Razorbacks lose opener at Vandy

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – After a two-and-a-half hour rain delay, the No. 14 University of Arkansas baseball team fell to Vanderbilt, 4-3, Thursday night at Hawkins Field. In the loss, Bo Bigham and Collin Kuhn paced the club with two hits while Monk Kreder tallied two RBI. Despite two errors by Arkansas, both teams flashed the leather with three double plays each.

Vanderbilt (40-13, 16-10 SEC) grabbed the early lead with two runs in the home half of the first inning. With two down and a runner on second after a Jason Esposito double, Aaron Westlake lifted a two-run homer over the 35-foot wall in left field to put his team ahead, 2-0. It was the ninth home run of the season for the Commodores’ first baseman.

The Razorbacks responded immediately to take the lead in the top of the second. Bigham got things started with a one-out base hit up the middle. After back-to-back walks by Vanderbilt starter Sonny Gray, Arkansas (38-16, 16-12 SEC) had the bases loaded for Kreder. The Hogs’ designated hitter delivered with a two-run single to plate Bigham and Travis Sample and tie the score. With two down, Kuhn drove in the go-ahead run with a bouncer through the left side of the infield.

The home team tied the game with a run in the bottom of the fourth. Curt Casali led off the frame with a single to right field. Arkansas starter Drew Smyly struck out the next two Vanderbilt hitters but gave up a base hit to Connor Harrel and an RBI double to Bryan Johns that pulled the Commodores even. Smyly shook off the score and got out of trouble with his third strikeout of the inning.

In an inning that featured a pair of defensive miscues, an inning-ending double play turned by the Razorback defense kept Vanderbilt off the scoreboard in the fifth. Anthony Gomez reached by way of an error for the second time. Later in the inning, Westlake struck out but reached on a passed ball and Gomez ended up on third. Casali, the Commodores’ next hitter, hit a hot shot to Matt Reynolds at third and the freshman started a 5-4-3 double play to get Arkansas out of trouble.

Smyly allowed three runs on six hits in five innings Thursday night. He tallied six strikeouts and did not figure into the decision. DJ Baxendale entered the ballgame to start the sixth and got out of a bases-loaded jam in his first inning of work. After two singles and a plunked hitter, the Commodores had the bases full but Baxendale induced an innocent grounder from Gomez that Andy Wilkins handled unassisted at first for the third out.

Vanderbilt took the 4-3 lead in the bottom of the seventh. Esposito led off the inning with a base hit into left field and stood at second after a stolen base. Casali followed with an RBI single to center field to plate Esposito and give the home team the one-run advantage.

With Gray out of the game after an eight-inning, nine-strikeout performance, the Hogs faced reliever Chase Reid in the top of the ninth. Sample led off the inning with a single deep into the hole at shortstop; Kyle Atkins came off the bench to pinch run. Carver failed to get a bunt down to move the runner to second and Reid struck him out. With one out and Kreder at the plate, Zack Cox grabbed a bat and stepped into the on-deck circle for a chance to pinch hit. However, Kreder grounded into the game-ending double play.

Cox was missing his second consecutive game with a sore back. The two teams return to the field Friday for game two of the series at Hawkins Field with first pitch scheduled for 6 p.m. Mike Bolsinger (5-3, 4.66 ERA) will get the start for the Razorbacks, while Vanderbilt will counter with RHP Taylor Hill (5-3, 3.57 ERA).