FAYETTEVILLE — Scoring two in the eighth on Christian Franklin’s RBI triple and Cullen Smith’s single scoring Franklin, and two more in the ninth Monday night, the Arkansas Razorbacks overcame the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs, 4-1.
It supported a second consecutive multi-pitchers masterpiece enabling Arkansas joining Ole Miss as SEC West teams sweeping Big 12 members Texas Tech, Texas and TCU at the three-day State Farm College Baseball Showdown at the Major League’s Texas Rangers Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
With Mississippi State only losing to TCU and topping Texas and Tech, the SEC went 8-1 over the Big 12 in Arlington.
Coach Dave Van Horn’s Razorbacks, ranked eighth preseason by D1 Baseball but bound to rise defeating Tech, Texas and TCU teams ranked third, ninth and 10th, take a 3-0 record into a Thursday through Sunday four-game series at Baum-Walker Stadium against Southeast Missouri State, 2-1.
Rallying with five in the ninth to save a frazzled bullpen wasting Zebulon Vermillion’s strong start to defeat Texas Tech, 13-9 Saturday night, the Razorbacks bore arms mowing down the Longhorns Sunday and the Horned Frogs Monday.
“I mean pitching the last two nights has been outstanding obviously,” Van Horn said Monday postgame. “The pitchers, I talked to them about what a great job they’ve done the last couple of days after the first day didn’t go so well. They bounced back. They’re tough. It took our offense a while to get going, really both nights.”
Arkansas struck out 13 times against TCU and was shut out the first seven innings after striking out nine times with just six hits against Texas.
Also after running the bases superbly against Tech and Texas, against TCU “We made a few base-running mistakes,” Van Horn said.
Arkansas against TCU lost a runner trying to advance from second to third on a grounder to short and wasted what should have been a RBI hit by Greenbrier’s Cayden Wallace.
Runners on first and second were so confused if Wallace’s ball was caught or not in left that Wallace passed the retreating runner to be called out as he rounded first.
Sunday night Benton’s Peyton Pallette, Caden Monke and Caleb Bolden combined for a two-hitter and 15 strikeouts, eight by Pallette for 4.1 and seven by Bolden for four, to beat Texas, 4-0. Designated hitter Brady Slavens knocked in all runs with a RBI single and three-run home run.
Against TCU, Arkansas starter Lael Lockhart, yielding both hits and a run through 4.1 innings while striking out eight, and relievers Evan Taylor (inducing a double play to complete Lockhart’s fifth inning) Jaxon Wiggins, Ryan Costeiu and Kevin Kopps combined for a two-hitter with 18 strikeouts.
Freshman Wiggins debuted his 98 miles per hour fast ball striking out the side in the sixth. Costeiu, credited with the win as the pitcher of record when Franklin in the eighth, tripled to left-center scoring Jalen Battles (bloop single) and scored on Smith’s single between first and second, struck out two retiring TCU 1-2-3 in the home seventh.
Arkansas senior Kevin Kopps recorded a two-inning save striking out five against two walks and no hits. He pitched the ninth with a 4-1 cushion after Casey Opitz in the Arkansas ninth doubled home Slavens (hit by pitch) then advanced on Zack Gregory’s sacrifice bunt to score on a wild pitch.
Junior Preseason All-American center fielder Franklin had gone 0 for 5 striking out four times against Texas Tech and had but one hit for the series before smoking the eighth-inning RBI triple against five strikeouts in 3.1 innings by TCU reliever Charles King.
“We knew it was coming,” Van Horn said of Franklin shaking his slump. “He hit a ball deep to center field the other night about 405. Lined out to left. Hit the ball pretty good to center. Obviously he’s struck out a little bit more than normal. But we kind of knew it was coming.”
Franklin stayed patient but acknowledged “It was really big,” to have the timely hit.
“I was just trying to stick to the process and not get ahead of myself,” Franklin said.
“Going into that at bat I told myself not to get too big and just stick to my game plan and my approach and that’s all you can do. I hit a lot of balls hard and I knew if I kept doing that that eventually it was going to fall. We have such a good pitching staff you want to be able to score runs for them.”
Kopps, not effective relieving against Tech, cast that and other thoughts from his mind upon brought in up 2-1 in Monday’s eighth.
“I stopped thinking,” Kopps said. “I focused on throwing the ball to (catcher Casey) Opitz and didn’t worry about all the mechanics.”
He did see enough of Wiggins’ explosive debut to think highly of the 6-foot-6 flamethrower.
“Even though I expected that to happen from him a little bit, watching him is pretty remarkable.” Kopps said.
Van Horn laughed out loud.
“I got a chuckle on that one,” Van Horn said. “I mean, he saw three hitters and struck them all out and it was the first time he got on the mound in college. It was about as good as it could go.”