College Baseball:

Freshman's HRs can't carry Hogs

By: PAUL NIELSEN SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018
Arkansas designated hitter Luke Bonfield is tagged out by Charlotte infielder Tommy Bullock during a game Wednesday, March 21, 2018, at Hayes Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
Photo by Sam Roberts, FreezeFrame via Charlotte Athletics
Arkansas designated hitter Luke Bonfield is tagged out by Charlotte infielder Tommy Bullock during a game Wednesday, March 21, 2018, at Hayes Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Five University of North Carolina-Charlotte pitchers kept Arkansas' offense in check, and the 49ers took advantage of three errors in the bottom of the eighth inning to break open a tight game and post a 6-3 victory over the fourth-ranked Razorbacks at Hayes Stadium on Thursday night.

The victory marked the highest ranked team UNCC (12-8) has defeated at home, as former University of Arkansas, Fayetteville pitcher Jonah Patten, who pitched as a freshman for the Razorbacks in 2015, recorded the final three outs for the save.

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"Our guys went out there and executed," said UNCC Coach Loren Hibbs, who is in his 26th season at the school. "I'm very proud of the effort. Arkansas has pros all over the field and every arm they run out there is about the same, 90s to mid 90s with a breaking ball. We beat a great team tonight.''

Arkansas (16-5) managed seven hits, and all of the Razorbacks' scoring came on two Heston Kjerstad home runs. Arkansas, which entered the game averaging 9.3 runs a game, left eight runners stranded, including three in scoring position.

Arkansas took a 2-0 lead in the second inning when Kjerstad hit a two-run home run. The freshman's solo home run in the ninth cut set the final margin.

"That was all of our offense today as far as driving in runs," said Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn. "If we had had a better bottom of the eighth, that swing [in the ninth inning] would have been real important. We couldn't string hits together. We just didn't play well."

The 49ers, the top hitting team in Conference USA, managed nine hits off nine Arkansas pitchers. UNCC took a 3-2 lead to the bottom of the eighth, but the 49ers used 3 Arkansas errors, 2 walks, a hit batter, a wild pitch and a single to score 3 runs for a 6-2 lead.

"We made some mistakes, and you especially can't make mistakes on the road," Van Horn said.

After Kjerstad's second home run led off the ninth off Colby Bruce, Patten closed the game with two strikeouts sandwiched around a fly out to center.

Bruce (2-0) earned the victory, pitching 2 1/3 innings and allowing two hits. Patten's save was his second of the season.

"Arkansas is so balanced that you have to keep them off balance, and we did that," Hibbs said. "We were able to mix and match out of the bullpen. Bruce was the guy and when he got hot we decided to stick with him. Most of our bullpen was really good."

Arkansas got three solid innings from starter Barrett Loseke, who made his second start of the year. Loseke didn't allow a hit while striking out eight.

Loseke struck out the 49ers in order in the first, and the junior got three consecutive strike outs in the second after giving up a leadoff walk to cleanup hitter Harris Yett, Conference USA's leading hitter.

UNCC's only contact against Loseke came on a ground out to shortstop to start the third which the right-hander followed with two more strikeouts to end his day.

"I thought he threw pretty good," Van Horn said. "He gave us a chance. We built up a 2-0 lead and should have had more. He did a good job for us."

Arkansas returns to action at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Florida (18-4, 2-1) to begin a weekend series against the Gators.

SHORT HOPS

Freshman outfielder Heston Kjerstad hit his fourth and fifth home runs Wednesday for the Razorbacks’ only runs in a 6-3 loss at Charlotte. Kjerstad leads the Razorbacks with 25 RBI, three more than fellow freshman Casey Martin. … Florida swept the last series between the teams by scores of 12-8, 9-2 and 8-2 at Baum Stadium on April 14-16, 2016. … Arkansas battered Brady Singer, the Gators’ Friday night starter, for 8 runs, including 3 home runs during his 1-plus inning stint in a 16-0 loss to the Razorbacks in last year’s SEC Tournament.

Sports on 03/22/2018

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