FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas Razorbacks beat the Bucknell Bison again Sunday but not as thoroughly as they beat them Friday and Saturday.
Trailing 1-0 in the second before 4,872 Sunday at Baum Stadium, Arkansas needed RBI singles from Carson Shaddy in the second, and Luke Bonfield in the third. Left fielder Heston Kjerstad’s perfect second-inning throw turned a would-be sacrifice fly into an inning-ending doubleplay and Eric Cole’s seventh-inning insurance run home run allowed for a 3-1 victory.
On Friday, the Razorbacks had their 14-2 season opening triumph wrapped up 10-0 in the second inning and led 9-1 in the second and 16-1 in the third of Saturday’s 32-4 battering of the Bison, 0-3, of the Patriot League.
The first two games pad the stats for these 3-0 Hogs witnessed by 13,064 for their 3-game sweep but Sunday best prepares them for this big week in San Diego playing the Arizona Wildcats on Wednesday. Friday through Sunday at the Tony Gwynn Classic, they’ll play California Poly Tech, San Diego State and San Diego.
“Looking ahead this kind of game is probably what we needed,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said Sunday. “A little bit of drama, a little tension, nothing’s in the bag going into the ninth inning and you kind of get that feeling that it could go against us. So overall I thought it was a great weekend for our team.”
Sunday made for a completely different game. The wind blew in strongly from right field and Bucknell pitchers Jack Simpson, Jeff Gottesman and Brenden Tuttle only walked four Razorbacks compared to the 15 walks that the Bison staff allowed Friday and the 16 they walked Saturday.
Particularly on Saturday when not finding the plate, the Bison seemed to find their pitches belted gone with the wind as Razorbacks Shaddy, also homering Friday, Jared Gates, Dominic Fletcher, Luke Bonfield, Grant Koch and Lonoke freshman infielder Casey Martin, 4 for 6 with five RBI, all hit home runs.
“Obviously today was a lot crisper game,” Van Horn said Sunday. “The wind made a little bit of difference. I thought the pitchers on both teams did a pretty good job and held it down.”
Switch-hitting outfielder Cole, batting left-handed, hit Sunday’s lone home run, a fly ball that just kept drifting over camped left fielder JohnPaul Bell and the fence behind him extending the 2-1 lead to 3-1.
“When he hit it, I thought the kid would catch it,” Van Horn said. “But he drove it pretty good and he had a little left-handed slice on it that kind of cut through the wind that didn’t hurt it like it would have if he hit 20 more feet to the right. Two runs ahead compared to one is huge going into those last couple of innings. That was a big swing for us.”
Kjerstad’s throw and catcher Grant Koch’s tag marked Sunday’s play of the game. After breezing through a 1-2-3 first with two strikeouts, Arkansas fourth-year junior starter Keaton McKinney, in his first outing since missing the entire 2017 season off Tommy John elbow surgery after requiring hip surgery right after the 2016 season, had issued two one-out and Tyler Wincig’s RBI single advanced Bucknell catcher Evan Klugerman from first to third.
Evan Madison hit the fly to left that freshman Kjerstad, impressing going 6 for 7 in his first collegiate at bats, showed his arm impresses, too.
“Just a great play,” Van Horn said. “Kjerstad did a good job of getting behind the ball and he did everything right with his feet so that when he caught the ball he was ready to just transfer to his hand and had his body right and made a really strong throw. Instead of being down 2-0 we’re down 1-0 and we tie it up.”
Koch relished Kjerstad’s play.
“He threw it really, really well.” Koch said. “Especially on the inside. He gave me a lane. As soon as I got the ball I just tried to dive and make a play for Heston, because he made a great throw. A play like that can change the game.”
McKinney struggled with control for his 44 pitches, two-inning stint.
“We would like to see him command the ball a little bit better but I have the feeling he’ll be a lot better this next time out,” Van Horn said.
Van Horn lauded the relievers each throwing shutout ball and each allowing one hit thereafter. Sophomore lefty Matt Cronin got the win as the one-inning pitcher of record when Bonfield home Fletcher who had singled leading off the third followed by Cole’s walk.
Freshmen Caleb Bolden, three innings, Jackson Rutledge, two innings exciting the crowd lighting up the radar gun with a 97 mph fast ball, and Jake Reindl closed for the save and stranded a leadoff double.
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