Franklin's two-out RBIs lift Hogs to series win over Mizzou
FAYETTEVILLE — Don’t let the fact he hits in the 9-hole fool you, Christian Franklin has proven to be the guy Arkansas wants at the plate with two outs.
His two-run single with two outs in the fourth inning was the difference in the Razorbacks’ 4-3 series-clinching win over Missouri on Saturday.
“It was two strikes and I was just looking for something to hit,” Franklin said. “He left it over the middle, so I was able to put the barrel on it.”
Arkansas used a hit by pitch and single to put runners on the corners that inning, but when Jack Kenley failed to put the ball in play, head coach Dave Van Horn dialed up the squeeze bunt.
However, Jacob Nesbit bunted it back to the pitcher and Casey Opitz got into a rundown between third and home. He stayed alive long enough for the other runners to end up at second and third, though, setting the stage for the freshman.
Franklin fouled off three straight pitches before sending a fastball back up the middle, ramping up the mound and getting into center field to drive in a pair of runs.
“It was a big relief to at least get one of those in,” Van Horn said. “I would have felt bad if we didn’t. I would have felt like I shouldn’t have bunted him, but everybody has got to execute… But Franklin kind of pulled us out right there.”
With the hit, Franklin is now 7 for 20 (.350) with a team-high 10 RBIs with two outs. Throw in his sacrifice fly in the second inning and he also leads the team in overall RBIs with 19.
It wasn’t just his bat that came through in the clutch Saturday, though. He also managed to avoid a Steve Bartman situation to make the game’s final out, running into foul territory and catching a fly ball that just cleared the glove of a fan reaching over the wall.
“There were a lot of things going on over there,” Franklin said. “Thinking about the wall, the fans, but I just tried to stay focused on the ball and watching it into my glove.”
Cameras caught him yelling into the stands after the play, but he said he wasn’t mad, but rather trying to pump up the crowd after clinching the SEC-opening series.
The Razorbacks will go for the sweep Sunday, with first pitch scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Junior right-hander Cody Scroggins (1-0, 4.50 ERA) gets the start for Arkansas and will face Missouri senior left-hander Tyler LaPlante (1-1, 3.43 ERA).
The game will be streamed on SEC Network-plus, meaning it can be watched online on ESPN3.com or on the WatchESPN app.
Freshman Connor Noland will have to wait yet another week for a chance to pick up his first collegiate victory. Although he left the game with a 4-1 lead, he was one out shy of the five-inning minimum required to get the win.
It was the fifth no decision for the right-hander in as many outings.
“You don’t want to leave him in too long,” Van Horn said. “We had such a fresh bullpen and the games are so important that I think Connor would tell you he gets it.”
Considering how the game started for him, the fact Noland made it that far was impressive in itself. He walked the leadoff man on five pitches and then fell behind 2-0 to the next batter, prompting a mound visit from pitching coach Matt Hobbs.
Most of Noland’s pitches missed high because he wasn’t keeping his front side closed, allowing his body to run away from his arm. The coaches noticed it and Hobbs let him know about it, while also getting him to calm down in his first SEC start.
“There was no motivation in that talk,” Van Horn said. “There was just trying to get some things straightened out mechanically because he has good stuff.”
Even though it wasn’t his fault, Missouri actually loaded the bases against him before Noland got out of the inning, needing 23 pitches to do so. He was a little bit better in the second, throwing 20 pitches and allowing only a one-out single, but then he needed just 16 pitches to retire all six batters in the third and fourth innings.
Van Horn said his breaking ball got rolling in those frames and looked good again for a strikeout to start the fifth. However, after retiring 12 of 13 batters and nine straight, Noland gave up a double by Peter Zimmermann followed by a two-out RBI single by Josh Holt Jr., leading to a pitching change.
For the second time this year, Kole Ramage was a vulture and relieved Noland after 4 2/3 innings to earn the win.
“I was just trying to make it as far into the game as I could,” Noland said. “I’m not too concerned about the wins and losses column.”
With a smile on his face, he added “We’ll let Kole handle that,” getting a chuckle out of Ramage during postgame interviews.
Even though he didn’t get the win, Van Horn said Noland did a “tremendous job” of eating up innings to preserve the bullpen for a possible sweep Sunday afternoon.
“It would have been bad for us to burn up a bunch of our bullpen guys when we’re trying to catch a guy like (TJ) Sikkema,” Van Horn said. “For Connor to give us an opportunity to get into the game a little bit, and then for us to get the lead and to win it, ended up being huge for us.”
Speaking of Sikkema, the Missouri starter was as good as advertised. Coming into the game with a 0.46 ERA, he matched a career high with 10 strikeouts in a 122-pitch, eight-inning complete game.
The Razorbacks managed four runs - three earned - on six hits and two walks against him, though, which proved to be enough to get the win.
“I knew was going to be tough against Sikkema,” Van Horn said. “He’s a good pitcher. I feel fortunate to beat him.”
First Inning Luck
Arkansas caught a few breaks in the first inning that got the game going in its favor early on.
The aforementioned leadoff walk by Noland was followed by a Luke Mann bunt single and error by Casey Martin on a tailor-made double play ball. That loaded the bases with no outs and Van Horn said he was just hoping to get out of the inning allowing only one or two runs.
Chris Cornelius appeared to give the Tigers those runs with a hit down the right field line, but it landed foul by inches and he ended up striking out. Then Chad McDaniel hit another double play ball, but he beat out the throw at first to seemingly keep the inning alive and allow a run to score.
However, the second base umpire ruled that Kameron Misner, Missouri’s preseason All-American, slid wide of the base and called runner’s interference to end the inning without the Tigers getting a run.
“We were just fortunate their runner went way out of the line going after our shortstop,” Van Horn said. “The rule states you have to slide straight into the bag.”
In the home half of the inning, Martin beat out an infield single and then stole second with two outs. It looked like Sikkema would get out of the jam, but Cornelius - the shortstop - bobbled Dominic Fletcher’s grounder and then rushed the throw. It sailed wide of the first baseman and Martin scored to give Arkansas an early 1-0 lead.
The Razorbacks won by only one run, so Missouri coming up empty and Arkansas scoring on the error proved to be critical plays in the game.
~Arkansas had its best crowd of the season thanks to beautiful weather in Fayetteville. The paid attendance was 9,521, while the “tickets scanned” number was 6,573. As was the case Friday, there appeared to be more people in the stands than the scanned number.
~For the second time this season, Matt Cronin has notched saves on back-to-back days. He has thrown a scoreless ninth inning in each of the first two games of the series, replicating what he did at USC. Although he never did that last season, Cronin did have two saves on one day against South Carolina. Van Horn said he “could possibly” be available Sunday, but likely for only a batter or two and it would be his call.
~With a single in the second inning, Jacob Nesbit extended his hitting streak to seven games and on-base streak to 15 games. In fact, he has reached base in 17 of 18 games this season and the only time he failed to do so was the Eastern Illinois game in which he laid down two sacrifice bunts.
~Heston Kjerstad also has a streak extended, as he was hit by a pitch for the fourth straight game. All six of his hit by pitches this season have come in the last seven games. That gives him 24 in his career, meaning Kjerstad needs just five more to crack the UA’s all-time top-10 list.
~Playing his second game with an updated prescription for his contacts, designated hitter Matt Goodheart went 2 for 3 with a pair of singles. He is now 4 for 6 (.667) with the new contacts.
~Former Arkansas pitcher Scott Tabor, a two-time All-SWC selection and member of Arkansas’ 1979 national runner-up team, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Now a Shelter Insurance agent in Mountain Home, Tabor is the career victories leader for the Razorbacks with 34.