• Dennis McCaslin

Hogs take game one of weekend SEC series against Auburn Tigers in 2-1 win

The No. 5 Arkansas Razorbacks continued their great play this season when pitcher Blaine Knight takes the mound as they won a pitcher’s duel with the No. 13 Auburn Tigers, 2-1, Friday night at Baum Stadium.

As expected, the Knight-Casey Mize matchup played out as it was billed with both aces combining for 13 strikeouts and two walks. Both pitchers also worked six or more innings in the game before giving way to the bullpens.

For the fourth week in a row, Knight came out on top, earning his sixth victory of the year on a third-consecutive quality start. He went 6.1 innings and gave up just the one earned run in the fourth, a home run, but he struck out six and walked only one.

Just like Knight, closer Matt Cronin was lights out in a series opener, as he threw a perfect final 2.2 innings with one strikeout to earn his sixth save of the year and fifth in his last seven appearances. In each of his saves this year, he’s thrown more than one inning, while allowing a run to cross only once.

Mize, who came in as, arguably, the SEC’s best pitcher, was just as effective, going seven innings and scattering seven hits with two earned runs allowed and seven strikeouts on 107 pitches. Luckily, the Hogs were able to scratch across two runs in the bottom of the fourth, one being a solo home run from Luke Bonfield.

Bonfield’s solo blast came after Mize had only allowed three baserunners into the fourth inning. He took an 0-2 pitch the opposite way and deposited his fifth home run of the year into the visitor’s bullpen, tying the game at 1-1. Bonfield finished the game 1-for-4 with the lone run scored and RBI.

Earlier in the inning, Auburn had taken a 1-0 lead on an Edouard Julien solo home run, his seventh of the year. It was the only extra-base hit Knight allowed in his 6.1 innings of work.

The win also ups Arkansas’ home record this season to 17-2. As a team, the Razorbacks are hitting .345 in games played at Baum Stadium with 39 home runs hit, while the pitching staff has a combined 2.53 ERA and a .227 opposing batting average.

All seven of Arkansas’ hits Friday night came off of Mize during his seven innings. Jax Biggers, Casey Martin, Bonfield, Dominic Fletcher, Grant Koch, Jordan McFarland, and Carson Shaddy each had one hit in the game. No one was able to tally more than one hit.

After Bonfield’s homer, the Razorbacks were able to score one more after Fletcher doubled in the next at-bat and then was brought in on an RBI single by Koch. Koch finished the game with one walk to go with his RBI single. It was the first walk Mize had allowed in 30.1 innings, including all of conference play.

Coming in, freshman outfielder Heston Kjerstad had a team-best 14-game hitting streak, but it was snapped Friday night as the Amarillo, Texas native went 0-for-4 at the plate.

Over the past four weeks in conference series openers, Arkansas’ offense has come up clutch against what is usually the opposing team’s ace. In those games, as a team, the Hogs have scored 23 runs and are hitting .298. On the flip side, Knight has done his job as Arkansas’ ace, compiling a 3.04 ERA with three wins in four starts.