Razorbacks erase early hole with pair of 3-run hits

By: Matt Jones Matt Jones's Twitter account
Published: Saturday, March 6, 2021
Arkansas third baseman Cullen Smith reacts as he runs the bases following a home run he hit during a game against Murray State on Saturday, March 6, 2021, in Fayetteville.
( Andy Shupe)
Arkansas third baseman Cullen Smith reacts as he runs the bases following a home run he hit during a game against Murray State on Saturday, March 6, 2021, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — Another day, another comeback for college baseball’s top-ranked team.

Arkansas overcame an early four-run deficit Saturday to defeat Murray State 11-6 at Baum-Walker Stadium. The No. 1 Razorbacks (9-0) will go for a three-game sweep Sunday at 1 p.m.

It was the fourth time this season Arkansas came back from down three or more runs, and the four-run deficit tied for the largest the Razorbacks have overcome this year. Arkansas also came back from down four runs to beat Texas Tech in the season opener on Feb. 20.

“We’ve really done a nice job of scoring runs and fighting back,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “Our bullpen has done a tremendous job really this year...where starters didn’t give us more than a couple of innings, and we’ve had to go to the bullpen.”

Murray State (5-5) took a 4-0 lead in the second inning against Arkansas starter Caleb Bolden. Trey Woosley hit a two-run home run with no outs, and Jake Slunder and Ryan Perkins hit consecutive two-out RBI doubles to chase Bolden out of the game after 1 2/3 innings.

The Razorbacks responded with three runs in the bottom of the second to cut the Racers' lead to 4-3. Cullen Smith pulled a three-run home run 417 feet to right-center field to score Cayden Wallace and Brady Slavens, who doubled and walked.

Smith was sitting on a fastball from Murray State starter Sam Gardner.

“I knew from watching film that this guy was a heavy fastball attack, heavy RPM guy,” Smith said. “Honestly I was trying to stay through the middle…and I was on time for it and drove it out of the ballpark.

“You never really hit home runs trying to hit home runs. Right there I was just trying to get the guys over so we can score some runs, and it just happened like that.”

After Murray State extended its lead to 5-3 in the top of the fourth inning, the Razorbacks took the lead for good in the bottom of the fourth on a three-run double by Christian Franklin with two outs. Franklin hit a 1-2 fastball from Murray State starter Sam Gardner to the wall in the left-center field gap.

“That was a big-time at bat for us,” Van Horn said. “I would say Smith’s three-run homer when we were down 4-0 was just as valuable, obviously, because we were in trouble right there.

“Franklin getting the big bases-loaded, two-strike, two-out double to clear the bases was big for us. Then it kind of threw the pressure back to them in their dugout.”

Franklin went 3-for-4 with 4 RBI Saturday. He also had an RBI single in the sixth.

“The barrel was where I wanted it to be when I wanted it be there today,” Franklin said. “That was a big key for me.”

Arkansas hit a pair of home runs in the late innings to help pull away. Zack Gregory’s solo home run to right field in the sixth inning gave the Razorbacks a 7-5 lead, and after Robert Moore walked and stole second base, Franklin drove him home with a single the opposite way.

“I love the way he went the other way with the single to right,” Van Horn said. “It’s good to see him get it going a little bit.”

The left-handed Slavens added a two-run home run to opposite field in the eighth inning to give Arkansas an 11-6 advantage. It was Slavens’ team-leading fourth homer of the season.

Arkansas right hander Blake Adams earned the win with 2 1/3 innings in relief of Bolden. Adams allowed 1 run on 3 hits and struck out 2.

It was the season debut for Adams, who was scheduled to pitch last Sunday when the Razorbacks’ game against Southeast Missouri State was called after five innings.

“He did a nice job of holding them down for a couple of innings,” Van Horn said, “slowing them down anyway, where we could kind of get our feet underneath us and score some runs.”

Four Arkansas relief pitchers — Adams, Caden Monke, Elijah Trest and Zebulon Vermillion — combined to allow two runs in 7 1/3 innings Saturday. Trest allowed a run, but also prevented one in the sixth when he threw out Woosley at home plate as he tried to score on a tapper to the mound.

Vermillion, the team’s No. 1 starter to begin the season, earned the save with 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief.

Bolden struggled for the second straight start after earning SEC co-pitcher of the week for a relief appearance against Texas in the second game of the season. Bolden gave up 4 runs on 5 hits and 1 walk, threw 1 wild pitch and struck out 3.

Bolden nearly got out of the second inning with a 2-0 lead on a couple of occasions. A Slunder fly ball fell beside the right fielder Wallace in foul ground, and Slunder’s double ricocheted off the glove of Smith at third base.

Van Horn said Bolden struggled to command his breaking ball.

“He was behind in the count almost every hitter,” Van Horn said. “When they’re in hitter’s counts, they’re going to hit. If the hitter’s up 3-1, even if you locate a fastball away and they’re looking for fastball away, they’re going to hit it. That’s kind of what happened a little bit.”

Gardner (0-2) took the loss for the Racers by giving up 6 runs on 4 hits and 4 walks in 3 1/3 innings. Gardner struck out four Razorbacks.

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