FAYETTEVILLE – Overpowering Tennessee, 11-9 and 15-3 Friday night and Saturday night and with superbly pitching freshman starter Connor Noland of Greenwood Sunday afternoon bequeathing a 2-1 lead to the bullpen opening the eighth inning, the Arkansas Razorbacks poised to achieve a 3-game SEC sweep at Baum-Walker Stadium.
They got it. Belatedly. For it took Christian Franklin’s home run tying it 3-3 in the ninth and Casey Opitz’s game-ending RBI double in the 10th winning it 4-3 for Coach Dave Van Horn’s Razorbacks and rookie reliever Elijah Trest.
Trest logged his first Razorbacks win thrust into prominence with the bullpen’s upperclassmen either spent from pitching this series or unavailable because of injuries.
Jack Kenley’s solo home run in the second and Heston Kjerstad getting hit with a bases-loaded pitch in the fifth provided Arkansas’ other runs before Opitz drove home Kenley, 3 for 4, in the 10th.
The sweep improves the nationally seventh-ranked Razorbacks to 34-11 and 15-6 in the SEC, not only best in the SEC West but tied for the SEC Overall lead with SEC East leader Vanderbilt.
Coached by former Arkansas assistant Tony Vitello, the nationally No. 17 Tennessee Vols fell to 31-14 overall/ 9-12 in the SEC East.
Arkansas had had scored 26 runs but until Franklin’s home run struggled against Tennessee lefty ace closer Redmond Walsh, relieving in the fifth inning and throwing a career long 5 1-3 innings absorbing a tough loss.
“Connor threw lights out, Van Horn said of the freshman right-hander’s 2-hit, career high 10 strikeouts vs. one walk through performance. “The guy had everything working.”
The run Tennessee scored off Noland was unearned on with Kenley misplaying Justin Ammon’s 2-out bouncer bounding far enough away to score Alerick Soularie, singling then bunted, over, from second in the sixth.
Noland survived a leadoff single and sac bunt in the seventh so Van Horn, with regular buffers to closer Matt Cronin, including Zebulon Vermillion, Cody Scroggins, Kole Ramage, Kevin Kopps and Jacob Kostyshock, all unavailable because of weekend use or injuries, summoned Marshall Denton. Denton was tagged for a leadoff single and sac bunt and got a groundout before in came Cronin who had closed Friday’s 11-9 game impressively.
Ammons singled home the run then got lucky. Cronin picked him off first but got to second because first baseman Trevor Ezell’s throw was wide. Ammons scored the go-ahead run on Andre Lipcius’ single.
Cronin finished the eighth and ninth.
Trest pitched the 10th with a hit erased by a doubleplay and an ultimate 1-2-3 inning after Franklin, 4 for 4 Saturday night, tied it Sunday with his ninth-inning opposite field home run just beyond the right field corner.
“I just wanted to put a good swing on the ball and luckily got a good pitch to hit and was able to drive it out of the park and tie up the game,” freshman Franklin said. “My blood was rushing really fast. I didn’t have any control over what I was saying. I went into the dugout screaming.”
With the game now trusted to Trest, the freshman right-hander kept his composure.
“I knew when we went down one and tied it up that it was my turn, and that I was going to have to get it done for us,” Trest said.”
And he did, Van Horn said, calling it “a great inning.”
Kenley (single) and Jacob Nesbit (fielder’s choice forcing pinch runner Curtis Washington at third upon Kjerstad leading off hit by another Walsh pitch) were aboard when Opitz, 1 for 13 in the series before his final bat, delivered the 2-out double to left.
“You know I just got up there and flushed all the at bats I had before,” Opitz said. “ I’m a good hitter. You’ve got to believe that or nothing is going to happen for you. I was just looking for my pitch to hit and I got one and I did what I could with it.”
It sufficed for Arkansas to complete successive SEC weekends sweeps of Mississippi State and Tennessee at Baum-Walker going into Tuesday night’s nonconference game against Grambling State at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock followed by a SEC series Friday through Sunday with the Kentucky Wildcats in Lexington, Ky.
Friday night linescore
Tennessee…1|0|3 |0|3|0 |2|0|0 – 9 /12 / 2
Arkansas……1|0|3 |0|3|4 |0|0|x – 11 /16/ 3
Crochet, Schultz (5), Heflin (6), Wallace (7), Hunley (7) and Gray, Pavolony (7); Campbell, Kopps (5), Kostyshock (7), Cronin (9) and Opitz.
W-Kopps (4-3). L-Schultz (2-1).
HR-Tennessee: Lipcius (11). HR-Arkansas: Nesbit (3). Ezell (6).
Tennessee…0|0|0 |0|0|2 |0|1|0 – 3/ 7 /2
Arkansas…..0|0|4 |4|0|1|5|1|x – 15/ 18/ 1
Stallings Neely (4), Pleasants (7), Heflin (7) and Pavolony; Wicklander, Kostyshock (6), Ramage (7), Burton (9) and Opitz, Plunkett (8).
W-Wicklander (4-1). L-Stallings (7-3).
Tennessee…0|0|0 |0|0|1 |0|2|0 |0 – 3/ 6 /1
Arkansas…..0|1|0 |0|1|0 |0|0|1 |1 – 4 /9/1
Linginfelter, Walsh (5) and Gray; Noland, Denton (8), Cronin (8), Trest (10) and Opitz.
W-Trest (1-1). L-Walsh (0-1).
HR-Arkansas: Kenley (9). Franklin (5).
HR-Daniels (3). HR-Arkansas: McFarland (2). Martin (9). Kjerstad, 2 (11) (12).