Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Hogs strike in 6th, top No. 2 Bulldogs
Arkansas catcher Casey Opitz (12) celebrates with outfielder Christian Franklin after both players scored a run during the sixth inning of a game against Mississippi State on Thursday, April 18, 2019, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — In a battle of SEC aces, University of Arkansas right-hander Isaiah Campbell made the first mistake, but Mississippi State lefty Ethan Small bunched his together in one inning.
Small (4-1) was almost unhittable for five innings before the Razorbacks jumped on him for three runs in the sixth en route to a 5-3 victory in the teams’ SEC series-opener before an estimated crowd of 4,077 at Baum-Walker Stadium.
The Razorbacks (28-10, 10-6) moved into a tie for second place in the SEC West with the Bulldogs (32-7, 10-6) a half-game behind Texas A&M.
Arkansas center fielder Dominic Fletcher hit a towering two-run home run in the eighth inning, his third hit of the night, to give the Razorbacks some breathing room in what had been a one-run game.
Campbell (7-1) got a rousing ovation after being lifted with two outs in the eighth after striking out 10 and walking none on 105 pitches. The 6-4 junior allowed 2 runs on 5 hits and had his fourth start of at least 6 innings with 10 or more strikeouts.
“No walks, 10 strikeouts, I mean, what more could you want?” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. “And limited one of the best hitting teams, if not the best hitting team in the league to five hits. That’s a great outing.”
Third baseman Jacob Nesbit made a strong pick on a short hop to throw out pinch-hitter Brad Cumbest on Campbell’s final pitch.
“It’s fun to watch him every Friday [or Thursday] and know he’s going to keep us in the game,” Fletcher said.
Matt Cronin record the final four outs for his eighth save, but it wasn’t a clean run for the hard-throwing lefty, who allowed Elijah Macnamee’s massive home run to deep left field, his sixth, to lead off the ninth inning. Cronin rebounded to post two strikeouts and a high infield pop-up to finish off the game.
Cronin worked out of a minor jam after entering with two outs in the eighth. He hit Jake Mangum with a 1-2 pitch and walked Jordan Westburg while struggling to get control of his breaking pitch. Cronin got ahead of the left-handed hitting Tanner Allen and struck him out on a low fastball.
Fletcher led the Razorbacks’ nine-hit attack with a 3-for-4 performance, while Matt Goodheart and Heston Kjerstad both extended hitting streaks to 11 games.
Campbell had allowed only one runner to reach second base before Mississippi State left fielder Rowdey Jordan led off the fifth inning with a home run over the right-field wall. Jordan’s third home run of the year, on a breaking pitch, was the first allowed by Campbell this season.
Small was even sharper in the early innings before being hung with his first loss of the year.
The Razorbacks’ first hit came on Fletcher’s opposite-field slap inside the third base bag leading off the fifth inning. Small struck out Kjerstad looking on a high and tight strike three, and got Jack Kenley and Nesbit on pop ups to left field to strand Fletcher at first.
Arkansas finally got to Small in the sixth, which he entered with a one-hitter on 59 pitches.
Casey Opitz worked a full-count walk, then nine-hole hitter Christian Franklin singled to center on a 1-2 pitch. Trevor Ezell moved both runners over with a sacrifice bunt to third baseman Gunner Halter.
Casey Martin fell behind 0-1 before ripping a ball into the left-center gap for a go-ahead two-run double.
“Just sit fastball, be on time and try to stay through the middle,” Martin said of his approach on the double. “I just told myself to be on time with it. I was sitting fastball. He left it out, left it up and it worked right into my approach.”
On the next pitch, Matt Goodheart belted a fastball into left center to bring home Martin for a 3-1 lead.
The Razorbacks wound up working Small, who entered the night with a 1.83 earned run average, for 33 pitches in the inning.
“I think he left a couple of fastballs up,” Mississippi State Coach Chris Lemonis said. “I say that — he pitches with the fastball up all the time. They did a good job adjusting, using the middle of the field. They just had some good at-bats.
“They were getting into some better counts, but they did a good job of what really looked like three identical swings to center field there.”
The score remained 3-1 until the eighth, when Bulldogs catcher Dustin Skelton led off with a double nearly to the wall in right-center field. Skelton advanced on a wild pitch and scored on Josh Hatcher’s ground ball to shortstop to make it 3-2.
Fletcher said he got a cut fastball from reliever Riley Self for his sixth home run in the bottom of the eighth, which the Razorbacks ended up needing.
Mangum continued his pursuit of the SEC’s all-time hits record. Mangum went 1 for 3 with a walk to boost his career total to 346 hits and extend his hitting streak to 19 games. LSU’s Eddy Furniss holds the record with 352 hits from 1995-98.
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