Hogs jump on Texas early, rout Longhorns

By: Tom Murphy
Published: March 19, 2019 at 9:21 p.m. - Updated: March 19, 2019 at 11:05 p.m.
Arkansas outfielder Christian Franklin (25) celebrates a grand slam with infielder Jacob Nesbit (5) during an NCAA college baseball game against Texas, Tuesday, March 19, 2019, in Austin, Texas. (Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)
Arkansas outfielder Christian Franklin (25) celebrates a grand slam with infielder Jacob Nesbit (5) during an NCAA college baseball game against Texas, Tuesday, March 19, 2019, in Austin, Texas. (Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

— Christian Franklin thought he had lifted a deep fly ball to left field to give the University of Arkansas a sacrifice fly and a two-run lead in the second inning at Texas on Tuesday night.

Nope. The majestic shot drifted just over the wall for a grand slam that propelled the No. 9 Razorbacks to yet another rout of their old rival, an 11-4 victory over the No. 15 Longhorns.

Arkansas (18-2) won its seventh consecutive game and its program-best fifth in a row over the Longhorns (15-8) before a crowd of 6,208 at Disch-Falk Field.

Heston Kjerstad added a tape-measure home run during the Razorbacks’ early onslaught and Dominic Fletcher hit a pair of doubles in Arkansas’ 11-hit attack.

“Off the bat, I was just thinking it’s a sacrifice fly and happy that I got some good barrel to it to get us another run, and then the left fielder just kept drifting back further and further, and it eventually went over the wall,” said Franklin, who increased his team RBI lead to 23.

The grand slam had two sets of drama, as Franklin nearly passed teammate Jacob Nesbit, who had run back to first base in case he needed to tag up. Franklin apparently got one foot past Nesbit just past the bag, and the umpiring crew upheld the home run call on review.

The Razorbacks have outscored their former Southwest Conference rival 49-21 during the five-game winning streak, including an 11-5 victory in the opener of last year’s College World Series.

“We’ve played well,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. “I don’t know. It’s not like we have something on them. … Tonight, we felt like we were due to hit because we didn’t really hit all weekend. We won three games, felt fortunate to do that. I think our hitters were a little frustrated. They got some pitches early and they didn’t miss them.”

The teams will wrap up the two-game series tonight at 6:30 with neither team announcing a starting pitcher.

“That was a tough one,” Texas Coach David Pierce said. “Bottom line is you can’t pitch from behind and walk guys, especially against good-hitting ball clubs.”

Every Razorback except leadoff man Casey Martin had scored a run by the fourth inning and every Arkansas batter had reached base when Trevor Ezell walked to lead off the fourth inning.

Arkansas middle reliever Kole Ramage (5-0) picked up the victory behind Patrick Wicklander, who threw three shutout innings before running into trouble in the fourth.

“Their starting pitcher was 90-94 and commanding the bottom of the zone,” Pierce said. “He’s one of the best Tuesday night guys we’ve ever faced for sure.”

Ramage retired all nine Texas batters he faced on 29 pitches in the fifth through seventh innings.

“Coming out of the bullpen, I knew I kind of had every pitch going,” Ramage said. “I just came out and attacked these hitters. They were getting a little aggressive because they were coming off that inning where Wick kind of got a couple hits off of him.

“Obviously it’s Texas so it means a little bit, but just being able to go out and beat anyone, it really helps us.”

Sophomore Zebulon Vermillion retired the final six Texas batters.

Neither team scored after the fourth inning, but there were major eruptions in the first few frames.

Texas 6-9 right-hander Jack Neely (0-1) breezed through the first inning on five pitches — all strikes — but the Razorbacks ambushed him in the second.

Fletcher stroked a double into the right-field corner to open the frame and Casey Opitz’s ground ball to the right side moved him to third. Matt Goodheart’s infield single crossed up the first and second basemen and drove in the game’s first run.

Jack Kenley and Nesbit worked consecutive walks to load the bases and bring up Franklin, who launched his third home run and the Razorbacks’ first grand slam since Hunter Wilson did it against Florida in last year’s SEC Tournament.

“It’s one of those things, you hit a ball that high with the wind blowing like that — he hit it good, had backspin — it was going to travel,” Van Horn said. “But the runner started to come back to tag. A little risky there. So, as the hitter obviously you’re used to running hard. He’s got to keep his head up. It was about as close as it can be. He has to pass him 100 percent [for an out to be called]. I was told that he might have had a foot past him, but his body wasn’t past him.”

Texas left fielder Eric Kennedy kept drifting and drifting back to the wall before the ball cleared it by a few feet to make it 5-0.

One out later, Kjerstad hammered a first-pitch Neely fastball just to the right of the center field “monster” that went an estimated 435 feet.

“Crushed,” Van Horn said. “It was a no-doubter. It wasn’t really wind-aided. It was going to go no matter what. But he got all of that one. He’s been a little frustrated on the power numbers. He’s been getting his hits, batting average has climbed a little bit, but at the same time he hasn’t hit the ball out of the ball park like he can. That was a big swing for us.”

That shot put the Razorbacks up 6-0 and they kept up the assault in the next inning.

Fletcher led off the third with another double, this one to the left-center gap. After Opitz walked, both runners moved up on a wild pitch by reliever Donny Diaz. Kenley walked again to load the bases.

Nesbit got a 1-1 pitch to his liking and stroked it into the gap in left-center field for a two-run double, his first extra base hit of the season.

After Diaz struck out Franklin for the second out of the inning, Martin delivered a two-run single to right field to plate Kenley and Nesbit for a 10-0 lead.

The lead grew by a run in the fourth, which opened with Ezell’s walk. He stole second base, moved up on a ground ball by Opitz and scored on a wild pitch.

All of Texas’ runs came in the fourth inning, which Wicklander nearly escaped with no damage.

Todd Austin singled to open the bottom of the fourth and advanced to third on Zach Zubia’s ringing double to the wall in right center. Wicklander induced a line drive out by Ryan Reynolds for the second out, then Tate Shaw smoked a ball inside the first base bag that bounced over Ezell’s glove and went into the corner for a two-run double.

Reserve catcher Caston Peter, making his 16th at-bat of the season, ripped the next pitch over the Arkansas bullpen for a 394-foot two-run home run.

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