit; there’s some hints,” Van Horn said, referring to Robinett’s last game. “I just felt like he could drive in a run for us. Fortunately he ran into one and he hit hard and the wind took it and he hit it a long way.”
The game was dominated by pitching for nine innings, with the teams locked in a 1-1 duel heading to extra innings. LSU’s duo of Paul Skenes and Chase Shores blew the Razorbacks away with elite velocity, but Arkansas’ lefty tandem of Hunter Hollan and Hagen Smith rose to the challenge and were just as effective.
Things went off the rails in extras, though, starting with Kendall Diggs drawing a leadoff walk that chased Shores from the game. The Tigers turned to right-hander Christian Little, their heralded transfer from Vanderbilt who entered the day with a 1.80 ERA and .173 opponents batting average in 15 innings across a team-high eight appearances.
He promptly induced a slow grounder from Harold Coll, which essentially served as a sacrifice bunt because it moved Diggs into scoring position, but then he ran into trouble. A four-pitch walk to Parker Rowland put two runners on, but also set up a potential inning-ending double play.
Instead of sticking with 9-hole hitter John Bolton, whose batting average had dipped to .219, Van Horn sent Robinett to the plate as a pinch hitter for just his 13th career at bat — which proved to be anything but unlucky.
“Coach Van Horn told me off the bench, ‘Get ready,’” Robinett said. “So I was like, ‘All right, here we go.’ Got up there and it was a first-pitch fastball, saw it well, and then he doubled up and came with a 1-0 fastball again.”
He crushed that 1-0 pitch the other way. The ball left his bat with a 104 mph exit velocity and traveled 421 feet, easily clearing the wall in left-center.
The Razorbacks weren’t done, either. Singles by Tavian Josenberger and Peyton Stovall chased Little, against whom they went 3 for 4, but Will Hellmers wasn’t much better for LSU.
After a four-pitch walk by Jared Wegner loaded the bases, Brady Slavens provided an insurance run with a sacrifice fly. The bases were juiced again, thanks to Jace Bohrofen getting hit by a pitch, for Diggs — who started the big inning with a walk — and he delivered the knockout blow in the form of a 396-foot grand slam.
It was his seventh long ball of the year and, more importantly, doubled Arkansas’ lead.
“I told the team after the game how one pitch here, one swing there can change the game — it can change the series, it can change how you manage things,” Van Horn said. “Then I brought up Kendall Diggs.
“We have a four-run lead, game’s not over. Two outs, two strikes, and he hits the ball in the seats, and all of a sudden we’ve got an eight-run lead. It gave us a chance to maybe sit someone down in the bullpen that we’re going to use tomorrow.”
Facing Paul Skenes
Even though the Razorbacks came out on top, LSU ace Paul Skenes turned in arguably his best start in what has been an incredible season for the Air Force transfer.
The right-hander allowed just one run on two hits and three walks while striking out 12 in a season-high seven innings — an outing that his head coach, Jay Johnson, described as “complete domination” afterward.
Skenes’ first two pitches were 100 mph and he blew a 102 mph fastball past Peyton Stovall for his first strikeout of the day. All nine of his pitches in the first inning were strikes and about half of them touched triple digits.
“Skenes was everything as advertised,” Dave Van Horn said. “I’ve never seen a better arm at this level. It’s unbelievable.”
That fastball did lose some velocity, but not much. It eventually settled into the 97-99 mph range and he began to mix in more changeups and breaking balls as his outing progressed.
The first time through the order, Skenes retired Arkansas in order — 9 up, 9 down on just 31 pitches with five strikeouts. It wasn’t until the fourth inning that the Razorbacks finally broke through. Josenberger fell behind 0-2 before lining a ball that one-hopped the left field wall for a leadoff double.
“He smoked that ball down the right field line, fastball,” Van Horn said. “It’s like they’d get ahead of him and then they were trying to bust him in, and he kind of figured that out and he jumped on that thing.”
Pitching out of the stretch for the first time, Skenes’ next pitch was wild, moving Josenberger to third and setting up a sacrifice fly by Stovall. It was just the third run he’s allowed his year. He settled back in after that, retiring six straight — five via strikeouts — after the run scored.
He was still sitting at just 61 pitches through five innings, which put him on pace for a 110-pitch complete game, but the Razorbacks started to drive that pitch count up in the sixth.
Within a span of four at bats, John Bolton, Josenberger and Jared Wegner each drew full-count walks — an unusual sequence for a pitcher who had walked only four batters in his first five starts.
Even though Skenes froze Brady Slavens on a 99 mph fastball that caught the inner edge to strand the bases loaded, it was a 33-pitch inning that ensured LSU would have to get into its bullpen.
“Even his misses, he didn’t have very many of what we call bad misses,” Van Horn said. “He was missing by a ball, maybe two or three balls. He wasn’t missing by two feet. I think we finally fouled off a lot of pitches. He started throwing more changeups and things, and we were laying off.
“That was a huge inning to get his pitch count up, and you start thinking ‘Okay, they’re definitely going to have to use another arm in this game.’”
His teammates let him off the hook by tying it up after he left the game, so Skenes avoided his first loss of the season, but his ERA did jump from 0.59 to 0.72. He also now has 71 strikeouts in 37 1/3 innings.
Don’t Forget about Hunter Hollan
Considering how good he had been, most of the attention heading into Friday’s game was on Paul Skenes. In fact, some were even looking ahead to next weekend’s showdown between him and Tennessee’s Chase Dollander.
One person who took notice? Arkansas’ Hunter Hollan.
“I saw this tweet this morning that said, ‘We’re seven days away from the pitching duel of the year’ and it was Dollander vs. Skenes,” Hollan said. “That kind of got the fire in the butt a little bit, knowing that social media-wise, people don’t really know me.”
That was plenty of motivation for the left-hander, who is a top-100 MLB Draft prospect in his own right, but may be less-known because he came to Fayetteville from the JUCO ranks.
More people will certainly know his name after he effectively shut down LSU’s dangerous lineup, scattering three hits and one walk across 5 1/3 scoreless innings while notching a career-high seven strikeouts.
“I thought Hunter Hollan was amazing — pitching to that lineup on the road, wind blowing out about 15 mph pretty consistently and we had a full house for a 12 o’clock game on a Friday,” Dave Van Horn said. “He kept us in the game.”
The Tigers entered the weekend hitting .331 as a team, which ranked fifth nationally, but went just 3 for 18 (.167) against Hollan. One of those hits was a weak grounder that resulted in an infield hit for potential No. 1 overall pick Dylan Crews, who struck out in his second at bat.
“If you look at all their games they’ve played in the past, people are pitching scared to that whole lineup,” Hollan said. “If guys get down in a 2-0 or 2-1 count, they’re feeding them fastballs away. With Tommy White, with Crews, with the power in their lineup, you can’t throw a 2-0, 2-1 fastball away to any of those guys because they’re sitting the pitch and their field’s a launchpad. You just have to compete in the zone and I threw in to them, ‘Here’s my best stuff. Hit it.’”
The most danger Hollan was in all game came in the fourth inning when Tre’ Morgan crushed a pitch to dead center. It was just out of the reach of a leaping Tavian Josenberger and hit off the top of the wall for a two-out triple.
It looked like LSU would tie it up when a pitch got away from Parker Rowland, but Morgan hesitated before taking off for home. Rowland got the ball and tossed to Hollan with plenty of time for him to tag Morgan before he ever got to the plate.
What prevented Hollan from going deeper into the game was the fact that LSU did a really good job of fouling off pitches and getting his pitch count up. He struck out Josh Pearson on his 87th pitch and Van Horn came out of the dugout to get him.
He didn’t want Crews, Tommy White and Gavin Dugas to face him for a third time, plus the Razorbacks had Hagen Smith ready to go in the bullpen.
“He started walking down the mound and was going to give me the ball,” Van Horn said. “Obviously he would have liked to stay in the game, but he wasn’t arguing with me or anything. I told him, ‘Hey, stay up here for a minute, I want to talk to you.’ And I just told him that he did a great job and this is how we had planned it out.”
Hagen Smith, The Finisher
For the second straight week, Hagen Smith entered an SEC series as a “wild card” and ended up taking the reigns from Hunter Hollan. Just like he did against Auburn, he took it the rest of the way.
Entering the game with one out and the tying run on base, the left-hander struck out LSU All-Americans Dylan Crews and Tommy White to get out of the sixth with the 1-0 lead intact.
“When he first came in, his stuff was really, really good,” Dave Van Horn said. “His fastball was good and he was locating it, but he had really good offspeed. He was throwing that slider and they were struggling with it.
“It was starting out about mid-thigh — I think they kind of saw it as a fastball a little bit — then they’d swing, and that thing would run away from them, those lefties. A few of the righties were swinging over it.”
Smith did plunk the first batter he faced in the seventh and gave up a two-out single, but escaped the jam with the help of Parker Rowland, who threw behind Brayden Jobert and picked him off.
Later in his outing, Smith started elevating his slider as he got tired and LSU got a better feel for him. That got him into trouble in the eighth. Brady Neal tied it up with a solo home run and the Tigers actually loaded the bases, but he got out of it by inducing a foul pop up by Tre’ Morgan.
He struck out the side in the ninth and was running on fumes in the 10th inning, but with an eight-run lead, Van Horn didn’t want to use anyone else with 18 innings looming Saturday. That resulted in Smith issuing a couple of walks and allowing a two-run homer to Crews.
“We knew that once Hagen entered his second, third inning that he wasn’t going to come back tomorrow,” Van Horn said. “We really needed to find a way to win that game because we were using him, and obviously that takes away a big weapon out of our bullpen in a doubleheader. It was really big.”
Up Next for Arkansas Baseball
With inclement weather in the forecast for Baton Rouge on Sunday, the Arkansas vs LSU series will conclude with a day-night doubleheader Saturday.
The first game of the day is still scheduled for 1 p.m. CT and will be televised on the SEC Network, while the finale is now set for a 6:30 p.m. CT first pitch. That game will be streaming only, on SEC Network-Plus.
A pair of right-handers — junior Ty Floyd (2.25 ERA, 20 IP) and sophomore Thatcher Hurd (2.57 ERA, 21 IP) — will be on the mound for the Tigers. Both of them will be looking for rebound performances after being chased in the fourth inning last weekend at Texas A&M.
“Feel great about Ty,” LSU baseball coach Jay Johnson said. “I feel great about what he can do against this team and excited to get him out there tomorrow. … I think we are in about as good a place as we could be having those guys going tomorrow.”
For the Razorbacks, redshirt junior right-hander Will McEntire will start the first game of the doubleheader, but they have not yet named a Game 3 starter. If he doesn’t pitch out of the bullpen, right-hander Cody Adcock would presumably be the frontrunner to get the nod after throwing six scoreless innings against Auburn last week.
As mentioned above, winning just one of tomorrow’s games would give Arkansas its fourth straight series win over LSU. Before 2019, the Razorbacks had won just two of their previous 17 series against the Tigers — and that doesn’t including their 1-9 record against them in the postseason over that span.
“We talked after the game today that it was a really good win, a lot of good things happened, and how we hung in there and we fought and playing in a tough environment, but at the same time, we still haven’t won the series,” Van Horn said. “I like the way that after the game, when the game ended, we didn’t just go crazy and start celebrating.
“We know that it’s just a game, and we’ve got 26 more conference games, but we’ve got two more tomorrow. So just enjoy it a little bit, learn from it and try to get ready to play.”
Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits
- The SEC Network broadcast showed Brady Tygart wearing a glove and standing on the mound in Arkansas’ bullpen, but he never actually started throwing. He was likely there to protect Dylan Carter, who was warming up, from stray foul balls because the bullpens at LSU are in foul territory. He is still a few weeks away from returning from a sprained UCL. “I think he was coaching or he was throwing left-handed, but he wasn’t coming in the game, that’s for sure,” Van Horn said. “He was down there just talking to the guys. We’ve got Koty Frank down there, too, kind of helping run that bullpen a little bit. I think they do a good job.”
- For just the second time this season, Jared Wegner was held hitless. He finished 0 for 3 with two walks, snapping a 14-game hitting streak, but extending a 15-game on-base streak. That gives him a team-high 21 walks to only 18 strikeouts.
- After failing to reach base for the first time in his Arkansas career in the series finale against Auburn, John Bolton was back on the base paths Friday thanks to a sixth-inning walk.
- Jace Bohrofen was hit by a pitch in the 10th inning, marking the eighth time he’s reached base that way. That is twice as many as any other player on the team.
- With the 10th-inning home runs by Reese Robinett and Kendall Diggs, the Razorbacks have now homered in 18 straight games. They have 40 total home runs through 22 games, which is exactly on pace with the 2021 team that hit a school-record 109 home runs.
- LSU star Dylan Crews entered the day with a .515 batting average, which ranked second nationally, and actually improved it six points to .521 by going 3 for 5. He did hit a two-run home run in the 10th, but his other two hits were infield singles and he struck out in his other two at bats. He had struck out just 10 times in 68 at bats before the game. That also extended Crews’ hitting streak to 20 games.
Arkansas vs LSU Highlights (Game 1)
Arkansas vs LSU Postgame Interviews
Arkansas vs LSU Box Score (Game 1)
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