Friday Roundup: Arkansas Edges Auburn in Pitchers’ Duel
Having lost consecutive road series against Florida and Mississippi, two top-five opponents, No. 9 Arkansas was eager to get back on track as it returned home. But other than having home-field advantage at Baum Stadium, things weren’t going to get much easier for the Razorbacks on Friday night against No. 15 Auburn and Preseason All-American righthander Casey Mize.
But led by Blaine Knight, its own Preseason All-American ace, Arkansas edged Auburn and Mize, 2-1.
Knight struck out six batters in 6.1 innings and held the Tigers to one run on six hits and a walk. He improved to 6-0, 1.87, and has now beaten four straight Preseason All-Americans to open SEC play. He started the run against Kentucky ace Sean Hjelle, the 2017 SEC pitcher of the year, and then became the first pitcher this season to beat Florida ace Brady Singer. He beat Mississippi lefthander Ryan Rolison last week before on Friday adding Mize to the list.
Closer Matt Cronin threw 2.2 perfect innings to end the game. The lefthander struck out one batter and earned his sixth save of the season.
Mize was also excellent Friday, but the Razorbacks did just enough to give Knight the edge. Luke Bonfield hit a solo home run in the fourth inning and two batters later Grant Koch added an RBI single.
Otherwise, Mize, the favorite to be the top overall pick in the draft, was excellent. He struck out seven batters and scattered seven hits and a walk in seven innings. Mize fell to 6-1, 2.21 this season and is now tied for 10th in program history with 245 career strikeouts.
Arkansas (22-9, 6-4) now will try to finish off its first series win in three weeks. Though the Razorbacks have won the series opener the last two weeks, they have gone a combined 0-4 in Games 2 and 3. Three of those four losses have come by one run, but the effect has been the same and they now trail Ole Miss in the SEC West standings.
Auburn (23-8, 4-6), meanwhile, is trying to avoid losing its third straight series and falling further off the pace in the division. After starting the season 19-1, the Tigers have lost seven of their last 11 games.
Oklahoma Stays Unbeaten In Big 12
No. 19 Oklahoma swept Baylor and West Virginia at home over the last two weeks to start conference play 6-0 for the first time since 1984. The Sooners this week left the friendly confines of L. Dale Mitchell Park and traveled to Texas Christian for a key Big 12 Conference series.
The road trip didn’t slow down the Sooners on Friday night. They twice erased a deficit against lefthander Nick Lodolo and went on to win, 8-5. Oklahoma (22-10) has won five straight games and eight of its last nine.
Outfielders Steele Walker and Kyler Murray both went 2-for-4 to power the Sooners’ offense. For Walker, a Preseason All-American, it was his 13th multi-hit game of the season. Murray homered twice and drove in four runs and is now 11-for-22 over his last six games.
Murray is having an outstanding season even as he also participates in spring football practice, where he is competing for the starting quarterback job. He is now hitting .302/.415/.553 with five home runs and five stolen bases. The more he continues to hit, the more difficult a decision the draft will present this year. The redshirt sophomore is an elite athlete, but at 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, he profiles better as a baseball player than a football player.
In the meantime, however, Oklahoma is very much enjoying having Walker and Murray at the heart of its order. And with the experience the Sooners have on the mound, they are looking every bit the part of Big 12 title contender.
Friday night is for aces and Blaine Knight and Casey Mize weren’t the only ones to stand out Friday night.
Joe DeMers, RHP, Washington: In the nightcap of a doubleheader against No. 11 East Carolina, DeMers threw a five-hit shutout in an 8-0 victory. The big righty struck out seven batters and walked none to improve to 3-1, 1.29 this season.
Griffin Roberts, RHP, Wake Forest: Roberts led Wake Forest to another upset of a top-15 opponent as he held No. 10 Duke to two runs in eight innings and the Demon Deacons went on to win, 10-2. Roberts struck out eight and allowed five hits and two walks. Wake Forest is now 5-2 against top-15 opponents and 8-16 in all other games.
Austin Schulfer, RHP, Wisconsin-Milwaukee: Schulfer struck out 15 batters to set a program single-game record in an 8-4 victory against Northern Kentucky. The senior limited the Norse to three runs (two earned) on five hits and no walks in seven innings. He broke his own record of 13 strikeouts, which he set last season.
Adam Wolf, LHP, Louisville: Wolf helped lead No. 24 Louisville (20-9) to a 8-2 victory against No. 6 North Carolina State. The lefthander threw seven scoreless innings, striking out six batters and scattering two walks and two hits. Louisville won Game 1 of a series for the first time in four weeks and will now look to close out its first series win in the same span.
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Around the Bases
- Georgia State outfielder Brandon Bell hit for the cycle in a 12-3 victory against Arkansas State. The junior went 5-for-5 and became just the second player in program history to complete the cycle. The Panthers (14-15) also got a boost from catcher Nick Gatewood, who hit two home runs for the second straight game, raising his season total to 11.
- Tennessee Tech won a wild game against Jacksonville State, 9-8, on a walk-off double from Chase Chambers. The victory extended the Golden Eagles’ winning streak to 14 games, the longest active streak in the country. Tennessee Tech improved to 23-5 and is 12-1 in Ohio Valley Conference play, already 3.5 games ahead of second-place Morehead State.
- Cold weather led to a bevy of postponements in the Midwest and Northeast. Among the series affected was No. 22 Central Florida’s visit to Connecticut. The Knights made the most of conditions, however.