FAYETTEVILLE — The least heralded of LSU’s three SEC weekend starting pitchers pitched the best on the weekend against Arkansas.
Freshman Tigers right-hander Eric Walker threw a complete game 4-hit shutout beating the Razorbacks, 2-0 in Sunday’s close to a 3-game SEC West series before 7,137 at Baum Stadium.
Coach Paul Manieri’s Tigers, now 22-11 overall/7-5 in the SEC West, beat Arkansas, 2 of 3.
Coach Dave Van Horn’s Razorbacks behind winning starter Blaine Knight of Bryant throwing six shutout innings, beat the Tigers and projected first-round draft choice junior right-handed pitcher Alex Lange, 9-3 before 9,288 Friday night and Saturday night chased LSU projected senior LSU lefty first-round draft choice Jared Poche in the fourth leading 7-1. The Razorbacks held an 8-2 lead after Saturday’s seventh inning but got tagged for a 3-run LSU eighth and self-destructed with hit batsmen a wild pitch and two throwing errors in the 5-run ninth to lose, 10-8 before 10,987.
The Razorbacks are 25-8 overall and at 8-4 share best in the SEC West with Auburn and Mississippi State heading into the Thursday Through Saturday SEC 3-game series that Arkansas hosts at Baum.
Van Horn discounted any hangover from Saturday night’s meltdown to Sunday’s loss.
“Their attitude was good pregame,” Van Horn said. “Yeah, we were disappointed we didn’t win the game (Saturday night) but I thought the locker room was good today. Everybody was upbeat. We just got beat by a good pitcher. Walker stuck it to us.”
The freshman amazed his coach blanking the hard-hitting Hogs leading the SEC in home runs including three Friday Night and two Saturday night.
“You can’t even dream of shutting out Arkansas in their ballpark,” Mainieri said Sunday. “That thought would have never crossed my mind because I think they’ve got one of the best hitting teams in the league. But the kid (Walker) obviously made a lot of great pitches.”
While not generating the preseason publicity of Lange and Poche, Walker upped his record to 4-0 and brought a 3.03 ERA into Sunday’s game and was backed by a defense that turned three doubleplays and thanks, to defensive gems by shortstop Kramer Robertson, who also robbed Arkansas’ Carson Shaddy of a potential 2-run single in Saturday’s eighth inning, and third baseman Josh Smith, erased potential Arkansas RBIs on Sunday.
“Give credit to Walker and give credit to their defense, too,” Van Horn said. “Their defense was outstanding.”
Regarding the Hogs Sunday dugout attitude, Van Horn knew it all firsthand but knew nothing after the second inning.
After Jared Gates became the third Razorback called out on strikes following Chad Spanberger in the first and and Grant Koch in the second, Van Horn said something from the dugout steps that home plate umpire Seth Buckminster deemed worthy of ejection.
Hitting coach Tony Vitello and pitching coach Wes Johnson managed the Hogs thereafter.
“Basically I kept telling him, ‘That pitch was low, that pitch was down’ and he argued back a little bit,” Van Horn said. “He never gave me a warning or anything and he just tossed me. That’s not the protocol. The protocol is ‘That’s your warning. That’s it, I’ve heard enough.’ And the you have to shut up basically. He never gave me a warning. He just threw me out. Another new umpire in our league. I can’t really say a whole lot, but there’s a lot of attitude there.”
LSU Sunday scored one run each off losing starter Josh Alberius for his 3 1-3 and reliever Jake Reindl who only yielded two hits and struck out five with no walks for 5 2-3.
Nick Coomes, a backup catcher inserted late game Saturday night and devastated the Hogs with an eighth-inning leadoff double and ninth-inning single, the only LSU hit in Saturday’s 5-run ninth, followed Jason Smith’s 2-out second inning single with an RBI double.
Reindl hit the leadoff batter in the eighth then committed a throwing error before Greg Deichmann’s RBI single in an otherwise stellar performance.
“That was the positive for the game for us today,” Van Horn said. “Jake Reindl came in and really did a nice job. He’s definitely going to be a guy that either moves to one of the top bullpen spots or maybe he moves into the rotation.”
Arkansas squandered a stellar Saturday night effort by starter Trevor Stephan whose 5-hitter through seven complete with seven strikeouts and no walks had the Hogs up 8-2 when he turned it over to freshman Kevin Kopps in the eighth.
Kopps was tagged for three runs, two on Deichmann’s 2-run home run, before reliever Cannon Chadwick recorded the last out.
Chadwick only yielded one hit in the ninth but hit two batters, one with the bases-loaded, for a run, wild pitched another run home and was undone when shortstop Jax Biggers, appearing to have fielded the game-ending grounder, threw wildly to first scoring the tying and go-ahead runs before second baseman Shaddy’s wild throw netted an LSU insurance.
Never scoring Saturday or Sunday after scoring each of Saturday’s first five innings, the Razorbacks stranded the last three of 13 Saturday base-runners striking out with the bases loaded in the ninth.
The loss wasted Spanberger’s 5-RBI night including a 3-run home run and Koch’s home run, and Biggers’ 3 for 4 night.
On Friday night the Razorbacks augmented Knight’s 3-hit shutout through six with errorless defense and Spanberger’s 3-run home run and Jared Gates and Eric Cole home runs with Gates, 3 for 5 and 2 RBI and Cole 2 for 5 with 2 RBI.