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Arkansas slows down LSU’s offense, wins 5-4

Arkansas’ dynamic pitching duo of Hagen Smith and Hunter Hollan prove too much for the Tigers again as they combine for 17 strikeouts.

Syndication: Tuscaloosa News
LSU pitcher Riley Cooper pitches in relief against Arkansas during the SEC Tournament elimination game Thursday, May 25, 2023, at the Hoover Met.
Gary Cosby Jr.-Tuscaloosa News / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Arkansas pitching combo of Hagen Smith and Hunter Hollan prove once again to be LSU’s Kryptonite as the Razorbacks defeated the Tigers 5-4.

The dynamic duo combined for 17 strikeouts. This isn’t the only time Smith and Hollan gave LSU problems. In game one of its series on March 24, they struck out 15 LSU batters combined in the Razorbacks’ 9-3 victory. Smith and Hollan only allowed three runs to a batting lineup that was averaging 11 runs a game up to that point.

Smith pitched the first 3.2 innings and allowed two runs on five hits with one walk and nine strikeouts. Hollan (8-2) earned the win as he relieved Smith and worked the final 5.1 innings and finished what Smith started. Hollan limited the Tigers to just two runs on six hits with one walk and eight strikeouts.

“In my opinion, at least who we saw, and we didn’t play everybody, Smith and Hollan are the two best guys we saw all year,” LSU coach Jay Johnson said. “So that’s twice that they’ve used both of them against us to win. I think that speaks a lot about our team offensively that it takes two pitchers like that to hold us down, and credit to them for doing a good job.”

LSU starting pitcher Paul Skenes (10-2) was charged with his second loss of the season. Skenes, who has been seen as a god sent down from Mt. Olympus finally looked mortal Thursday afternoon as he allowed five runs – only two earned – on four hits in 3.2 innings with two walks and three strikeouts.

LSU grabbed a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning when first baseman Tre’ Morgan delivered an RBI single against Smith after LSU third baseman Tommy White and designated hitter Hayden Travinski hit back-to-back singles.

The Tigers added a run in the fourth when Travinski – who was 4-for-4 at the plate – scored from third base on a wild pitch by Hollan.

Arkansas, however, struck for five runs in the bottom of the fourth against Skenes to take a 5-2 lead. Third baseman Caleb Cali and second baseman Peyton Holt provided RBI singles to tie the game at 2-2.

Arkansas loaded the bases with two outs later in the inning, and LSU reliever Riley Cooper seemingly got LSU out of a pickle when he retired designated hitter Kendall Diggs on a pop-up to shortstop Jordan Thompson.

However, the home plate umpire ruled that LSU catcher Alex Milazzo interfered with Diggs’ swing and that call was confirmed through instant replay, allowing him to reach first base and Cali to score from third base to give the Razorbacks the lead.

On the next at-bat, Arkansas right fielder Jace Bohrofen followed with a two-out, two-run single to increase the Razorbacks’ lead to 5-2.

“(Diggs) probably hit his glove, so I’m not saying the umpire is wrong on that,” Johnson said, “but that’s a tough way to give up three runs.”

Cooper kept LSU in the game through his stellar outing on the mound, pitching 4.1 innings and allowing no runs on two hits with no walks and seven strikeouts.

“Riley was phenomenal,” Johnson said. “We’re really pleased with him; I thought he looked fresh and rested. He rose to the occasion against one of the better teams in the country. He did a really good job.”

The Tigers would finally get another run on the board when shortstop Jordan Thompson lined an RBI single to left field in the eighth inning.

Centerfielder Dylan Crews blasted his 15th home run of the season when he hit a one-out, solo homer in the ninth to cut the deficit to just one run. However, Hollan retired the next two LSU hitters to end the game.

LSU, the tournament’s No. 3 seed, is 43-14 on the year and will face No. 10 seed Texas A&M in a tournament elimination game at 3 p.m. CT Friday. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.

Arkansas (41-15) advances to the tournament semifinal round and will face the winner of LSU and Texas A&M at Noon CT on Saturday.