Walsh keeps name in NBA draft
Arkansas wing Jordan Walsh is going all-in on his professional basketball career.
Arkansas designated hitter Matt Goodheart (left) is greeted by teammates after hitting a home run during a game against Mississippi State on Saturday, March 27, 2021, in Starkville, Miss. (Courtesy photo via Aaron Fitt/D1Baseball.com)
STARKVILLE, Miss. — A home run derby broke out between two of the nation’s top teams Saturday at Dudy Noble Field.
No. 2 Arkansas hit four home runs for the second game in a row, blasting its way past No. 4 Mississippi State 11-5. The Razorbacks (18-3, 4-1 SEC) won the best-of-three series and will go for a sweep today at 2 p.m.
Christian Franklin’s three-run no-doubter in the top of the fifth put the Razorbacks on top 5-4 after trailing 4-1, and the Hogs stretched their lead to 8-5 in the sixth on home runs by Cullen Smith and Matt Goodheart.
Losses embarrassing for Bulldogs
Franklin — who went 2 of 5 Friday with 2 RBI and a home run — posted his seventh multihit game of the season Saturday, going 2 of 4 with 2 runs, 3 RBI and a double in addition to his seventh home run of the season.
“The past week, [Franklin] changed his stance just a touch and his approach and he’s staying back just a little bit more,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. “He pulled a ball down the right-field line yesterday, then home runs to left and left-center. He’s just seeing the ball.”
It was a timely offensive outburst for the visitors after Zebulon Vermillion struggled on the mound. The Bulldogs tagged the senior right-hander for 4 earned runs on 7 hits in 3 ⅓ innings the week after Vermillion held Alabama to 1 hit in 8 innings.
Mississippi State (17-6, 2-2) grabbed a 3-0 lead in the first inning, returning the favor after Arkansas scored three in the opening frame Friday.
Bulldogs center fielder Rowdey Jordan lined Vermillion’s second pitch of the game into the right-field corner for a double, and Tanner Allen followed with a single up the middle to put the Bulldogs on top 1-0.
Luke Hancock added another RBI single two batters later before Logan Tanner doubled off the wall along the left-field line. Vermillion threw 50 pitches, struck out 3 and walked 1 in the game.
The Razorbacks failed to answer in the first four innings — save for a third-inning Bulldogs error on a deep fly to center from Goodheart that brought Jalen Battles around to score from first base — before scoring four runs against starter Will Bednar in the fifth.
“Our guys just fought at the plate, and I’m really proud of them,” Van Horn said. “We got a lot of two-strike hits, two-strike home runs. … Just a good job by our guys winning down here and winning the series already.”
Bednar, who struck out 10, gave up a towering solo shot to Braydon Webb to pull the Razorbacks within 4-2. After a misplay on a high popup by Brady Slavens just behind third put two runners on with two outs, Franklin’s three-run homer to left-center field put Arkansas ahead 5-4.
The four runs were the first earned runs allowed this season by Bednar, who threw 16 scoreless innings to start the season.
“I think those are the first two fly balls we didn’t catch all year, and they were costly,” Mississippi State Coach Chris Lemonis said. “I thought [Bednar] pitched really well. He throws one pitch to Franklin he shouldn’t with first base open but that’s after we missed the fly ball. They had no momentum until we gave them something both times.”
The Razorbacks attacked Mississippi State reliever Brandon Smith in the sixth with a leadoff home run the opposite way by Smith and a two-run home run by Goodheart for an 8-5 lead.
The Razorbacks loaded the bases with a single, a double and a walk to start the seventh before a 75-minute rain delay put a halt to their offensive outburst.
Once Mother Nature’s thunder dissipated, Arkansas was lightning quick to build on its lead.
Smith lined the second pitch he saw into deep right for a sacrifice fly, bringing Brady Slavens in to score. Battles then used his speed two pitches later to beat out a would-be 5-4-3 double play. That allowed Franklin to come home for his second run to make it a 10-5 lead.
The Hogs’ bullpen turned in a strong showing thanks to Caleb Bolden, Caden Monke and Kevin Kopps. They combined to shut the Bulldogs out over the game’s final 5 2/3 innings, scattering 3 hits as Kopps pitched the last 4 innings and struck out 7.
“It’s starting to show a lot how deep our bullpen is,” Kopps said of back-to-back strong outings from the Razorbacks’ relievers. “Today, just showing a couple of guys like Bolden, Monke and me, our bullpen is still loaded for tomorrow.”
Saturday’s victory gave Arkansas its first series win in Starkville since 2012. A victory in the finale would mark the first time the Hogs have taken 3 of 3 from Mississippi State at Dudy Noble Field since they swept the Bulldogs in 2010.
“Anytime you can win a series on the road against a top-10 team, that’s big in itself,” Van Horn said. “I told our team, great job winning the series but if we win three, that might be something we look back at down the road and say that’s what got us to where we’re trying to get.”
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