By Otis Kirk (Nate Allen Sports)
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas and Connor Noland defeated Eastern Illinois 12-3 Saturday in the second game of a double header at Baum-Walker Stadium before 4,809 fans.
Noland, a true freshman right-hander from Greenwood, pitched 4.2 innings exiting with the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the fifth with the Hogs leading 4-0. Kole Ramage came in and gave up a walk and infield hit to allow two runs to score. Both were unearned, but charged to Noland. His final line was the two runs, both unearned, four hits, one walk and seven strikeouts while throwing 73 pitches. Following the game, Noland talked about his performance
“i thought I did well,” Noland said. “In the fifth inning I kinda started to fall apart not throwing the fastball for a strike. It kinda affected me, but I was trying to compete and just get after it.”
Did you want to finish that inning out?
“I think everybody that pitches would say they want to finish that out,” Noland said. “But I knew I was getting tired and Coach saw that too.”
Noland, who started the Tulsa game at quarterback, felt starting a football game in college helped him prepare for this game.
“It definitely helped,” Noland said. “There’s a lot of pressure when you go into a football game especially with thousands of people in the stands. Coming out for baseball still had a good crowd, but I’ve had that experience and seeing that many people so it definitely made the transition a little bit easier.”
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn was pleased with how Noland pitched.
“I thought Noland threw the ball well,” Van Horn said. “The breaking ball was good. I thought the zone was a little tighter on some pitches we thought was close and he didn’t get them. It didn’t faze him. He just kept pitching. His command started picking up in the second and third. I thought it was good. Fourth inning I thought he was pretty good and the fifth inning he started getting a little bit tired. I thought his pitch count was getting up there where we were gonna pull him on 70-75 pitches. I thought he did really well first time on a cold day.”
Eastern Illinois had loaded the bases on Noland when, with one out, Casey Martin and Noland had back-to-back throwing errors and then a single by Dane Toppel.
Arkansas scored two runs in the second and another pair in the third. Jordan McFarland singled to score Dominic Fletcher for Arkansas’ first run. McFarland then scored on a Zack Plunkett single for a 2-0 lead after two innings.
In the third, Casey Martin scored on a sacrfice fly by Trevor Ezell. Heston Kjerstad scored on a sacrifice fly by Fletcher for the 4-0 lead after three innings.
The Razorbacks got a big two-out single from Jacob Nesbit in the bottom of the sixth. The bases were loaded and Nesbit’s hit plated McFarland and Christian Franklin, who had entered as a pinch runner for Matt Goodheart. Nesbit’s single gave the Hogs a 6-2 lead.
The Panthers added a run in the top of the eighth when Martin booted a grouder at short allowing Jimmy Govern to score from third. It was an unearned run that was credited to Ramage off Arkansas’ third pitcher Zebulon Vermillion. He struck out the next batter to end the Eastern Illinois threat.
Arkansas added to its lead in the bottom of the eighth. Jack Kenley led off with a walk while Plunkett followed with a double. Nesbit then singled to center field to score Kenley and advancing Plunkett to third with no outs. Martin followed with a single to left that scored Plunkett for an 8-3 lead. Kjerstad followed by reaching on third baseman Jimmy Huber’s throwing error to load the bases with still no outs.
Ezell then hit into a fielder’s choice forcing Hjerstad at second, but scoring Nesbit from third. Fletcher followed with a single to center scoring Martin from third and moving Ezell to third. McFarland singled to center to score both Fletcher and Ezell with two outs.
Marshall Denton came on to pitch a perfect ninth inning. He allowed one hit before allowing the Hogs to complete the double-header sweep. Ramage went 2.1 innings to pick up the win. He allowed four hits, one run, walked two and struck out four.
McFarland had two hits and knocked in three runs in the game. Martin, Fletcher, Nesbit and Plunkett each had two hits in the game.
Van Horn talked about getting the two wins on opening day.
“Just on the overall day you take away a couple of errors in the second game we played very good defense,” Van Horn said. “We turned a few nice double plays. Kole Ramage didn’t have the command he normally has, but he got us some big outs.
“I think the story of the day was we got a lot of big hits. We got some big two-out hits especially in the second game. Overally, I thought we played fairly well. Very cold, long day. Looking forward to tomorrow.”
Game One: Arkansas 15 – Eastern Illinois 4
Arkansas pounded out 18 hits including five doubles and four home runs to take an easy victory in the opener.
Isaiah Campbell pitched five innings to pick up the win. He didn’t allow any hits in the first four innings, but gave up five in the top of the fifth while yielding three runs.
“I threw a lot of strikes and let my defense do the work,” Campbell said. “We got the dub on opening day that’s all you can ask for.”
What was working for you the first four innings?
“All my pitches were working really well,” Campbell said. “Just attacking hitters, got ahead of counts and didn’t get to many three-ball counts, maybe one or two and let my defense do the work.”
Arkansas scored eight runs in the bottom of the fourth to take a 9-0 lead. That caused Campbell to have to sit in the dugout for a long time. How did that disrupt what you were doing on the mound?
“Having those innings are always nice because you get that run support,” Campbell said. “In this weather you kinda get a little stiff and tired. But for me and Coach (Matt) Hobbs we felt my stuff was just as good in the fifth as it was in the first.
“They just kinda changed their plan and attacked fastballs first pitch more. I was still making pitches and getting weak contact. They just found some holes, but I just kept fighting, kept throwing strikes and got out of it.”
Campbell was asked if he was surprised about the nine extra base hits for the Hogs considering many projected this to be more of a small-ball team?
“No not at all,” Campbell said. “During spring practice and stuff you could tell the power was still there. We just have a lot of young that have a lot of potential. They just couldn’t find it at the beginning of the spring.”
Cody Scroggins pitched one inning in relief while Jacob Burton went two and Denton the ninth.
Ezell had three hits in four at bats including two doubles and a home run while knocking in three runs. Martin had three hits as well. Goodheart, Kenley, Nesbit and Franklin and Casey Optiz each had two hits. Franklin, Kenley and Heston Kjerstad each hit home runs.
Tyler Jones went 3.2 innings to get the loss. He allowed nine hits, nine runs and walked five. He was one of four pitchers for Eastern Illinois.
Christian Pena hit a home run for the Panthers and knocked in four runs. He had two hits on the day.
Arkansas and Eastern Illinois will meet today at 1 p.m. to close out the series.