Louisiana Tech Forces Rubber Match With Arkansas
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The 10th-ranked Arkansas Baseball team endured four different lead changes with Louisiana Tech on Saturday at Baum-Walker Stadium, but the Bulldogs scored three runs in each of the seventh and ninth innings and the Hogs couldn’t respond, falling 12-7 and forcing a rubber match in Sunday’s series finale.
Arkansas (11-2) suffers its first loss at home in 2019 and its first loss when leading after the fifth inning this year. It also snaps a 10-game home winning streak the Hogs’ had coming in, dating back to the 2018 NCAA Fayetteville Super Regional.
Arkansas’ bullpen struggled to keep Louisiana Tech (10-4) away from the big inning as the Bulldogs were able to continuously get men on base and bring them home with the home run. Louisiana Tech hit three home runs in the game, two of the three-run variety. Eight of the 12 Bulldog runs were scored off Arkansas relievers as the arms that followed starter Connor Noland couldn’t keep runners off base.
Noland turned in his longest outing of the year, going five innings and even returned in the sixth with only one run allowed on one hit. Before the sixth inning, Noland had struck out only three batters, but had induced eight groundball outs and the only hit was a double to right-center field.
Unfortunately, the sixth inning was the beginning of the undoing. With Arkansas leading 5-1, Louisiana Tech got a runner on via error and followed it with a single to put two on and nobody out. That led to a Mason Mallard three-run home run to pull the Bulldogs within one. Noland was relieved for Kole Ramage, who followed to work only two-thirds of an inning, giving up a two-out solo home run and an RBI single, allowing Louisiana Tech to take the 6-5 lead.
The Razorbacks did tie the game in the bottom half of the sixth when Heston Kjerstad singled home Casey Martin, his lone RBI of the game. However, the offense stopped there as it could not get the inning to continue to possibly re-take the lead.
Louisiana Tech took the lead for good in the top of the seventh, capitalizing on a throwing error by Jacob Nesbit and then scoring two on a deep sacrifice fly to centerfield by Parker Bates. Those runs extended the lead to 9-6 and Arkansas could only respond with one more run in the bottom half of the seventh before the offense stalled for the remainder of the game.
Offensively, five different players recorded multi-hit games, including two with three hits or more. Heston Kjerstad and Dominic Fletcher both turned in three-hit games, but only Kjerstad drove in run. Infielder Casey Martin was able to pick up his first multi-hit game since Feb. 22 at USC, going 2-for-5 with two runs scored and three RBIs.
Martin drove in all three of his runs on an inside-the-park home run, his second home run of the year. It was part of a four-run second inning that included a solo home run by Zack Plunkett. It was the first inside-the-park home run by a Razorback hitter since Eric Cole on Feb. 19, 2017 against Miami (Ohio).
Arkansas’ offense only managed one run in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings the rest of the way as it could not counter Louisiana Tech’s big inning swings. The Razorbacks left a combined eight runners on base over the final five innings, 11 in the game, their most in a single game this year.
“I thought Connor Noland pitched fantastic for five-plus innings, honestly. He got a little bit tired there, and we were just trying to get him through the sixth, but his pitch count, it wasn’t up there at all going into the sixth. I mean he gives up a wind-blown three-run homer that was just a regular fly ball and it was kind of bad luck. But, the disappointing part of the game for me was our bullpen. A couple of veteran guys didn’t come in and shut them down, which was disappointing. On the offensive end, we had a lot of opportunities to blow the game open. We had a lot of people on base, and we never got the big hit.” – Head coach Dave Van Horn on the team’s loss to Louisiana Tech
“It’s frustrating. You have to see the ball up. Wrong guy at the plate, but it’s been a little bit of everybody, honestly. There’s guys that have to do a better job of getting the bat on the ball and driving a run in. We talked about it after the game. It was frustrating today.” – Head coach Dave Van Horn on leaving 11 runners on base
“They had more timely hitting than we did, hit more balls up in the wind. Like Coach (Dave) Van Horn said, solo home runs with the wind blowing like that aren’t going to win the game; it’s the three-run home runs that will get you. That’s what they did better than us.” – Dominic Fletcher on losing the lead in the sixth inning
“I haven’t thought about it too much. I’m just thinking about having a good start, helping us get a lead, let the offense swing the bats and put zeroes on the board. I’m not too worried about the win-loss column. I just want to have good starts and efficient outings.” – Connor Noland on his outing and not having a decision in four starts
Arkansas and Louisiana Tech will play a rubber match on Sunday at Baum-Walker Stadium. Tomorrow’s game will be the final game of the three-game series and has first pitch set at 1 p.m. on SEC Network+.
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