Arkansas plays possum, runs down LSU late

By: Dudley E. Dawson
Published: Friday, May 10, 2019
LSU coach Paul Mainieri (left) takes the baseball from pitcher Zack Hess (38) during a game Friday, May 10, 2019, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
LSU coach Paul Mainieri (left) takes the baseball from pitcher Zack Hess (38) during a game Friday, May 10, 2019, in Fayetteville.

— At the conclusion of Arkansas’ 11-6 victory over visiting LSU on Friday night, the video board at Baum-Walker Stadium featured a picture of an animated dead possum that had been run over.

It was a nice trolling reference to the Tigers’ much-celebrated "Rally Possum" that came onto the field in Baton Rouge, La., and sparked a comeback from a 9-1 deficit in the fifth inning to a 10-9 win on May 7, 2016.

It was also appropriate for how LSU coach Paul Mainieri and his squad felt after seeing Arkansas explode for 11 unanswered runs after the Tigers had taken a 3-0 lead.

The No. 4 and SEC Western Division-leading Razorbacks (39-12, 19-7 SEC) clinched a series win over No. 17 LSU (30-21, 14-12) for the first time since 2011.

“It is not easy to win here,” Mainieri said. “They have a great team. I am just proud of the guys. They battled like crazy all night tonight, right to the very end. Arkansas did a little bit more than we did tonight and they won. That is how baseball works sometimes.”

Arkansas, which has a 2 1/2-game lead in the West and played before the sixth-largest crowd in its stadium's history, was ahead 5-3 going into the eighth inning before the Razorbacks plated six runs while sending 11 men the plate.

“I thought it was great game there for a long time until they had that big eighth inning,” Mainieri said. “I thought (LSU starting pitcher Eric) Walker pitched marvelously and we had a couple of good rallies. We had the bases loaded one inning and they made the move to bring in (Kevin) Kopps and he got the double play ball, and we couldn’t do much with him after that.”

Walker went 4 1/3 innings and allowed two runs on three hits before Mainieri chose to pull him in favor of closer Zack Hess.

Hess (3-4), who entered the game with his team ahead 3-1, gave up five hits and three runs over two innings before Arkansas ravaged Trent Vietmeier for six runs in the eighth.

“We went to Hess early because I didn’t know if we would have another lead the whole weekend,” Mainieri said. “I knew he wouldn’t be able to go to the end, but you just have to give credit to Arkansas.

“They had some great at-bats against Hess. I thought he was throwing the ball great, made some big pitches, but (Heston) Kjerstad obviously turned around the one fastball (for a sixth-inning home run) and then (Dominic) Fletcher got a base hit on a good slider down in the zone. Sometimes you just have to tip your hat to the other team.

“Arkansas obviously has some really great players, a great team, and Hess battled them really well, but they just got a couple of big hits off of him.”

Walker had thrown just 69 pitches before being pulled.

“Yes, I wanted to stay in there,” Walker said. “I was pretty upset. Obviously we are understaffed right now and I was pissed. But Coach has his reasons on everything. I don’t really know what they were in that situation, to be honest.

“I think I was only about 60 or 70 pitches. I don’t know exactly what it was. I definitely wanted to extend that. It is something that I need to talk to him about.”

LSU has several injuries to its pitching staff and has given up 56 runs in the last four games. The Tigers have lost five games in a row.

“It has been very frustrating,” Walker said. “I think we had our best starter coming out that got injured a few weeks ago in Cole Henry, so that bumps us up one in the rotation where we haven’t been all year.

“It is not something that we can complain about or make excuses for. Baseball is next man up. To be honest, Arkansas is probably dealing with some injuries, too. We just have got to man up, next man up and get the job done with whoever we have got.”

Walker summed up how it felt to have the lead and lose it.

“It sucks,” Walker said. “I think we kind of had them on the ropes today, but you have to give them credit. Kopps came in and threw the ball really well and then they closed the game out with the back end of the bullpen.

“Bottom line is they beat us and beat us in the second half of the game and it counts just as much as the first half of the game. Tip your hat to them, they played ball.”

Arkansas will try to sweep the series when it faces LSU on Saturday at 1 p.m.

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