Kentucky’s 11-3 win over Arkansas deadlocks things atop SEC baseball standings

By Dudley E. Dawson
on 2024-05-04 17:58 PM


Four in the fourth on the fourth proved too much for No. 2 Arkansas to overcome Saturday at No. 8 Kentucky.

The Wildcats broke open a one-run game with a quartet of runs in the fourth inning and put it away with four more in the eighth in a 11-3 win over the Razorbacks at Kentucky Proud Park.

Arkansas (40-8, 17-6) won Friday’s opener 10-3 over Kentucky (34-10, 17-6) meaning Sunday’s noon CST game will be for the overall SEC lead in the clash between the Western and Eastern Division leaders.

“Well I think we’ll play hard,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. “I know that. They show up every day and get after it. Just a matter of if things go our way a little bit, but most of the time you have to make your own breaks.

“You have to do it and not expect the other team to fall apart. You’ve got to throw strikes, you’ve got to field the ball and you’ve got to take advantage of some pitches that are left in the zone. You’ve got to square them up and hopefully they don’t catch them. We’ll see how it goes.”

Arkansas will start Mason Molina (3-1, 3.47 ERA), who missed last weekend’s start due to an ankle injury, against Kentucky’s Mason Moore (7-1, 5.08) in a game that will be streamed by SEC Network +.

Kentucky head coach Nick Mingione expressed pride in his squad for bouncing back from Friday night’s loss and a stretch in which it the Wildcats had lost five of its last seven SEC games.

“We were a team,” Mingione said. “The at bats were there, the tough at bats with two strikes, bunting, doubles, balls in play…That was Kentucky baseball. We were a team today.”

Arkansas jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the second when Kentucky starting pitcher and winner Dominic Niman (8-3) walked Nolan Souza and Hudson White followed with his third homer of the season.

Kentucky would answer right back with a trio of runs in the bottom of the second with all three coming with two outs.

Emilien Pitre’s double plated two runs to tie it 2-2 when Arkansas left fielder Ross Lovich banged into the wall while attempting to make a catch that would have ended the inning.

“Obviously we didn’t play our best game,” Van Horn said. “I guess it started in the second inning when we punched in a couple of runs. Then [Kentucky] had a walk, or maybe a hit or two. But we had a chance to get out of the inning and they had a fly ball that just kept drifting.

“My left fielder drifted and he got tied up in the fence. It ended up costing us three runs unfortunately.

“Then there in the fourth, it was kind of the same thing. Walks and a couple hits. We just couldn’t get through that inning without cutting that down a little bit. 

Van Horn didn’t think the fact that Kentucky does not have a warning track on its turf field played a factor in the non-catch.

“No, I just think that he thought the ball wasn’t going to go as far as it did,” Van Horn said. “The wind was blowing to left field, especially early in the game. It slowed down a little bit later. But the ball got up in the air and it was hit a little better than you think on the swing.

“He just drifted back and back. About the time he was about ready to catch the ball he hit the fence. It ended up being a mistake and it was a tough one.”

Pitre, who was 2 foe 3 with four RBIs, would score a batter later on Devin Burkes’ single to put Kentucky up 3-2.

It stayed that way until the fourth when Arkansas starting pitcher Brady Tygart allowed the first two runners to reach and exited in favor of Gage Wood.

Pitre’s second two-run double of the game came after Wood walked Ryan Waldschmidt, his first batter, to load the bases.

“If the leadoff man’s on all the time, it just puts you in the stretch, gets you on your heels a little bit,” Van Horn said. “Just have to attack the leadoff guy, make him earn it. Sometimes it’s a hit, sometimes it’s a walk, hit by pitch. But yeah, no pitcher wants the leadoff man to get on, believe me.”

Tygart (4-2), who team had been 9-1 in his starts, wen went three innings while allowing five runs on six hits, three walks and fanned two while throwing 67 pitches, 36 for strikes.

“Probably when you talk about Brady today, the issue would have been he just didn’t throw his fastball for a strike,” Van Horn said. “Didn’t throw it where he wanted it and it made it very difficult to pitch, because they just started sitting on off-speed pitches. That’s how that went.

“We played some good defense. Hit some balls hard, didn’t have much luck. We still have an opportunity to win the series tomorrow, so hopefully we’ll play a little better.”

Niman, who had two bad outings in his last two starts, went 5 1/3 innings on Saturday, allowing two runs on five hits, fanning four and walking a pair.

“That’s our team and that is us at our best,” Mingione said. “It starts with the guy on the mound and I thought Dom was sensational. Pitched great.”

Burkes’ run-scoring fielder’s choice plate another Wildcat and then Nick Lopez’ RBI single pushed it to 7-2 later in the fourth.

Niman, who had two bad outings in his last two starts, went 5 1/3 innings on Saturday, allowing two runs on five hits, fanning four and walking a pair.

“That’s our team and that is us at our best,” Mingione said. “It starts with the guy on the mound and I thought Dom was sensational. Pitched great.”

Wood got Arkansas into the eighth, but left after hitting a batter with one out with Koty Frank taking over on the mound.

“Oh, I mean that was just a huge plus,” Van Horn said of Wood’s outing. “I talked about that after the game. I mean, Gage didn’t just eat up innings, he’s getting ready to take somebody’s job.

“I loved what I saw. I thought he did a great job pitching Tuesday night. I mean really if you look at it he had one pitch going today. The breaking ball wasn’t there for him and he got them out with that fastball. It had good carry on it. They were having trouble hitting it and I thought he threw great.

“At the same time, he did save our bullpen for tomorrow and we’ve got them lined up. If things don’t go right early we’ll go straight to it.”

Wood could be in line for another start, with his first college one having come in Tuesday’s 12-7 home win over Missouri State.

“He’s already a long reliever and he could close too,” Van Horn said. “So he’s going to get his opportunity to start a game. He started on Tuesday and he started for a reason. And today we let him go about 75-80 pitches for a reason. So yeah, we’ll see how this turns out.”

Frank hit Waldschmidt in the eighth and walked Pitre to load the bases before striking out Burks.

But Lopez, who also had four RBIs, cleared the bases with his double and Mitchell Daly added an RBI single in an inning when Kentucky scored four runs on just two hits.

(Last updated: 2024-05-04 17:58 PM)