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.
Razorbacks beat Auburn in SEC opener
Arkansas first baseman Brady Slavens (17) hits a home run during a game against Auburn on Friday, March 17, 2023, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Auburn left-hander Tommy Vail dominated the Arkansas lineup the first time through the order Friday, but the Tigers’ starter couldn’t make it through the order a second time.
The sixth-ranked Razorbacks scored five runs against Vail in the fourth inning to swing momentum, and Arkansas defeated Auburn 7-2 in the SEC opener at Baum-Walker Stadium. The teams are scheduled to play the second game of their three-game series Saturday at 2 p.m.
The Razorbacks (16-2, 1-0 SEC) extended their winning streak to 11 games and improved to 14-1 during their homestand that began Feb. 21.
Auburn (13-4-1, 0-1), a top-25 team a week ago, lost for the third time in four games.
Brady Slavens hit a three-run home run against Vail to give Arkansas a 3-2 lead in the fourth inning. The Razorbacks plated two more in the inning when Parker Rowland and Tavian Josenberger had opposite-field singles to left against Auburn right-hander John Armstrong.
Arkansas’ big inning included four walks. All were issued by Vail, a sixth-year senior transfer from TCU who entered the game with a 0.63 ERA, but was making his first weekend start for the Tigers.
Vail needed 36 pitches to get through the first three innings, but was lifted 27 pitches into fourth after falling behind Harold Coll with a 2-0 count.
Slavens homered minutes earlier with a 399-foot shot to right-center field. The ball had a 102 mph exit velocity and was launched at an angle of 40.9 degrees. It rode a stiff north wind over the fence.
It was Slavens’ second home run and first since a March 3 game against Wright State.
Junior left-hander Hunter Hollan (4-0) pitched six innings in his first Friday start at Arkansas. Hollan allowed 2 runs, 6 hits and 3 walks, and struck out 3 during his 94-pitch outing.
Hagen Smith, the sophomore left-hander who had been the Razorbacks’ No. 1 starter prior to this week, pitched three scoreless innings to earn his third career save. Smith’s 44-pitch outing included 5 strikeouts and 2 walks.
Vail (2-1) took the loss by allowing 5 runs, 2 hits and 4 walks, and struck out 4 in a 63-pitch, 3 1/3-inning start. He had allowed two hits in 14 1/3 innings prior to Friday.
The Razorbacks scored twice after loading the bases with no outs against Armstrong in the sixth inning. Peyton Stovall’s sacrifice fly scored Rowland, and Jared Wegner’s infield single scored John Bolton to extend Arkansas’ lead to 7-2.
Wegner also singled to lead off the fifth inning and extended his hitting streak to 11 games.
Only one run was earned against Armstrong, who pitched two innings. Rowland reached on a fielding error by Auburn first baseman Ike Irish to lead off the bottom of the sixth. Bolton was hit by a pitch.
Arkansas out-hit Auburn 8-6. The Razorbacks stranded nine base runners and the Tigers stranded eight.
Auburn took a 1-0 lead in the third inning on a two-out solo home run by Kason Howell. It came one pitch after Nate LaRue was picked off.
The Tigers went ahead 2-0 on Caden Green’s sacrifice fly in the fourth inning.
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