FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas capped its longest homestand of the season with a victory Wednesday night.
The Razorbacks hit a pair of home runs and beat New Orleans 5-2 in front of 2,626 fans at Baum Stadium.
Here’s a snapshot of the win:
Both teams failed to take advantage of runners on base in the first two innings, but New Orleans put itself in a good position in the third.
Aaron Palmer’s one-out double was the Privateers’ first hit of the game. Despite having the heart of the lineup coming up behind him, the shortstop tried to steal third and Grant Koch easily threw him out.
“I guess they just felt like we weren’t paying attention to him,” head coach Dave Van Horn said. “Grant made the play there. That pitch was in the dirt. He picked it with his glove, transferred and threw him out.
“If it had been a fastball or a ball that wasn’t in the dirt, he would have thrown him out by even more, but that was a tremendous play.”
It ultimately cost New Orleans a run, as its next two batters drew a walk and singled. Had Palmer not tried stealing, the hit would have resulted in a 1-0 lead.
Alas, Arkansas scored in the bottom of the inning and led 4-0 before the Privateers got on the board.
After missing the first 21 games of the season with a hand injury, Jared Gates finally made his Arkansas debut Wednesday. The Iowa Western C.C. transfer started at third base and batted seventh.
He went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts, but did manage to hit a long foul ball in his first at bat.
Gates actually swung at all six pitches during his first two plate appearances, resulting in a strikeout and a fly out to center.
“He didn’t have a good night at the plate, but at least he got his feet wet,” Van Horn said. “He’s not a big swing and miss guy, so he was nervous. I look for him to get it rolling in the next week or so.”
Defensively, the ball seemed to find him.
In the fourth inning, New Orleans third baseman Owen Magee hit a sharp grounder to Gates. It took a tough hop right before it got to him and bounced off his knee. Gates was visibly hurt, as he kept bending and rubbing his knee, but he remained in the game.
“That’s his mentality, to get in front of everything,” Van Horn said. “He’s just a tough kid. I told him after the end of the inning…that’s a backhand play. That ball was hit too hard for you to try to slide your glove in front of it and block it with your body.”
Later on, the Privateers had a pair of infield singles hit in Gates’ direction, but both would have been difficult plays because of where he was positioned. He did throw out two runners at first and tagged out Palmer trying to steal.
“I didn’t expect much from him tonight, to be honest with you,” Van Horn said. “It was more just to get him out there and get him some experience and hopefully get some of the nervousness out.”
Koch continued his hot start to the season by hitting a two-run home run in the fifth inning. It was his team-leading seventh long ball this year.
He almost didn’t get a chance to hit home run. On the pitch before, Koch hit a high foul ball behind the plate. New Orleans catcher John Cable caught the ball and it was initially called an out, but Van Horn immediately ran out of the dugout and argued that the ball had touched the net first.
Home plate umpire Greg Harmon conversed with the other umpires and eventually reversed his decision, allowing Koch to hit the homer.
“I’m really glad,” Koch said. “That would have been a bad break because I heard it skim off the net. Coach Van Horn went to bat for me. That was pretty good.”
For a moment, it was believed that Koch was tied for the SEC lead in home runs. However, Greg Deichmann went deep in LSU’s game against Southeastern Louisiana just a few minutes before, giving him eight and keeping him ahead of Koch.
The Razorbacks got an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth inning when Jax Biggers hit a two-out solo home run, his second of the season.
“That three-run lead compared to two going into the top of the ninth, it kind of gave us a chance to relax a little bit,” Van Horn said.
Arkansas infielder Hunter Wilson, who has missed several games after fouling a pitch off his shin against Alcorn State, will be a part of the Razorbacks’ 27-man travel roster this weekend.
Van Horn said he “might not be ready” to play Friday or Saturday, but he could potentially play Sunday.
Facts and Stats to Know
-New Orleans’ head coach is former LSU All-American first baseman Blake Dean, who played for the Tigers from 2007-2010. He is in his second season as the Privateers’ head coach. Interestingly, his younger brother plays for him. Dakota Dean went 1 for 2 with a pair of walks.
-Sophomore left-hander Kacey Murphy got the start for Arkansas, but struggled finding the strike zone and lasted only 2 2/3 innings. His four walks are tied for the most by a starting pitcher for the Razorbacks this season.
-His four walks were part of a seven-walk game for Arkansas’ pitching staff. It is the second highest total so far this year. The Razorbacks walked nine batters in their 15-5 win over Nebraska in Frisco, Texas.
-Murphy was relieved by Barrett Loseke (3-0), who earned the win by pitching 3 1/3 scoreless innings. He allowed one hit and one walk while striking out four. “He got better as the game went on,” Van Horn said. “His third inning, he was throwing the ball 92-93 miles per hour, maybe more.”
Arkansas hits the road for a three-game series at Missouri this weekend.
The Razorbacks and Tigers swept Mississippi State and Alabama, respectively, to open SEC play, so at least one team will suffer their first conference loss of the year.
Since losing its season-opener, Missouri has won 20 straight games and climbed into most national rankings.
The series opener will feature a top-notch pitching matchup, with Arkansas sophomore right-hander Blaine Knight (2-1, 2.39 ERA) taking on Missouri junior right-hander Tanner Houck (3-1, 2.27 ERA).
Knight leads the country in strikeout-to-walk ratio, with 34 strikeouts and only one walk, while Houck is projected to be a first-round pick in this summer’s MLB Draft.
Game 1 – 6:30 p.m. Friday (SECN+)
Game 2 – 2 p.m. Saturday (SEC Network)
Game 3 – 1 p.m. Sunday (SECN+)