Trey Killian may have discovered the winning formula, slugger Andrew Benintendi. And, Benintendi still maintains he's not a homer run hitter. Don't tell that to the rest of the Southeastern Conference after Arkansas beat Kentucky, 5-3, Friday night at Baum Stadium.
Killian got his first victory of the season, thanks to another power display by Benintendi, the sophomore center fielder.
Benintendi hit two solo homers to give him the SEC lead with 13. He's hit six in six games, the best anyone's done for the Hogs since Aaron Murphree hit eight in four games when the bats were lethal in 2008.
Killian (1-2) pitched six strong innings, allowing only a solo homer in the second. But he had to watch another shaky seventh inning from Zach Jackson before earning the victory.
"We got the team a victory and got Trey a victory," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "I told the team it was good to get it for Trey because he's pitched well a lot (when there was a no decision)."
The Hogs (19-15, 6-7) won for the fifth time in seven SEC games after a 1-5 start. It's clear that part of the hot streak has been behind Benintendi's power surge. The 5-10 Cincinnati product with the sweet lefty swing told reporters after cranking two homers on Wednesday against Mississippi Valley State that he's not a home run hitter. What about now?
"Nope," he said. "I'm just trying to hit the ball hard."
Benintendi, who has upped his average to .366, doesn't remember another such hot streak since high school. And, yes, he's in a zone.
"It's been awhile," he said. "I just go up there trying to hit the ball hard and good things are going to happen."
Van Horn said it's a combination of Benintendi swinging at good pitches and laying off the bad ones and hitters producing around him.
"Benintendi is a good hitter," Van Horn said. "He's swinging the bat good right now and has his confidence. He's taking his walks. When he's going good, he stays in the (strike) zone. Part of it is that the hitters around him are hot, too. Tyler Spoon is going well, too. But Andrew is coming of age. I hope he stays hot."
Killian said the Hogs are enjoying the ride.
"It's been unreal," Killian said. "After I came out of the game, I was talking to Spoon in the dugout. I told him I can't believe what's happening. It's awesome for us. His success is rubbing off on the rest of the team. He's a big part of what we are doing."
Van Horn said Killian didn't have his best stuff, but the junior righthander was still tough on the Wildcats. He allowed six hits and two walks while throwing 101 pitches. Jackson got his fourth save, but was shaky in his first inning, like he's been several times.
Jackson gave up two runs on three hits and two walks and a hit batsman in the seventh. It was a little like his seventh at Auburn when he threw 52 pitches.
"He was about 15 (pitches) better this time," Van Horn said. "But we'd like him to throw less. He had two good innings and one bad one."
Jackson benefited from a double play in the ninth and there was great glove work throughout the night for the Hogs. The best play came from freshman Cullen Gassaway in the fifth when the Wildcats stranded two. Gassaway, a late addition to the lineup when Joe Serrano went home sick, lunged to his left to stab a hot grounder. He flipped to Killian just in time for the out at first.
"That was an awesome play," Killian said. "He's not a guy who plays a lot. He's got a good bat and when he's been out there, he's made the plays. He saved me a run, maybe two."
The Hogs got on top on Benintendi's homer in the first. It was a hooking liner that was off the end of the bat on a high changeup. Kentucky tied it in the second on Dorian Hairston's solo homer to left.
The Hogs got the lead for good with two in the bottom of the second. Gassaway opened it with a single and Rick Nomura and Michael Bernal followed with singles, scoring Gassaway. Nomura scored on a wild pitch.
The Hogs scratched out a run in the fourth when Nomura walked, moved to second on a ground out, to third on a fly to left and came in on Clark Eagan's bloop single to right.
Kentucky greeted Jackson with two singles. After a fielder's choice produced an out at second, Jackson was worked for a walk -- after a long delay caused by a rare television replay on a foul ball down the right field line that went the Hogs' way. The Wildcats made it 4-3 on a single and a bases loaded hit by pitch before Jackson struckout Hairston to end the threat.
"I never worried," Killian said. "Jackson is a stud. He's got great stuff. I knew he was going to get us out of it."
Still, Van Horn was relieved when Benintendi led off the seventh with a massive shot over the Kentucky bullpen in right. Benintendi amired it for a bit at home plate.
"I enjoyed it a little bit," Benintendi admitted. "It was a fast ball down and in.
"Guys around me are going good and they have to pitch to me. I'm grateful."
Arkansas will try to keep it going with a 6 p.m. start Saturday night. Dominic Taccolini gets the start for the Hogs. Van Horn said he's not sure if Serrano will be able to play. He's the latest in a series of Razorbacks hit with what's been a two-day bug.
Benintendi Powers Hogs Again
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