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Razorbacks stifle Frogs for 3-0 start

by Tom Murphy | February 23, 2021 at 4:15 a.m.

The University of Arkansas struggled offensively until late in the game, but veteran Christian Franklin came through with a clutch run-scoring triple and a run to help propel the No. 8 Razorbacks to a 4-1 victory over No. 11 TCU late Monday.

Arkansas pitchers struck out 18 batters and posted their second consecutive two-hitter to capture the finale of the College Baseball Showdown at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

The Razorbacks (3-0) capped their three-game sweep at the season-opening tournament after downing No. 4 Texas Tech 13-9 and No. 10 Texas 4-0. Arkansas limped home from last year's Shriners Classic in Houston at 0-3 against similar competition, then lost its next two games at home before righting the ship.

"I mean, pitching the last two nights has been outstanding obviously," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "It took our offense a while to get going, really both nights.

"The pitchers, I talked to them in the outfield about just what a great job they've done the last couple of days after the first day didn't go so well. They bounced back. They're tough."

Five Razorback pitchers combined for the 18 strikeouts and limited the Horned Frogs (1-2) to a pair of singles and four walks.

TCU did not have a hit after scraping across a run in the second inning on a pair of hits.

Senior right-hander Kevin Kopps worked the final two innings, striking out five batters, en route to the save. He walked a pair of Horned Frogs in the ninth but fanned Zach Humphreys with two runners on base to strike out the side.

Arkansas mustered just a pair of singles through seven innings, both from designated hitter Brady Slavens. However, the Hogs could not scratch across a run.

That changed quickly in the eighth inning. Shortstop Jalen Battles led off the frame with a bloop single against 6-5 right-hander Charles King (0-1). With one out, Franklin ripped a hit into the gap in right-center field, and Battles raced all the way home on the triple to forge a 1-1 tie.

Franklin entered the game 1 for 8 with a few loud outs.

"We knew it was coming," Van Horn said. "He's level-headed. He hung in there and we kept telling him, 'It's coming. Just keep swinging. You're fine. We're not upset.' It happens. That's the way the game works."

Cullen Smith followed Franklin's triple with a go-ahead single off lefty Haylen Green to score another run and give the Razorbacks a 2-1 lead.

Arkansas added to that with a pair of runs in the ninth inning. Slavens was hit by a pitch and scored from first on Casey Opitz's double into the left-center gap. After Cayden Wallace drew a walk, Zack Gregory moved up both runners with a sacrifice bunt. Opitz scored on a wild pitch moments later.

Arkansas left-handed starter Lael Lockhart deserved a better fate after coming out trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the fifth inning. The 6-3 senior struck out 8 and allowed 1 run on 2 hits, 2 walks and 2 hit batsmen on 78 pitches, the most for an Arkansas starter in Arlington.

Lefty Evan Taylor came in after Lockhart issued a one-out walk to Elijah Nunez in the fifth and quickly induced a 6-4-3 ground ball out of Tommy Sacco.

Freshman Jaxon Wiggins made his debut in the sixth inning and struck out the side, delivering fastballs that touched 98 mph on the stadium velocity monitor.

Ryan Costeiu (1-0) struck out two batters during a clean seventh inning and picked up his first win with the Razorbacks.

Arkansas started slowly on offense for the third consecutive game, but this time the struggles lasted deeper into the game and featured some shaky base-running.

TCU wasn't much hotter, but the Horned Frogs managed to scrape across a run in the second, with all the damage coming with two outs. Lockhart hit Humphreys with a pitch and Braden Taylor singled him to third in his first collegiate at-bat. Nine-hole hitter Luke Boyers poked a ball over the head of second baseman Robert Moore to score the game's first run.

Arkansas had a chance to get on the board in the second inning off TCU starter Austin Krob but the Hogs squandered the opportunity.

Slavens singled with one out and moved up on a balk call. When Opitz grounded to shortstop, Slavens bolted for third and was cut down on a throw by Sacco. Moments later, Opitz was thrown out on what looked like a muffed hit-and-run play.

Arkansas finally notched its second hit in the seventh inning.

Slavens had two hits and a hit by pitch to lead the Razorbacks.

Arkansas and Ole Miss both went 3-0 in the showdown to lead the Southeastern Conference to an 8-1 record against the Big 12. TCU posted the Big 12's only victory, a win over Mississippi State.

Arkansas will host Southeast Missouri State on Thursday at 3 p.m. for the first of a scheduled four-game set.

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