Defense The Difference For Razorbacks

AUBURN, Ala. — Defense, defense and more defense. That was the theme Friday and it was the difference for Arkansas.

Although the Razorbacks hit got a pair of clutch home runs, the glove work stood out the most as several game-saving plays in the field led to a 3-2 win against Auburn in front of a crowd of 2,407 at Plainsman Park.

With Arkansas' Dallas Keuchel and Auburn's Grant Dayton battling in a pitchers' duel for most of the afternoon, neither team gave an inch. That was particularly true in the field, where scoring chance after scoring chance was squashed by one stellar play after another. The Razorbacks' best defense came from the outfield as three relay throws gunned down Auburn runners.

None was more important than a Brett Eibner-to-Ben Tschepikow-to-Ryan Cisterna relay in the seventh, preventing Auburn's Wes Gilmer from scoring the go-ahead run. Fielding a ball off the center-field wall, Eibner hurled a perfect throw to Tschepikow, who delivered a bullet to Cisterna to help keep the game tied at 2-2.

"What really won the game for us was defense," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "We made a nice play off the wall, we made a great relay. It's like I told (Brett) Eibner. I told him he's struggling at the plate, but we had you in there for defense. And he made a perfect throw to Ben, who made a perfect throw to the plate. And Cisterna, I don't know how he held onto the ball because it was kind of an in-between play.

"So for us to win that game on the road, it's a good feeling."

Cisterna not only made the play defensively, he finished things off with his bat. Leading off the top of the ninth, the senior floated a long fly ball that just carried over the right-field wall to give the Hogs a 3-2 lead.

"My hitting's been struggling so bad, but it felt good to contribute," Cisterna said. "That was a wind-aided home run, I'm not going to lie about that. But it feels good to at least contribute to the team from an offensive standpoint."

Meanwhile, Keuchel (3-0) and Dayton (2-2) went at it back and forth for eight full innings. Showing great control, Keuchel scattered nine hits and did not walk a batter while leaning on the great defensive play behind him. On the other side, Dayton went eight-plus innings and allowed three runs on 10 hits — with two walks and 10 strikeouts — before leaving the game following Cisterna's blast.

"Both teams had solid pitching and both teams played solid defense," Auburn coach John Pawlowski said. "And give Arkansas credit, they made the plays when they needed to. It was certainly a well-played game and that's what it's all about on a Friday night in the SEC. Two good teams going at it toe-to-toe."

Even after Cisterna put the Razorbacks (14-4, 4-0) on top, more defense was needed to close this one out. With Stephen Richards in, Casey McElroy gave Auburn (15-6, 2-2) brief hope with a two-out double to the left-center gap in the bottom of the ninth. But on the play, McElroy overran second base and thanks to a perfect throw from left fielder Collin Kuhn, the tag was put on to end the game.

"When that ball left the bat I thought it was going to wall," Van Horn said. "But Collin got a great jump, he cut it off and made an absolute perfect throw. And their runner could run, but he slid past the bag and Ben (Tschepikow) kept the tag on him. That doesn't happen unless you make a perfect throw and cut the ball off and (Collin) did all of that. So it was a really good play.

"I mean defense can keep you in some games, and it did that for us today."

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