Bulldogs bite back: Hogs surrender 5-run lead in latter innings

By: Will Sammon Special to the Democrat-Gazette
Published: Saturday, April 21, 2018
Eric Cole prepares to hit a grand slam home run during the second inning of their NCAA college baseball game against Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss., Friday, April 20, 2018.
Photo by Jim Lytle
Eric Cole prepares to hit a grand slam home run during the second inning of their NCAA college baseball game against Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss., Friday, April 20, 2018.

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Down 5-0 in the bottom of the sixth inning, the last-place team in the SEC West turned the tables on the division front runners.

Luke Alexander hit a three-run home run off University of Arkansas, Fayetteville ace Blaine Knight in the sixth, and the game unraveled on the Hogs (28-11, 10-6 SEC) in the bottom of the eighth of a 6-5 loss to Mississippi State (20-19, 6-10 SEC) at Dudy Noble Field.

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With a strong possibility of thunderstorms in the forecast for Sunday, the Razorbacks and Bulldogs will play a doubleheader Saturday starting at noon.

As far as the matchup of teams in opposite places in the standings, Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said he never looked at it that way.

"It's only 15 games in," Van Horn said. "They have a good team with good talent. Maybe they've had a couple of bad breaks. Maybe we've had some things go our way."

Mississippi State's first two batters in the eighth reached on walks issued by Arkansas left-handed closer Matt Cronin, who had relieved Knight in the sixth inning and struck out the first four hitters he faced. After a sacrifice bunt and a strikeout, Bulldogs' third baseman Jordan Westburg hit a two-out, two-run single to tie the game at 5-5. He advanced to second on an error by left fielder Heston Kjerstad and scored the go-ahead run on Elijah MacNamee's single off Jake Reindl, who had relieved Cronin after he issued his third walk of the inning.

"We couldn't finish those couple of hitters off, and you just have to credit their hitters because they battled and kept getting to the next pitch and the next pitch until something happened," Van Horn said.

Arkansas' bats fell silent after scoring four in the second and one in the fifth. The Razorbacks struck out nine times in four innings against Mississippi State reliever JP France. Not a single Razorback reached base in that span.

Things were pointing up for the Hogs when right fielder Eric Cole crushed the ball to left field for a grand slam in the second for a 4-0 lead.

The Hogs made it 5-0 in the fifth when Kjerstad scored on center fielder Dominic Fletcher's sacrifice fly. The Razorbacks had their way against Mississippi State ace Konnor Pilkington, and the southpaw was lifted after surrendering 5 runs (4 earned), 9 hits and 3 walks in 5 innings.

Knight retired the first eight batters he faced without allowing a baserunner, and he needed only eight pitches in the second after receiving the four-run cushion.

Hard contact wasn't what got Knight in trouble in the sixth, but it was what ended his night. Mississippi State left fielder and No. 9 hitter Rowdey Jorden led off the frame with a bunt single; leadoff man and center fielder Jake Mangum walked; then Alexander, the shortstop, hit a three-run home run to left to cut the lead to 5-3.

Knight retired the next batter, but second baseman Hunter Stovall hit a one-out double to right field on the first offering he saw from Knight. Van Horn elected to stick with Knight, who fanned Westburg on four pitches. With first baseman Josh Hatcher up next and swinging from the left side, Van Horn summoned Cronin, who struck out Hatcher with a breaking ball in the dirt to end the inning.

The Razorbacks outhit the Bulldogs 9-7, but the home team picked the perfect spots to get several of them.

"That was the most fun we've had all season," Mississippi State interim coach Gary Henderson said.

Cronin took the loss by allowing 3 earned runs on 1 hit, 3 walks and 5 strikeouts in 2 innings. He threw 51 pitches.

Kjerstad, catcher Grant Koch and shortstop Jax Biggers all had two hits for the Razorbacks, who stranded seven runners.

Sports on 04/21/2018

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