FAYETTEVILLE – For the second time this season, Luke Bonfield came up to the plate with the game on the line and delivered for Arkansas.
The junior sent a fastball up the middle to lift the Razorbacks to a 4-3 win over Vanderbilt, giving them their first series-opening victory in a month.
“We really haven’t had a hit like that in a while,” head coach Dave Van Horn said. “We needed to pick it up. … It seems like we played with a little energy tonight. It was good to see.”
Bonfield’s other walk-off single beat Rhode Island earlier this year.
Here is a snapshot of Friday’s game:
With the Razorbacks (36-13, 15-9 SEC) staring extra innings in the face, Jax Biggers hit a blooper down to the left field line that Vanderbilt’s fielder couldn’t get to in time.
Biggers was running hard from the start and slid into second ahead of the throw, stretching what would have been a Texas League single into a double.
Arkansas had several well-hit balls that could have given it the lead earlier in the game – including a line drive by Eric Cole caught at the fence in the eighth inning – but it was this play that sparked the Razorbacks to victory.
“Finally got one to drop, didn’t we?” Van Horn said. “Baseball is a funny game. We did hit some balls hard…but every now and then you have to take a bloop double.”
Because Biggers’ double left a base open with one out, Vanderbilt decided to intentionally walk a slumping Jake Arledge in order to set up a double play. However, Chad Spanberger popped out, allowing Bonfield to come to the plate.
Arkansas found itself in a tough situation in the eighth inning, when the usually dependable Jake Reindl came in and couldn’t find the strike zone.
He threw six straight balls before Van Horn relieved him with Kevin Kopps. However, Kopps’ third pitch hit Jeren Kendall in the back and the Commodores had runners on first and second and no outs.
It wasn’t conventional, by any means, but the Razorbacks got out of the jam with only three pitches to one more batter.
Ro Coleman got caught too far off second base and catcher Grant Koch gunned him down for the first out. Then Julian Infante hit a sharp grounder to first and Spanberger started an inning-ending double play.
“Grant recognized it immediately and made a perfect throw,” Van Horn said. “That was a huge play, obviously, and then to turn that double play, a 3-6-1 double play, that’s pretty good baseball right there.”
Stephan Strong Again
After throwing a seven-inning shutout to earn SEC and national pitcher of the week honors, Trevor Stephan gave Arkansas another strong start Friday night.
He allowed a two-run home run in the second inning and another run in the fifth, but he was solid other than that.
“Command wise it was kind of iffy,” Stephan said. “I feel like I throw more strikes normally but I kind of settled in there after a few innings and commanded all my pitches better.”
The second-inning home run snapped a 13-inning scoreless streak by Stephan, who also struck out 11 batters and didn’t walk anyone.
His six hits were scattered across seven innings.
“To me, Trevor Stephan was the man,” Van Horn said. “I thought Trevor did a great job just really settling in and keep doing what he does and didn’t get rattled.
“He gave us seven innings and we had a chance.”
Arkansas’ first three runs of the game came via the long ball. Bonfield hit a solo shot in the first inning to give the Razorbacks the lead and Dominic Fletcher hit a two-run homer off the scoreboard to tie the game in the seventh.
It was Fletcher’s third home run in as many games, as he also had one in each of last week’s games at Tennessee.
Vanderbilt’s lone home run was a two-run shot by Ethan Paul in the second.
Penn State football coach James Franklin took some time off Friday to support one of his best friends from his time at Vanderbilt: Commodores baseball coach Tim Corbin.
According to Vanderbilt’s sports information director, the two became close during Franklin’s three-year tenure as the Commodores’ football coach and have remained friends since he took the Nittany Lions’ job in 2014.
Stat to Know
-Arkansas has won five games in walk-off fashion this season.
-Fletcher’s home run was his ninth this year, which is the most by an Arkansas freshman since Zack Cox hit a freshman-record 13 in 2009. The nine home runs also lead all SEC freshmen this season.
Saturday’s game features a top-notch pitching matchup, with sophomore right-hander Blaine Knight and junior right-hander Kyle Wright scheduled to start for Arkansas and Vanderbilt, respectively.
Wright (2-5, 3.35 ERA) is projected to be a top-five pick in next month’s and could go as high as No. 1 overall, while Knight (6-3, 3.63 ERA) – a draft-eligible sophomore – is also expected to be a high-round pick.
First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. and the game will be streamed on SEC Network+, meaning it can be watched on ESPN3.com or the WatchESPN app.