An early one-run lead was no match for Southeastern’s seven-run sixth inning as No. 3 Arkansas slipped up, 7-3, Friday afternoon at Baum-Walker Stadium in the opening game of the weekend series.
The Hogs have now lost the series openers of their first two series in Fayetteville for the first time in recorded Arkansas baseball history. According to the Razorback media guide, the closest equivalents came in 1964, when Arkansas lost a series opener in Fayetteville (vs Buena Vista) followed by another series opener in Little Rock vs Memphis. (Arkansas lost its first five games that season.)
Then, in 1975, Arkansas lost its season opener vs Kansas State and shortly thereafter lost its first game of a home series against Baylor:
The Razorbacks, now 5-3 on the year, will play two on Saturday against the Lions (5-5) due to anticipated inclement weather. The series finale, originally scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday, March 6, will be played as part of a doubleheader starting at noon on Saturday, March 5.
True freshman Austin Ledbetter impressed in the Hogs’ loss on Friday, striking out five over 2 2/3 clean innings of relief in his collegiate debut. “He’s a guy that we thought could pitch,” Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said afterward. “He’s got three pitches. Breaking ball really wasn’t working tonight, went with his fastball and his change up mostly is what it looked like to me. He threw a couple of curve balls or sliders, whatever, but as far as command, the fastball to me was good. And it had a little carry on it.”
Jace Bohrofen, meanwhile, broke out of his early season slump, collecting two doubles – his first two hits as a Razorback – and a run scored.
“That’s one of the big positives, because he hit those two balls extremely hard into the wind,” Van Horn said. “I mean, their outfielders are playing almost on the warning track. They’re going to give us a single, but they don’t want us to hit a double. And he had two balls over that guy’s head.”
Friday afternoon’s ballgame began as a pitchers’ duel between Arkansas starter Connor Noland and Southeastern starter Will Kinzeler. The two pitchers exchanged zeroes early before the Razorbacks broke through first, opening a 1-0 lead on Cayden Wallace’s RBI single to center in the bottom of the third.
Noland was dealing on the mound through his first five innings. The veteran right-hander silenced the Lions’ offense before running into trouble in the top of the sixth.
Southeastern tagged him and the Arkansas bullpen for seven runs in the frame, extending a six-run lead. Noland finished his day with five strikeouts and zero walks allowed in 5 1/3 innings of seven-hit, three-run ball.
The Razorbacks nearly mounted their comeback in the bottom of the seventh, loading the bases with one out. Peyton Stovall drew a bases-loaded walk before Wallace drove home a run on a sacrifice fly to cut Arkansas’ deficit to four.
That was as close as the Hogs would get, however, as Southeastern reliever Gage Trahan threw 2 2/23 scoreless innings with three strikeouts to lock down the save and secure the Lions’ 7-3 win.
Dave Van Horn on Razorbacks’ Game 1 Loss
“Just give credit to their starter [Will] Kinzeler, he’s really good. Didn’t give us a whole lot to hit, kept the ball away. Used the wind a couple of times. Michael Turner hit a ball that probably would’ve put us up three to nothing, but you got to play the elements a little bit and that’s kind of the way it goes. And they put together really good inning.”
I think it started with a hit by pitch on a 1-2 count, and then it was on. It was maybe a base hit after that. And I think we hit him five times tonight and walked him maybe three or four, but the one inning just got away from us. We had it at four to one, we thought, “We’re good,” then five to one.
And then, we give up the two-out blooper, and that’s the way the game works sometimes. Sometimes it’s good to you and sometimes it’s not, but we didn’t really do anything to win the game. I know we had leadoff man on, I think, four times that we did not score in that inning. And I told the team two of those times, I don’t think the leadoff man left first base after getting there with no out.
So a little disappointing, but you got to give credit to their pitching staff, and Trey came in and does what he does. He throws strikes. He makes you earn it and he didn’t give anything up. So really good job by them.
The third game was originally scheduled for Sunday but anticipated rain has pushed that ahead to Saturday as part of a doubleheader.
On Kole Ramage’s Struggles:
Well, he didn’t throw the ball over the plate, obviously. I couldn’t tell you. He came out there and was behind both hitters, and I think he might have thrown four balls in a row. A couple pitches were close, but we were just telling them, “Hey, just let them hit it. Let’s make them earn it. They’re going to score with the bases loaded. If you get behind in the count, you got to throw a strike and just let them hit it. Maybe they hit into a double play.” So, yeah, I don’t know. He’s had some time to rest and should have been ready to roll and it just didn’t happen today.
More on Arkansas vs Southeastern
Saturday’s twin bill will start at noon, according to Razorback Communications. Game two of the doubleheader will start approximately 45 minutes after game one’s conclusion.
Sunday’s tickets are no longer valid. Saturday’s single game and season ticket will allow access to both games on Saturday. Game two of the doubleheader will start approximately 45 minutes after game one’s conclusion. Single-game tickets for Sunday can be exchanged for Saturday’s games or another game based on availability.
The Hogs and Lions have played a common opponent in Louisiana. The Lions lost 5-6, but the Razorbacks scratched out a 6-4 victory over that same Ragin’ Cajuns squad at the Karbach Round Rock Classic. Southeastern also beat #25 Louisiana Tech 4-3 Wednesday.
The Lions were holding teams to five runs per game before a 23-1 blowout loss to Tulane on Tuesday. As that alarmingly lopsided score indicates, their problem has been offense: Southeastern has scored only 3.8 runs per game and hit just three home runs in nine games.
Heading into the game, the Lions only had four starters hitting above .200 (min. 4 starts) with each of them hitting .290 or better. The leading hitter is sophomore second baseman Rhett Rosevear, who is 9-28 (.321) with four extra-base hits including a home run and three RBIs.
Senior first baseman Preston Faulkner is hitting .290 with a team-high five RBIs. The other notable hitters in the lineup are senior designated hitter Evan Keller who is hitting .294 with five RBIs as well and junior catcher Bryce Grizzafi who is hitting .296 with three RBIs.
Senior center fielder Tyler Finke and junior right fielder Christian Garcia were two of the teams top-3 hitting leaders in 2021, but they are each hitting below .170 early in 2022.
Keys for Arkansas Baseball vs Lions
The Razorbacks need to throw strikes over the weekend. The Lions are a patient team, walking an average of five times per game while also crowding the plate and getting three hit-by-pitches per game. On the other hand, they also strike out an average of nine times per game, so Arkansas just needs to attack the hitters.
The Razorbacks are coming off a 15-3 route of Omaha Wednesday. Their bats were cold to start the year, but they have have sparked them just in time for the weekend,
Arkansas had a team average of .213 and only four home runs in six games, scoring 3.7 runs per game before the Omaha victory.
The team average jumped to .242 and the Hogs are now averaging 5.4 runs per game. They nearly doubled the home run total, from four to seven, thanks to blasts by senior right fielder Brady Slavens, freshman first baseman Peyton Stovall and graduate catcher Michael Turner.
The Razorbacks had scored 11 runs in each weekend series, but 15 crossed the plate in the lone game against the Mavericks. The offense looks primed for a big weekend.
“It was good to see our team really kind of bounce around and get after it tonight,” head coach Dave Van Horn said after the victory Wednesday. “We had a lot of discussions the last couple days just about playing harder and just the way we go about things. Man, they took it to heart today.”
Looking at the weekend series, Van Horn noted the Lions knack for running.
“As far as Southeastern, they’re a team, they play a little like Louisiana-Lafayette,” Van Horn said. “They like to run, hit-and-run, create a little havoc.”
The Lions are 22-28 on stolen base attempts while limiting opponents to just 2-4.
No. 3 Arkansas Razorbacks (5-2) vs Southeastern Louisiana Lions (4-5)
Game 2 Time: Saturday, March 5 (Noon)
Southeastern: RHP Hayden Robb (0-0, 4.50 ERA)
Arkansas: LHP Hagen Smith (1-1, 3.24 ERA)
Arkansas vs Southeastern Game 2 Prediction:
Pitcher Hagen Smith had a rough outing against Stanford, giving up three runs over 2.1 innings, but that can be expected from a true freshman playing a top-10 team with an experienced lineup. Smith looked fantastic against Illinois State and the Lions are more comparable to the Redbirds than the Cardinal.
Smith should have a good bounce-back outing Saturday. The lineup is struggling and strikes out a good amount. These are the types of teams young players can really prove their worth against.
Southeastern’s Saturday starter Hayden Robb has gone five innings in both starts this year, giving up five runs over 10 innings.
With both lineups off to a slow start in 2022, the game may be low scoring while the starters are in, but the Razorbacks can take advantage late in the game against the bullpen. If Trahan and Dugas both pitch Friday as they did last weekend then Arkansas could have a big day late in the game.
Score Prediction: Arkansas wins 12-2
Game 3 Time: Saturday, March 5 (TBD)
Southeastern: RHP Hunter O’Toole (0-1, 7.20 ERA)
Arkansas: RHP Jaxon Wiggins (1-0, 3.27 ERA)
Watch: SEC Network+
Arkansas vs Southeastern Game 3 Prediction:
In two starts for Southeastern, Hunter O’Toole has allowed eight runs over 10 innings. This definitely a game the Hogs can get the bats going and break through for the season.
There are games where pitchers with high ERA’s from smaller conferences pitch well against the Razorbacks, so it’s not crazy to think the Hogs may struggle. However, this seems like the perfect game to put 20 runs on the board for Arkansas.
The starter has an ERA over seven and the bullpen has an ERA over six. If the Hogs can build any momentum in the first two games, Sunday could be a fireworks show. It may not reach UAPB, 10 home run level, but Sunday should be a good day for Hog fans.
Wallace and Moore have been hitting the ball, but need some more support from the lineup going forward and this game can help them come to life.
Score Prediction: Arkansas wins 21-1
This is a team that Arkansas should sweep. They are 4-5 playing mid-major teams and struggling to score runs. The pitching staff has looked good for Arkansas and should continue to do so over the weekend.
If the Hogs had the bats in mid-season form, it would not be unreasonable to think they score double-digit runs every game. However, they were scoring 3.7 runs per game before Wednesday so there may be a game or two that are closer than they should be. The talent level that Arkansas has is greater than what it has shown in 2022, which makes these games harder to predict and scarier than they should be.
Even with the historic season in 2021, they were not blowing teams out of the water. Instead, Arkansas relied on late-inning offense to create multiple comeback victories.
That means there will likely be one or two close games over the weekend, but it’s still early and a win by 1 counts the same as a win by 20.
Feature photo via Baumology (Rhett Hutchins)