Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year four times and has been inducted to the Arkansas Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame.
Tag-team effort: Lefties reverse roles, shut down LSU again
Arkansas pitcher Hunter Hollan (39) delivers to the plate, Thursday, May 25, 2023, during the ninth inning of the Razorbacks’ 5-4 win over the LSU Tigers at the 2023 SEC Baseball Tournament at the Hoover Metropolitan Complex in Hoover, Ala.
HOOVER, Ala. — University of Arkansas pitchers Hagen Smith and Hunter Hollan reversed roles against LSU on Thursday night from the teams’ matchup at Baton Rouge on March 24, but the result was the same.
Smith and Hollan helped the Razorbacks beat the Tigers.
With Smith starting and Hollan pitching in relief, No. 4 Arkansas beat No. 3 LSU 5-4 in the SEC Tournament at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
The Razorbacks (41-15) will be off today after advancing to the tournament semifinals, where they’ll play at noon Saturday against the winner of today’s elimination game between LSU (43-14) and Texas A&M (34-24).
When Arkansas opened its regular-season series at LSU with a 9-3 victory in 10 innings, Hollan started and went 5 1/3 scoreless innings. Smith pitched the final 4 2/3 innings.
Smith started Thursday’s game and pitched 3 2/3 innings before Hollan (8-2) went the final 5 1/3.
“In my opinion — at least who we saw, and we didn’t play everybody — Smith and Hollan are the two best guys we saw all year,” LSU Coach Jay Johnson said. “So that’s twice that they’ve used both of them against us to win.
“I think that speaks a lot about our team offensively that it takes two pitchers like that to hold us down, and credit to them for doing a good job.”
Smith and Hollan combined for 17 strikeouts — 9 for Smith against 16 batters he faced and 8 for Hollan against 21.
“They have four pitches that they can execute, and it’s like that’s what you have to have, the pile-up of strikeouts against us, and they executed very, very well,” Johnson said. “They’re two of the best left-handed pitchers in college baseball.”
Hollan, whose first 14 games this season were starts, said Thursday night “was my first time coming out of the bullpen since probably junior year of high school,” but that he didn’t change his approach.
“You’ve just got to come in with the mindset that I’m going to compete in the zone and go with the game plan that you want,” Hollan said. “We had a really good game plan the first time we played them and we kind of stuck to that, and it worked out.”
Smith, who earlier in the season was pitching out of the bullpen, made his 10th start.
“Me and Hunter actually talked about that this morning at practice,” said Smith said, who joined LSU right-hander Paul Skenes as the All-SEC first-team starting pitchers in a vote by the conference coaches. “We were talking about how the roles were switched, and I thought Hunter did an amazing job, honestly, coming in behind me and pounding the zone, getting me the outs.”
Arkansas sent 10 batters to the plate in the fourth inning when the Razorbacks scored all five of their runs to take a 5-2 lead with the help of a catcher’s interference call.
Skenes, the SEC Pitcher of the Year, hit Jared Wegner to start the inning and the Razorbacks followed with three consecutive singles by Brady Slavens, Caleb Cali and Peyton Holt to score two runs and tie the game.
After a flyout by Harold Coll, Skenes walked 9-hole hitter Parker Rowland. Johnson then took out Skenes and brought in Riley Cooper.
Cooper got Tavian Josenberger on a popup to second baseman Gavin Dugas and appeared to get out of the jam when Dugas made a tumbling catch of a shallow fly ball to center field by Kendall Diggs.
But LSU catcher Alex Milazzo was called for interference because he made contact with his glove on Diggs’ bat during his swing.
The interference call was upheld after a video review, which scored Slavens to put Arkansas ahead 3-2 and reload the bases with Diggs at first base.
“We heard it, we saw it,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said of Diggs’ bat hitting Milazzo’s glove. “And the ball still made it to the outfield. If he hadn’t hit his glove, he might have hit it over his head, the way we look at it.
“Other people look at it a different way. But he definitely hit his glove.”
Jace Bohrofen followed with a two-run single to make it 5-2 before Cooper retired Wegner on a groundout.
“I tip my hat to their hitters because they did something nobody has done all year,” Johnson said of knocking Skenes out of the game after 3 2/3 innings. “And they were able to get to the right part of the ball and hit some balls hard through the infield and created three or four good at-bats in a row.
“Bohrofen’s one of the best players in the country, and you give him a chance with a two-out RBI, and he came through.”
Skenes (10-2) came into the game with a 1.77 ERA and 164 strikeouts in 86 2/3 innings. He came out Thursday night after throwing 88 pitches and allowed 5 runs (2 earned), 5 hits and 2 walks with 3 strikeouts.
“We just tried to get on that heater,” Holt, who was 2 for 4, said of Skenes’ fastball that was clocked as fast as 103 mph according to the stadium scoreboard. “It’s a really good pitch, and I think we did a good job … to not chase anything outside the zone.”
Johnson said he hoped to have Skenes pitch at least five innings.
“Credit Arkansas,” Johnson said. “Those guys battled and did a nice job. The top of the lineup is as talented as anybody in the country.”
LSU took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when the Tigers got three consecutive two-out singles from Tommy White, Hayden Travinski and Tre' Morgan.
The Tigers made it 2-0 in the fourth inning when Travinski hit a leadoff single and went to third on a single by Morgan. Smith walked Dugas to load the bases and was replaced by Hollan.
Hollan threw a wild pitch, which scored Travinski, then struck out Milazzo.
Dylan Crews, the SEC Player of the Year, hit a one-out home run in the ninth inning to pull the Tigers within 5-4, but Hollan struck out Paxton Kling and got clean-up hitter White — who has 20 home runs and 91 runs batted in — on a groundout to Coll to end the game.
Hollan said pitching coach Matt Hobbs asked him during the Razorbacks’ 6-5, 11-inning victory over Texas A&M on Wednesday if he’d be able to pitch on Thursday.
“I was like, ‘Yeah,’ ” Hollan said. “I didn’t know if what he meant was starting or coming out of the pen, and he clarified that after the game.
“I was excited because it was something different.”
But with Hollan and Smith pitching, it was more of the same for Arkansas in beating LSU.
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