Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
LSU rallies late, toughens Arkansas' path to regular-season title
LSU pitcher Todd Peterson throws during a game against Arkansas on Saturday, May 11, 2019, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE With one swing Saturday, LSU senior outfielder Antoine Duplantis put Arkansas on a harder road to a potential conference or division championship.
Duplantis' three-run home run with one out in the eighth inning gave the No. 17 Tigers their only runs in a 3-2 victory over the No. 4 Razorbacks in front of 8,978 on an overcast afternoon at Baum-Walker Stadium.
LSU (31-21, 15-12 SEC) avoided a series sweep after the Razorbacks won the first two games by a combined score of 25-10. The Tigers snapped a five-game losing streak and handed Arkansas its first home conference loss since March 31.
"Sweeps are hard to get," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "It's hard to win one, much less two, and then you get three, that's special....We've gotten our share and we've won a lot of series. We're all disappointed we didn't finish this game off today, but overall it was a good weekend.
"(Championship races are) always going to go down to the last weekend, probably the last game."
With a win Saturday, Arkansas would have taken a half game lead in the overall SEC standings and could have possibly clinched a share of the SEC West, pending the outcome of the series between Mississippi State and Ole Miss. The Razorbacks (39-13, 19-8) have a 1 1/2-game lead over the Bulldogs in the division.
Arkansas can win the division outright with a series win at No. 18 Texas A&M next week.
On Saturday, Van Horn lamented "a game of missed opportunities on our side" after the Razorbacks stranded eight base runners, including five in scoring position and three at third base.
"You knew as a fan or a coach, it's going to turn around," Van Horn said. "You've got to score. We didn't and give them credit. They pitched us well."
The Razorbacks' best chance came in the bottom of the sixth inning after Arkansas loaded the bases with no outs against LSU starter Landon Marceaux and reliever Todd Peterson. Jacob Nesbit and Casey Opitz hit consecutive groundouts that led to force outs at home, and Opitz was out at first on an inning-ending double play.
Peterson threw four scoreless innings and allowed one hit to earn his fourth win.
"To win in this league, especially on the road, you have to have players do extraordinary things," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. "We had a few guys who did that today."
Arkansas went ahead 2-0 earlier in the sixth inning after consecutive doubles by Matt Goodheart and Dominic Fletcher against Marceaux, who entered with a 7.04 ERA. Trevor Ezell manufactured the Razorbacks' first run in the first inning following a leadoff walk. Ezell stole second base and advanced scored on an RBI groundout by Goodheart.
The Razorbacks put their first two hitters on base in the second and fourth innings, but came away empty handed both times. Arkansas was 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
"We had a couple of chances to really break open the game," Van Horn said.
Arkansas freshman Connor Noland threw 5 1/3 scoreless innings in his ninth no-decision in 14 starts. Noland continued a season-long trend of pitching well at home, where he has thrown 22 consecutive innings without an earned run since a two-inning start against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on April 16.
That stretch also includes 7 2/3 innings against Mississippi State on April 20 and 7 innings against Tennessee on April 28 when the Volunteers scored an unearned run against the right hander from Greenwood.
Noland allowed four hits against LSU and struck out three without issuing a walk.
"He's had three good outings in a row here," Van Horn said.
Noland left the game in the sixth inning, one out after he allowed a leadoff single to Hal Hughes. Cody Scroggins worked around two base runners with a lineout by Daniel Cabrera in the sixth, and around another runner in scoring position in the seventh following a walk and a wild pitch.
Scroggins gave up a single to Hughes to lead off the eighth and walked Brandt Broussard with one out. Van Horn turned to Kostyshock, who retired both batters he faced in a 10-pitch outing Friday night.
Kostyshock threw a first-pitch slider that Duplantis took for strike one, then left a fastball up in the zone that he hit hard to right field. Arkansas right fielder Heston Kjerstad made a leaping attempt for the ball at the fence, but it landed a few feet into the LSU bullpen.
"On a normal day that ball is probably caught on the warning track," Fletcher said. "It got up pretty high and the wind started blowing out, and it took it an extra 20 feet and it got over Heston's glove."
Opitz walked with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, but pinch runner Curtis Washington couldn't advance. Christian Franklin flied out for the second out and the game ended when Ezell watched Peterson's 1-2 off-speed pitch on the inside corner called strike three.
Mainieri stuck with Peterson while closer Devin Fontenot was warming up in the bullpen.
"I've been an advocate for Todd Peterson all year, even when everybody else wants to throw him in the trash," Mainieri said. "You can't be that up-and-down with kids. You have to determine who you believe in, and I've always believed in Todd.
"What he did today was phenomenal."
Arkansas can win the SEC West outright with a series win next week at No. 18 Texas A&M. The Razorbacks are also in contention to win their first SEC championship since 2004, and enter Sunday 1/2 game back of Vanderbilt, which lost Saturday at Missouri….Arkansas sold 31,871 tickets for the three-game series against LSU - the second most for a home series this season behind the Tennessee series on April 26-28….Dominic Fletcher’s RBI double in the sixth inning was his SEC-leading 21st double this season. Fletcher is seven doubles shy of the single-season school record of 28 set by Jim Kremers in 1987.
Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.