Arkansas baseball downs LSU after big swing by Kendall Diggs

Arkansas right fielder Kendall Diggs hits a home run during a game against LSU on Thursday, March 28, 2024, in Fayetteville. (Hank Layton/NWA Democrat-Gazette)

FAYETTEVILLE — Kendall Diggs put an exclamation point on another Arkansas victory Thursday with what seems to have become his specialty — a home run with base runners and in big moments. 

Diggs hit a three-run home run in the eighth inning to break open a tight game and lift the top-ranked Arkansas baseball team to a 7-4 victory over seventh-ranked LSU in front of an announced crowd of 11,027 at Baum-Walker Stadium. 

The Razorbacks (21-3, 6-1 SEC) won their 15th consecutive home game. They will go for a series victory Friday at 7 p.m.

Diggs’ 381-foot homer to right field came on a 0-2 pitch from LSU right-hander Gavin Guidry and gave Arkansas a 7-3 lead. It made up for what had been a frustrating night for Diggs, who was 0 for 4 with a pair of strikeouts before the big swing. 

“It hadn’t been a great day for me,” Diggs said on the Razorback Sports Network postgame show. “I had hit one ball hard…but other than that I wasn’t happy with my at-bats. It felt like I couldn’t piece it together as a whole. 

“But something we talk about all the time is it’s never too late to have a good day. It’s a little cliche, but it’s very, very true.” 

Diggs said Guidry used the same pitch sequence — curveball, curveball, fastball — as he threw to left-hander Ben McLaughlin earlier in the inning when McLaughlin struck out looking at a 0-2 pitch. 

“I saw the heater right out of the hand and put the barrel on it,” Diggs said. “Good things happen.” 

Of Diggs’ 21 career home runs, 13 have come with base runners and 7 have accounted for 3 RBI. Diggs also has two career grand slams, including one last season during the 10th inning of a series-opening victory at LSU. 

“I’ve got great teammates that get on in front of me,” Diggs said. 

The home run was part of a crucial sequence that included an inning-ending strikeout by Arkansas reliever Will McEntire with LSU base runners on the corners in the top of the eighth. The Tigers scored once against McEntire in the eighth inning to cut the Razorbacks’ lead to 4-3. 

Tommy White singled to begin the rally. Hayden Travinski added a two-out walk and White scored on Jared Jones’ RBI single. McEntire struck out Michael Braswell for the final out of the inning. 

McEntire allowed another run in the ninth inning before giving way to Stone Hewlett. Hewlett struck out Josh Pearson in a left-on-left situation to give the Razorbacks their 19th strikeout of the game. 

“It was just a really good job by our pitching staff,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. 

Arkansas answered a pair of LSU solo home runs in the top of the fourth inning with two runs in the bottom of the fourth to take the lead for good. Jack Wagner’s solo home run against reliever Fidel Ulloa tied the game 2-2 and the Razorbacks went ahead 3-2 when Peyton Stovall hit an RBI single 111 mph to right field to score Hudson White, who drew a two-out walk. 

Stovall’s single was on a 3-2 pitch from reliever Justin Loer, who was brought into the game for that at-bat in a left-on-left situation. 

“On the offensive end, it was some clutch hitting,” Van Horn said. “We took our walks, were patient and we never let them get the momentum back. It seemed like when they took the lead, we caught them and we got ahead of them. They were kind of rallying and we just never gave it up.” 

Arkansas had a chance to add to its lead in the fifth inning, but Wagner was thrown out at third base before McLaughlin could cross home plate following a two-out single by White. The call was upheld upon replay review. 

“I’m just glad that didn’t come back and get us,” Van Horn said. 

The Tigers (20-7, 2-5) took a 2-1 lead in the top of the fourth when Tommy White and Travinski homered in back-to-back at-bats against Arkansas starter Hagen Smith. White’s 344-foot home run to left field snapped a 25 1/3-inning scoreless streak for Smith, who entered the game with a 1.24 ERA. 

Travinski’s home run was belted 368 feet the other way and off the Hunt Baseball Development Center in right field. 

Smith allowed 2 runs on 5 hits and struck out 10 during his 6-inning start Thursday. The left-hander threw 65 of 97 pitches for strikes and did not allow a walk. 

“He's a lot to deal with,” LSU coach Jay Johnson said. “I don't like that we had as many strikeouts as we did, but that's what he does to everybody. He's really good. He's one of the best pitchers I've ever faced in my entire career.”

McEntire allowed 2 runs and struck out 8 in 2 2/3 innings of relief. Arkansas closer Gabe Gaeckle warmed up in the eighth inning, but sat down after Diggs’ home run. 

“That was a big swing,” Van Horn said. “It gave us a little cushion there and made us feel a little bit better about leaving McEntire out there instead of going to maybe a closer or a different pitcher.”

LSU saved its No. 1 starter Luke Holman for a Friday start on normal rest and threw seven pitchers against the Razorbacks. Lefty Javen Coleman allowed 1 run, 2 hits and 2 walks and struck out 3 in his 2 1/3-inning start. 

Coleman escaped a run-scoring threat in the first inning when Jared Sprague-Lott hit into an inning-ending double play with runners on the corners — the start to a somewhat frustrating night offensively for the Razorbacks, who stranded 12. 

Arkansas led 1-0 on McLaughlin’s 371-foot sacrifice fly to right-center field in the third inning to score Hudson White. McLaughlin missed hitting a grand slam against Ulloa by only a few feet as the ball was caught on the warning track just in front of the wall.