Koch hits 2 HRs, Arkansas tops Kentucky in SEC opener

By: Matt Jones
Published: Friday, March 16, 2018
Arkansas catcher Grant Koch hits a home run during a game against Kentucky on Friday, March 16, 2018, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas catcher Grant Koch hits a home run during a game against Kentucky on Friday, March 16, 2018, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — Grant Koch’s first at-bat was not an indication of what was to come Friday.

Koch never swung and struck out looking to lead off the bottom of the second inning, but he heated up afterward, hitting two home runs in No. 10 Arkansas’ 9-4 win over No. 4 Kentucky in front of 7,682 at Baum Stadium in the SEC opener for both teams.

Koch hit a two-run home run to left field in the fifth inning to give the Razorbacks a 6-2 lead, and a solo homer to left to lead off the seventh to make it 7-2. He also drew a bases-loaded walk in the third and tied a career high with 4 RBI.

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Koch became the first Arkansas catcher to hit multiple home runs in a game since James McCann hit two during a 2010 win over Grambling in the NCAA regional.

“I was seeing it well all day,” Koch said. “I think I was frustrated because I think the pitches in the first at-bat were off the plate. You’ve just kind of got to adjust….I guess it just took me an at-bat to figure out (the umpire’s) zone and usually I don’t deviate from mine. It felt good to make the adjustment and get a few pitches to hit, and put a good swing on them.”

The Razorbacks’ big offensive performance started against reigning Southeastern Conference pitcher of the year Sean Hjelle, a 6-11 right-hander who allowed four runs in a season-low 3 1/3 innings for the Wildcats (14-4, 0-1). Hjelle allowed 5 walks after entering with 4 walks and a 1.35 ERA in 26 2/3 innings.

“The hitters did a good job of figuring (the strike zone) out and fouling balls off, and getting to the next pitch,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said.

“We were just trying to be aggressive. (Hjelle) is a strike thrower, but I thought the guys were locked in pretty good.”

Eric Cole hit a solo home run with one out and Dominic Fletcher and Jordan McFarland each had two-out RBI hits during a three-run first for the Razorbacks (14-4, 1-0). Cole robbed Kentucky of a home run on the game’s first pitch when he caught Troy Squries’ drive with a leaping effort above the wall in right field.

“This is a game of inches,” Kentucky coach Nick Mingione said. “We put a good swing on the ball and their guy made a great play. It was the play of the game.”

Arkansas junior Blaine Knight pitched 4 2/3 innings in a 90-pitch no-decision. He allowed six hits and struck out four, and stayed in the game after a scary moment in the third inning when he took a line drive off the inside of his left shin.

Knight left the game in the fifth with the bases loaded and a 4-1 lead. Reliever Jake Reindl walked in a run, but struck out Kole Cottam to strand the bases loaded and preserve a 4-2 lead.

Kentucky outhit Arkansas 12-11, but stranded 12 runners with several long flyouts.

“I thought we did a lot of good things,” Mingione said. “That was as well as we’ve swung the bats in a long time. They would bend, but they didn’t break.”

Carson Shaddy doubled in the at-bat following Koch’s homer in the seventh and scored when Jax Biggers doubled in the first at-bat against reliever Aaron McGeorge to make it 8-2 Arkansas. Kentucky threw six pitchers, four of which gave up at least one run.

The Wildcats pulled within 8-4 in the eighth on an RBI single by Squires and RBI double by Tristan Pompey, but stranded two runners when Luke Becker grounded out to reliever Matt Cronin.

Arkansas loaded the bases in the eighth on a single, hit by pitch and walk, and Casey Martin scored on Heston Kjerstad’s long sacrifice fly to the warning track in left-center field. Martin extended his hit streak to 11 games.

Short Hops

Arkansas hit three home runs Friday, bringing its season total to 29 in 18 games. The Razorbacks ranked No. 6 nationally in home runs entering the game. Kentucky, which ranked fourth, has 31 home runs after Kole Cottam's solo homer in the second inning...This weekend's series is the first between top 10 teams at Baum Stadium since 2013 when then-No. 2 LSU defeated then-No. 10 Arkansas twice in three games...Arkansas won its SEC home opener for the fourth consecutive season...The Razorbacks have scored 141 runs in 14 home games this season, and have a home record of 12-2.

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Photos by Andy Shupe

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