Arkansas' bats come alive late to down Kent State

By: Dudley E. Dawson
Published: Sunday, March 11, 2018
Arkansas first baseman Jordan McFarland (13) is congratulated by teammates after he hit a grand slam during a game against Kent State on Sunday, March 11, 2018, in Fayetteville.
Photo by J.T. Wampler
Arkansas first baseman Jordan McFarland (13) is congratulated by teammates after he hit a grand slam during a game against Kent State on Sunday, March 11, 2018, in Fayetteville.

— After getting Kent State’s All-American pitcher and potential first-round MLB draft pick Joey Murray out of the game after five innings, Arkansas got a chance to show off its bats Sunday.

Casey Martin, Jordan McFarland and Carson Shaddy all launched solo homers against reliever Zach Shultz in the seventh inning, and McFarland added a grand slam in the eighth as the Razorbacks beat the Golden Flashes 11-4 Sunday afternoon in front of 3,049 fans at Baum Stadium.

Arkansas (11-4) trailed 4-1 early, but scored 10 unanswered runs over its final four at-bats to take the series after splitting Friday’s doubleheader with Kent State (7-5).

“I thought the guys responded pretty good,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn. “We didn’t feel good about the way the second game (a 10-4 loss) went the other night....We felt like we were flat. We almost looked like we were satisfied and we were out-played and out-hustled.”

Van Horn - whose team hosts No. 20 Texas on Tuesday - said he got after his team on Saturday, when no baseball was played because of expected thunderstorms that never materialized.

“I kind of challenged the guys a little bit after the game,” Van Horn said. “They got challenged a little bit yesterday in practice. Win or lose today, they came out and gave great effort and we did it with some younger guys on the mound. It was a big series win for us.”

Heston Kjerstad’s two-out RBI double off Murray cut Kent State's lead to 4-2 in the fifth and Martin’s two-run double with two outs in the sixth tied the game against reliever Jared Skolnicki.

“Kjerstad worked the count a little bit and took a couple borderline pitches, then got a pitch,” Van Horn said. “It was a left-on-left at bat and he threw the fastball up and away and he smoked it into the left center field alley and tied up the game.

“And then Martin came up there (an inning later) and hit the ball out of the ballpark to give us the lead and got us riled up in the dugout even more. Just kept it going with a couple other balls that were hit out of the park.”

McFarland, who struck out without swinging in a key situation in the fifth while pinch-hitting for an injured Jared Gates, got his money’s worth in his last two at-bats.

“I thought McFarland, after his first at-bat, had two really good at-bats,” Van Horn said. “His second at-bat, he fouled off three or four pitches, then he hit a fly ball down the left field line that got up in the wind and pushed it back fair and it went out of the park.

“Sometimes you get rewarded by battling and having a good at-bat and not giving in. That was big for us, for Jordan as well, but it was big for us to add to that lead.”

McFarland said he wasn't aggressive enough in his pinch-hit opportunity.

“Coach Van Horn made that pretty obvious that I wasn't being aggressive," McFarland said. "I made some adjustments and sure took that to heart.

“I went up the first time looking for the perfect pitch and that probably wasn't the right thing to do with men on base. I was just trying to poke the ball in the outfield and score some runs.”

Arkansas freshman Bryce Bonnin started and lasted 4 innings and gave up 4 runs - 1 unearned - on 3 hits, 3 walks and 3 strikeouts.

Kole Ramage faced three batters without getting any outs before Evan Lee (1-1) pitched a career-high 4 1/3 innings of scoreless relief. Lee allowed two hits.

“I had a three-pitch mix going,” Lee said. “Really had a feel for my fastball command today and then supplemented it with a curveball and a changeup, just kind of kept them off-balance and let my defense work. I know they're really good behind me.

“Not necessarily trying to blow them away, just trying to get outs. I'm fortunate enough to help our team win the baseball game today and on to Texas.”

Van Horn was not upset with his starter.

“I actually thought Bryce Bonnin had really good stuff,” Van Horn said. “ He walked the leadoff man, battled him, ended up drawing a walk.

"After that he kicked it into gear; pitched out of a jam, only gave up one run and gave us a couple of pretty good innings.

“I think he ran out of gas there. We probably left him in one too many hitters, or maybe a half a hitter because I think we pulled him with a 2-0 count. Ramage came in and kept it down a little bit. We didn’t help him.”

Kent State coach Jeff Duncan, whose program faced Arkansas in the 2012 College World Series and has won 81 games the past two seasons, was disappointed with the loss, but still pleased with the weekend.

“We knew going in that we had our hands full and that they are a good club,” Duncan said. “A lot of people have them winning the national title and that is a really talented group over there. I am proud of the way we handled the environment, a regional type setting and we played really good baseball.

“We were going in the bottom of the sixth to take a series up 4-1, but came up short, didn’t make a play at short and then didn’t make some pitches. But we are just a couple of pitches away and a play away from really making it interesting going into those final three innings.”

Murray (1-1, 2.73 ERA) was a second-team All-American last season and a preseason All-American this year.

He was 6-1 with a 1.80 ERA last season while striking out 110 in 75 innings, was the MAC pitcher of the year in 2017 and the preseason pick to do so again this season.

“He could be a first-round pick,” Duncan said. “He is an All-American, was one for us last year and he has been averaging over a strikeout an inning. He’s been phenomenal. He is very deceptive and has a high spin rate, which is something that people look into now.

“He has a high spin rate on that baseball and he has a good fastball and a lot of guys don’t square it up. He has got a curveball and a slider and a change up to go with it. He can really pitch.”

Murray allowed 2 runs on 4 hits with 5 strikeouts and 5 walks while throwing 94 pitches.

Skolnicki lasted five hitters and gave way to Schultz, who faced just four and gave up the trio of homers.

“That is not what you were hoping for right there,” Duncan said. “You have to tip your cap to them because they stayed with it because we kind of held their bats down really in the first two games. They just stayed with it, got pitches they could handle and really drove them.”

Kent State has won the MAC the last two seasons and hopes to return this season as it did in 2012, the year before Duncan was hired.

“I think we have a really good club and we are trying to build to get to the postseason and go from there," Duncan said.

Arkansas will host Texas (9-7) on Tuesday 7 p.m. and Wednesday afternoon at 4. The Razorbacks follow with their SEC opener against No. 6 Kentucky on Friday.

“Texas rolls in and they know they've got to stay even keel and do the best they can to win those games, and then we've got to move on,” Van Horn said. “That’s the way this game works. You can't get too high or low, you just need to play solid. “

Kacey Murphy will start for Arkansas on Tuesday, but no starter has been determined for Wednesday.

“We'll probably just throw a little bit of everybody,” Van Horn said. “We’ve got Kentucky coming in next weekend, the beginning of conference.

"They're just two really good midweek games. (Texas is) a team that going into the week was ranked in the top 25 of a lot of the polls - just a solid team, big-name team, I guess. It'll be a good series.”


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