Arkansas edges LSU to leap into Saturday’s SEC Baseball Tournament semifinals

By Dudley E. Dawson
on 2023-05-25 21:18 PM


As a result of one big inning offensively and a reverse tag team pitching tandem, Arkansas finds itself with a day off and a spot it the SEC Baseball Tournament semifinals.

Razorbacks Caleb Cali and Peyton Holt both had two hits while shining defensively and pitchers Hagen Smith and Hunter Hollan handled things on the mound as No. 4 Arkansas downed No. 5 LSU 5-4 Thursday at the SEC Baseball Tournament in Hoover, Ala.

“Obviously a really good win for our team,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. “You’ve got to give LSU’s pitching credit. They did a really good job with us for most of the ballgame, as they held us to that one inning, but we put together a big inning and got a couple — at least one really big hit, catcher’s interference in there, and just able to capitalize on a couple of things.

“But on our side of the ball, we played great defense. I thought that (second baseman Peyton Holt made a super smart heads-up play on the (6-4-5) double play ball. He knew he couldn’t get that double play at first, ball was hit in the hole a little bit, and he spun and made a perfect throw, heads-up play by (third baseman) Cali being there at the bag waiting, and I think that really slowed them down.”

The second-seeded Razorbacks (41-15) advance to play Saturday at noon in a single-elimination game against the winner of Friday’s 3 p.m. game between third-seeded LSU (43-14) and 10th-seeded Texas A&M (34-24).

Those are the two teams Arkansas, who was outhit 11-6 on Thursday, has already vanquished so far this tournament.

Arkansas handed SEC Pitcher of the Year Paul Skenes (10-2) just his second loss of the year and also picked up a win in Baton Rouge in a game he started earlier this season.

“I mean, we just tried to get on that heater,” Holt said. It’s a really good pitch, and I think we did a good job of that, kind of put in a keyhole, not chase anything outside the zone. And Tavian’s (Josneberger’s nine-pitch) at-bat (in the bottom of the first) showed that for sure.”

Smith went 3 2/3 innings, allowing two runs on five hits while fanning nine, walking one and tossing 76 pitches, 49 of which were strikes.

Hollan (8-2) took care of the final 5 1/3 innings while allowing two runs on six hits, whiffing eighth, walking only one and tossing two wild pitches.

“…To me, the story was our two pitchers,” Van Horn said. “I thought they did a great job. Between the two of them, we didn’t have to field a lot of balls. I think we struck out 17, 18 guys, somewhere in there, and we fielded all the other ones.”

The decision to move Hollan into relief was birthed a few days ago.

“Yeah, we decided a couple days ago that there was a possibility that we would go this way if we won Game 1, got in the winner’s bracket, because if you lose, you’re thinking about I’ve got to give some of my starters some work and get them ready for the next weekend,” Van Horn said.

“If you win, you know you’ve got at least two more games. And we just felt like we had a chance to win the game today, let’s go ahead and bring Hunter in.

“And at the time we felt like we had a chance to win the game, and I think we were down a couple runs and wanted to see how he could handle it, and I thought he did a tremendous job.”

Jace Bohrofen had a two-run single as Arkansas scored all five of its runs in the fourth against Skenes.

The rally began with Arkansas down 2-0 and as Skenes walked Jared Wegner and then gave up a single to Brady Slavens.

Cali and Holt followed with RBI singles to tie it 2-2 before Skenes got Harold Coll to fly out to center.

For the second day in a row, Arkansas’ Kendall Diggs reached via a two-out catcher’s interference, which allowed Cali to score and put the Razorbacks 3-2.

Jace Bohrofen then singled home a pair of runs with both Rowland and Holt plating as Arkansas went up 5-2.

“Yeah, I mean, I tip my hat to their hitters because they did something nobody has done all year, 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,” Johnson said.

“And in spite of all that, we get the catcher’s interference call. If that doesn’t happen, we’re out of that winning and it’s 2-2.

“Bohrofen is one of the best players in the country, and you give him a chance with a two-out RBI, and he came through. I tip my hat to their team. The top of the lineup is as talented as anybody in the country.”

LSU did make a game of it with Jordan Thompson’s eighth-inning RBI single and SEC Player of the Year homering in the ninth to cut it to 5-4.

Hollan had opened the SEC season as starter with Smith coming in to finish off the majority of his outings.

He adapted well in what he said was his first stint as a reliever on Thursday.

“It was my first time coming out of the bullpen since the fall,” Hollan said. “That was the first time in a game in my life.”

As in his complete game against South Carolina two week ago, Hollan was using his full arsenal of pitches.

“Yeah, that was pretty similar to the South Carolina game,” Hollan said. “I was executing to the glove side of the plate.  So inside to righties and then the  cutter was throwing a look of it. 

Hollan noted that that his role different on Thursday.

“It’s definitely a different mindset,”Hollan said. “It was fun because I got to go out there and throw hard.  That’s not something I try to do when I start.  I try to be easy to where I can maintain through the sixth or the seventh. Today I got to come out and throw.”

• • •
In other SEC Tournament games on Thursday, Texas A&M eliminated South Carolina 5-0 and Alabama ousted Auburn 7-4 in losers’ bracket games.

Florida and Vanderbilt played late Thursday night in the other winners’ bracket contest.

Texas A&M and LSU will meet Friday at 3 p.m. in a losers’ bracket game with Alabama facing the Florida-Vanderbilt loser in another elimination contest.

Photo courtesy of the University of Arkansas

(Last updated: 2023-05-25 21:18 PM)