Fans will be treated to a kind of pitching matchup that hasn’t been seen at the SEC Tournament since 2017 in Thursday afternoon’s Arkansas vs LSU matchup.
Arguably the two best arms in the conference, Hagen Smith for the Razorbacks and Paul Skenes for the Tigers, will square off in the third-round winner’s bracket game at 4:30 p.m. CT Thursday in Hoover, Ala., and on the SEC Network.
Both pitchers were first-team All-SEC selections, the league announced Monday. It will be the first time two such pitchers will start against each other at the SEC Tournament since 2017. That year, LSU’s Alex Lange threw a seven-inning shutout to beat Kentucky’s Sean Hjelle, who struck out 10 while also allowing 10 runs, nine of which were earned.
That was also a 2-3 matchup on Day 3 of the SEC Tournament, but the Tigers were the 2 seed. This year, the Razorbacks earned the 2 seed and LSU is the 3.
Back on March 24 at Alex Box Stadium, Skenes gave up just one run on two hits and three walks while striking out 12 in seven innings, but earned a no decision because Arkansas eventually won 9-3 in 10 innings. The right-hander was actually in line for the loss when he came out because the Razorbacks led 1-0.
The transfer from Air Force has easily been the best pitcher in college baseball this season and is projected to be a top-two pick in this summer’s MLB Draft, along with teammate Dylan Crews. Skenes is 10-1 with a 1.77 ERA and 164 strikeouts in 86 2/3 innings across 14 starts. He’s issued only 15 walks and opponents are hitting just .161 against him.
In any other year, Smith might be considered the best pitcher in the SEC. Used as a starter and a closer this year, he is 8-1 with two saves, plus has a 2.56 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 63 1/3 innings and is limiting opponents to a .191 batting average. Just a sophomore, Smith is already viewed as a potential high first-round pick in the 2024 MLB Draft.
The left-hander actually pitched in the same game as Skenes during the regular-season series, but did so in relief. Following 5 1/3 scoreless innings by Hunter Hollan, Smith was charged with three earned runs on five hits and three walks while striking out eight in 4 2/3 innings. Two of those runs came on a 10th-inning home run by Crews when Arkansas was already leading 9-1.
As always, Best of Arkansas Sports will be tracking the Arkansas vs LSU game at the SEC Tournament and providing live, inning-by-inning updates below…
LIVE UPDATES — Arkansas vs LSU
Pregame Tidbits from SEC Tournament
In the first game of the day Thursday, (10) Texas A&M eliminated (6) South Carolina with a 5-0 victory in which it limited the Gamecocks to only one hit. The Aggies will play another elimination game against the Arkansas vs LSU loser at 3 p.m. CT Friday.
On Wednesday, LSU beat South Carolina 10-3 to advance to the winner’s bracket, while Arkansas beat Texas A&M 6-5 in 11 innings.
Although the Razorbacks won Game 1, the Tigers bounced back to sweep a doubleheader the next day to win the Arkansas vs LSU regular-season series back in March.
This will be the 15th Arkansas vs LSU meeting in SEC Tournament history, with the Tigers winning 11 of the 14 previous games. That includes six straight wins by LSU.
Arkansas will be using the exact same starting lineup as it did Thursday.
On the UA’s pregame radio show, Dave Van Horn said Hagen Smith will be on a pitch count of 70-75.
T-1st: LSU 1, Arkansas 0
Smith opened the game with a three-pitch strikeout of Crews. Pearson also went down swinging, but in a 2-2 count. With two outs and in an 0-2 count, White singled through the left side. Travinski followed with a fly ball to right and Bohrofen took a bad route to it, allowing it to fall for a single. That put runners on the corners and extends the inning. It also set up an RBI bloop single by Tre’ Morgan. Smith ended the inning by getting Thompson to look at strike three. It was a 25-pitch first inning that should have ended on the 15th pitch.
B-1st: LSU 1, Arkansas 0
Josenberger fouled off a couple of full-count pitches before drawing a leadoff walk. Diggs followed with a solidly hit ball to right, but it was easily caught. It was almost disastrous because Josenberger took off for second, but the throw back to first was off line, so he was able to slide in safely. Bohrofen also hit a line drive, but it was snagged by the shortstop and Josenberger was once again nearly doubled up. In a full count, Wegner froze on a breaking ball for an inning-ending strikeout. The Razorbacks made Skenes work, though, as he threw 21 pitches.
T-2nd: LSU 1, Arkansas 0
Just as he did in the first inning, Smith opened the inning with back-to-back strikeouts. He got Jobert swinging and Dugas looking. This time, though, he made it a 1-2-3 frame by getting Milazzo to ground out to third. Cali made a nice play to charge it and fire a strike to first. Smith is up to 41 pitches through two innings.
B-2nd: LSU 1, Arkansas 0
Slavens flied out to right to start the inning. Cali then hit a soft liner to short. With two outs, Holt poked a single the other way for Arkansas’ first hit of the day. He was stranded, though, when Coll grounded out to short.
T-3rd: LSU 1, Arkansas 0
Smith retired the Tigers in order again in the third and it started with another strikeout of Crews. Pearson grounded out to first and then White went down swinging to end the frame.
B-3rd: LSU 1, Arkansas 0
Skenes plunked Rowland to start the third inning, but then made quick work of the Razorbacks. After a fly out to right by Josenberger, he got both Diggs and Bohrofen to look at strike three.
T-4th: LSU 2, Arkansas 0
Back-to-back singles by Travinski and Morgan had LSU in business in the fourth, but Smith nearly worked out of it. He bounced back by striking out Thompson and Jobert and nearly had a third, but ended up walking Dugas in a full count. That loaded the bases and was the end of the line for Smith, as he reached 76 pitches. Interestingly, Arkansas brought in left-hander Hunter Hollan.
In his first relief appearance of the season, Hollan struck out Milazzo to end the inning, but not before one of his pitches went to the back stop. The wild pitch brought in a run.
B-4th: Arkansas 5, LSU 2
After another leadoff hit by pitch, Arkansas made Skenes pay with three straight singles by Slavens, Cali and Holt — the last two of which resulted in RBIs. Coll ended that stretch with a fly out to center, but Rowland walked to load the bases. Skenes got Josenberger to pop up in the infield and that was it for him. The new pitcher is left-hander Riley Cooper.
It looked like Cooper got out of the bases-loaded jam by inducing a fly out to shallow center caught by the shortstop, but Diggs was given first base because of a catcher’s interference. That brought in another run. Bohrofen then followed with a single that drove in two more. Wegner’s ground out to second finally ended the five-run inning.
T-5th: Arkansas 5, LSU 2
Crews finally put the ball in play to start the fifth, but it was a ground out to third. Hollan then struck out Pearson and White for a perfect 1-2-3 frame.
B-5th: Arkansas 5, LSU 2
Cooper set the Razorbacks down in order in the fifth, as Slavens flied out to left and Cali flied out to right to start the inning. With two outs, Holt poked a deep fly ball toward the right field corner and Jobert tracked it down in foul territory, making a really nice grab.
T-6th: Arkansas 5, LSU 2
Hollan ran into trouble in the sixth, giving up back-to-back singles to Travinski and Morgan – much like Smith did in the fourth. This time, however, the Razorbacks used a great defensive play to get out of the jam. Coll fielded a grounder by Thompson and threw to second to start what looked like might be a traditional 6-4-3 double play, but Holt pivoted fired to third, throwing behind Travinski and getting him diving back to the bag for an unconventional 6-4-5 double play. Jobert flied out to right to end the inning.
B-6th: Arkansas 5, LSU 2
Coll popped out to short to start the sixth. Rowland was called out on strikes, but didn’t seem to like the third strike. Josenberger went down swinging. Cooper has retired seven straight for LSU.
T-7th: Arkansas 5, LSU 2
It looked like Coll started the seventh with a web gem, snagging grounder by Dugas that looked like it was going into left and then firing a strike to first. The umpire called him out on the play, but LSU challenged it and it was overturned, giving him a leadoff infield single. Hollan bounced back to strike out Milazzo.
That brought up Crews, who fouled off three two-strike pitches before drawing a walk to put two runners on. Pearson went down swinging, bringing up White with two outs. He hit a chopper to third that Cali handled nicely for the final out.
B-7th: Arkansas 5, LSU 2
Diggs grounded out to second to start the inning. Cooper then struck out Bohrofen and Wegner to end the inning. He’s thrown 52 pitches in 3 1/3 innings.
T-8th: Arkansas 5, LSU 3
Travinski hit a rope into left for his fourth single of the day – and his third leading off an inning. In a full count, Morgan went down swinging. It’s the first out he’s made today. A wild pitch them moved Travinski to second, setting up an RBI single by Thompson. Jobert followed with a fly out to center. Dugas struck out to end the inning – the 16th of the game by LSU batters.
B-8th: Arkansas 5, LSU 3
Slavens struck out to start the inning, but Cali followed with a single that just got under Morgan, who was diving for it from his first base position. He was stranded, though, as Holt and Coll followed with strikeouts.
T-9th: Arkansas 5, LSU 4
Jared Jones pinch hit for Milazzo and, in a full count, popped out in foul territory. It was caught by Slavens down the right field line. Crews followed with a solo home run to pull the Tigers within one. That prompted a mound visit by Matt Hobbs as Gage Wood gets loose in the bullpen. Paxton Kling then pinch hit for Pearson and struck out on three pitches. With two outs, White grounded out to shortstop to end the game.
FINAL: Arkansas 5, LSU 4
BOX SCORE – Arkansas vs LSU
Starting Lineups – Arkansas vs LSU
|LSU Baseball||Arkansas Baseball|
|1. Dylan Crews – CF||1. Tavian Josenberger – CF|
|2. Josh Pearson – LF||2. Kendall Diggs – DH|
|3. Tommy White – 3B||3. Jace Bohrofen – RF|
|4. Hayden Travinski – DH||4. Jared Wegner – LF|
|5. Tre’ Morgan – 1B||5. Brady Slavens – 1B|
|6. Jordan Thompson – SS||6. Caleb Cali – 3B|
|7. Braden Jobert – RF||7. Peyton Holt – 2B|
|8. Gavin Dugas – 2B||8. Harold Coll – SS|
|9. Alex Milazzo – C||9. Parker Rowland – C|
|Pitching: Jr. RHP Paul Skenes||Pitching: So. LHP Hagen Smith|
How to Watch Arkansas Baseball at SEC Tournament
Wednesday, May 24 – Arkansas 6, Texas A&M 5 (11 innings)
Thursday, May 25 – vs. (3) LSU – 4:30 p.m. CT (SEC Network)
Accountability Check — 2023 Arkansas Baseball Predictions
Best of Arkansas Sports managing editor Andrew Hutchinson published his week-by-week predictions for the 2023 season just before the Razorbacks opened the year at the College Baseball Showdown. Those predictions can be read in full here, but we’ll also be doing weekly “accountability checks” in this space.
Prediction: 1-2 on the weekend / 40-15 overall, 19-11 in SEC play
With a chance to capture at least a share of the division title, Arkansas will stay hot in Game 1 against Vanderbilt and win big. However, the Commodores will bounce back with a pair of tight wins the next two days, preventing the Razorbacks from winning the West. It will be reminiscent of 2018, 2019 and 2022 — each of which ended in Omaha.
Actual: 1-2 on the weekend / 39-15 overall, 20-10 in SEC play
Well, Arkansas baseball still won the SEC West and captured a share of the overall title…but it did miss out on winning the title outright by losing the last two games in heartbreaking fashion. Assume a win over Arkansas State in a midweek game that got rained out and our overall prediction was spot on, while missing the SEC prediction by one game.
Composite College Baseball Top 25
Unlike football and basketball, which have just the AP and Coaches Polls all year (with football adding the CFP rankings late in the season), college baseball has five major polls. (Collegiate Baseball used to be included, but it was dropped due to severe inconsistencies in its rankings.)
To get a better feel for how teams stack up, BoAS has combined those rankings into a single top 25 by using a points system in which a No. 1 ranking = 25 points, No. 2 = 24 points and all the way to No. 25 = 1 point. We will update this each week throughout the season…
|1. Wake Forest||ACC||—||125|
|8. Coastal Carolina||Sun Belt||-1||92|
|9. Miami (Fla.)||ACC||+1||81|
|11. UConn||Big East||+1||67|
|12. East Carolina||AAC||+2||66|
|14. Dallas Baptist||C-USA||+2||54|
|15. Campbell||Big South||-2||51|
|16. Oregon State||Pac-12||+3||50|
|17. Oklahoma State||Big 12||+4||41.5|
|18. West Virginia||Big 12||-12||40.5|
|20. Texas||Big 12||N/A||24|
|21. Boston College||ACC||+1||23|
|t-22. South Carolina||SEC||-11||22|
|24. Southern Miss||Sun Belt||+1||20|
MOVED IN: Texas (20)
MOVED OUT: Maryland (23)
- SEC: 8
- ACC: 6
- Big 12: 3
- Pac-12: 2
- Sun Belt: 2
- AAC: 1
- Big East: 1
- Big South: 1
- C-USA: 1
Check out our coverage of the Arkansas vs LSU regular-season series…
More coverage of Arkansas baseball from BoAS…