Clay Henry is the publisher and executive editor of Hawgs Illustrated. He is a voter for the Heisman Trophy and has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
Kjerstad's homer lifts Hogs, 1-0
Arkansas' Heston Kjerstad bats during a game against Bucknell on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018, in Fayetteville.
SAN DIEGO — Arizona beat Arkansas in a shutout last year in Frisco, Texas. The No. 6 Razorbacks returned the favor Wednesday night on Heston Kjerstand's fifth-inning homer for a 1-0 college baseball victory at Tony Gwynn Park.
Kjerstad, freshman from Amarillo, Texas, broke up Randy Labaut's no-hitter with a 400-foot blast to left center for the game's only run.
Junior pitcher Kacey Murphy (1-0) allowed just one hit over six innings to get the victory for the Hogs. The junior from Rogers Heritage threw 73 pitches. Matt Cronin got out of a bases loaded jam in the seventh and allowed only one walk in 2 1/3 innings for his first save.
There were no errors committed in the tense, well-played game on a cool, 50-degree night. But there was some great defense.
Arkansas outfielder Dominic Fletcher went to the center field wall to track down a Travis Moniot drive to end the third.
Arizona wasted their best chance against Murphy in the fourth. Cal Stevenson was hit by Murphy to leadoff the frame. After a fouled third strike bunt attempt, Alfonso Rivas lined a single to right. Stevenson easily made it to third, but strayed past the bag when outfielder Eric Cole held the ball briefly, then flipped it to Shaddy. Shaddy ran the ball towards Stevenson, then flipped it to Hunter Wilson for an out.
The Hogs escaped further trouble in the inning on a fantastic play by Shaddy on a grounder behind second base. With Rivas rounding third, Shaddy fired strongly to first to nip runner Nick Quintana for the final out of the inning.
Labaut (0-1) allowed three of the four Arkansas hits, throwing 100 pitches over seven innings. He fanned seven.
Arizona, a College World Series team the last two seasons, beat the Hogs, 3-0, in the Frisco Classic early last season. The Wildcats managed only two hits against the Hogs in San Diego. The two teams met in a neutral site game on the San Diego State campus ahead of the Tony Gwynn Classic set to begin Friday. The Hogs play Cal-Poly at 3 p.m. Friday.
Kjerstad was among five Razorbacks to go down on strikes to Labaut over the first two innings, but he was ready in his second trip.
"I'd seen him one at bat and knew what he had," Kjerstad said. "I was hunting for something up in the zone. That's what it was and I put a good swing on it."
It was the third game in a 4-0 start with two runs or fewer allowed for Arkansas pitching. The Arkansas staff hasn't allowed a run over the last 16 innings. Kjerstad credited the pitching staff for the victory.
"You have to give it to our pitching staff," he said. "They gave up only two hits. We didn't give them much help."
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn praised his left fielder. Hjerstad's homer gives the Hogs 10 for the season, by nine different players.
“He’s got some pop, obviously, and he’s got opposite field powe," Van Horn said. "That’s something that’s hard to teach. It’s a gift. He’s a special player and a special kid. He’s been good for us since the day he got to school, so I’m excited about him and his future.”
The Hogs (4-0) had runners in the last three innings, but did not score. Luke Bonfield singled in the seventh, but was erased on a double play. Grant Koch led off the eighth with a single and advanced on a Jared Gates sacrifice bunt. After a walk, Jax Biggers struck out. Two walks and a hit batter loaded the bases in the ninth, but Gates' drive to the warning track in right ended the threat.
Arizona loaded the bases in the seventh against reliever Cody Scroggins. Nick Quintana singled before a pair of walks. Cronin entered to get a come-back grounder to the mound to end that threat.
There was no suspense in the bottom of the ninth. Cronin, sophomore lefty, got the heart of the Wildcat order 1-2-3, with two strike outs to end the game.
The Wildcats had entered the game at 3-0 after allowing just two runs in a sweep of Bryant last weekend. They've allowed only three runs in four games now.
“I didn’t expect a 1-0 ballgame," Van Horn said. "I figured it would be well pitched. They’re (Arizona) such a fundamental team that if they don’t make mistakes, they’re going to be hard to beat.
"Lucky for us, we pitched extremely well and we made the plays we needed to make. Our pitching staff did a great job and got out of a couple jams. We got one big swing and scored a run early. We put together a few good innings, but couldn’t get the big hit.
"I thought we got one in the ninth on the swing from (Jared) Gates. It would have been four runs, but the ball just stopped. I guess they call that the ‘marine layer.’ It’s a good win for us and now we’ll get a good workout in tomorrow and get ready for this weekend.”
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