No. 20 Arkansas softball upsets No. 3 Georgia in series opener

Arkansas pitcher Morgan Leinstock winds up to throw a pitch, Saturday, March 30, 2024, during the Razorbacks' 3-2 victory over Georgia at Jack Turner Softball Stadium in Athens, Ga. (Photo courtesy of Arkansas Athletics)

A home run by Bri Ellis in the first inning and a gutsy pitching performance by right-hander Morgan Leinstock lifted the No. 20 Arkansas softball team to a series-opening 3-2 victory Saturday at No. 3 Georgia.

Ellis put the Razorbacks (25-8, 4-3 SEC) ahead with a three-run homer and Leinstock held on to the lead with a complete game in the circle. The game ended with Leinstock inducing a pop up to strand Georgia with the bases loaded.

Leinstock faced 32 batters and threw 66 of 113 pitches for strikes. She struggled with command at times with 3 wild pitches, 3 walks and 5 hits allowed, but pitched around trouble and stranded 9 runners on base.

Her pitching performance came against a dynamic Georgia offense that entered ranked 11th in the nation with 7.1 runs scored per game.

“I just thought it showed a ton of guts,” Arkansas coach Courtney Deifel said of Leinstock’s performance. “She pitched her butt off today and our defense for the most part played really well behind her.

“The runs they got, we gave to them, and we know that. But to stay the course and trust your stuff, digging in off their lineup for the fourth time through, it just showed a ton of guts and a ton of trust in herself. I'm just really, really proud of her.”

Georgia (28-5, 5-2) had a five-game winning streak snapped and lost at home to Arkansas for the fourth consecutive time.

“I thought that showed a ton of character,” Deifel said of her team hanging on. “I think that we've gone through some tough times this year that have prepared us for that. For them to not fold and stay the course and find a way to win the game, I just thought was huge.

“Georgia is, so, so talented and I'm just really proud of the overall process today and then obviously getting the outcome.”

The Razorbacks attacked Georgia starting left-hander Lilli Backes in the first. Regan Johnson led off with a single and Raigan Kramer worked a five-pitch walk to set up Ellis’ home run.

It was the start of a big day for Johnson, who was 3 for 4 at the plate, and the home run by Ellis was her team-leading 12th of the season. It was Johnson’s third game with at least three hits.

“I thought Reagan Johnson was outstanding today,” Deifel said. “And then [Kramer’s] at-bat in that first inning was huge, too, just to set the table. How they approached Backes in the first two at-bats, it led to Bri’s moment.

“And so it's not only Bri being ready for that, but the two of them setting her up for it. It was a really big statement in the first and I know that it just got our momentum. From there, even though our hits didn’t fall, we hit it on the nose.”

Leinstock held the Bulldogs off the scoreboard until they capitalized on Arkansas’ mistakes in a two-run sixth inning.

After Georgia advanced runners to second and third base, a wild pitch by Leinstock allowed Sydney Kuma to take home plate. Then after the action had stopped, Arkansas catcher Kennedy Miller had an errant throw back to the circle that allowed another run to score.

Leinstock recovered from the blunder and stranded a runner on second base with her fifth strikeout.

Arkansas again ran into trouble in the seventh, which saw the Razorbacks commit their third error in two innings. 

Leinstock gave up a hit, had a fielding error and walked a batter to load the bases, but responded by getting the two-out pop up from Jaydyn Goodwin.

“That's what Morgan does more than anything, and to be quite honest, it's not necessarily even an offense that's she's built to shut down,” Deifel said of Leinstock’s ability to manufacture outs. “How [Georgia] swings and what they do, that's how you know how good her stuff was today. 

"She’s really confident, she trusts herself and she trusts her defense. She trusts the plan and she executed at such a high level today.”

Game 2 of the series is scheduled to begin Sunday at 11 a.m. on ESPN2.