Hogs beat the clock, then beat USC in 8 innings

Posted: March 4, 2018 at 5:52 p.m.

Arkansas players celebrate following a game-winning hit by Dominic Fletcher during a game against Southern Cal on Sunday, March 4, 2018, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — Dominic Fletcher’s jersey survived after it was pulled off in a wild victory celebration Sunday in Baum Stadium.

Fletcher, who has been mired in a slump to start the season, crushed an RBI single up the middle to drive home Eric Cole as No. 6 Arkansas rallied from four runs down to nip Southern California 7-6 in 8 innings to take the weekend series.

“I saw them coming after me crazy, so I took off into right field to try and get away, but they caught me,” Fletcher said following the game. “Luckily they pulled it over my head, so no rips. But I got a nice Gatorade bath.”

Arkansas (9-3) had to play a game of beat-the-clock to get the game finished after both teams agreed that no inning would start after 4 p.m., as Trojans had to catch a plane back to Los Angeles.

They managed to get 8 innings in with minutes to spare after the Razorbacks made the third out of the seventh inning at 3:51 p.m. That meant the teams had to play another inning, which worked out well for Arkansas.

Razorbacks coach Dave Van Horn quipped after the game, “if I wanted to coach a sport with a clock, I’d be a basketball coach.”

It looked like USC (8-3) would head back to California with a series win after Blake Sabol singled through the right side of the infield to score Matthew Acosta from second base with two outs in the seventh inning, giving the Trojans a 6-5 lead. Arkansas then went quietly — and quickly — in the bottom of the seventh, and the teams moved on to the eighth inning.

With the clock no longer being a factor, Arkansas reliever Jackson Rutledge worked around a two-out walk in the eighth to keep USC off the scoreboard, setting the stage for a dramatic rally in the bottom of the inning.

Jax Biggers laced a two-strike single to lead off the inning for the Razorbacks to start the rally. Eric Cole, who was 3-for-4 coming into the at-bat, took a huge cut on a Connor Lunn pitch and missed the first pitch. Van Horn then tried to have Cole bunt Biggers over, but the Arkansas center fielder could not get the bunt down and was down 0-2 in the count.

“On the first pitch I missed it pretty bad,” Cole said, “I just told myself I had to get on top of the ball. Then they gave me bunt and I didn’t get that down. So really quick I had to tell myself on the next pitch I have to get it done.”

He did. Cole crushed a Lunn pitch into center field that Acosta tried to make a play on. The ball got down and past the USC fielder and went all the way to the wall as Biggers raced around to score the tying run and Cole slid into third base for a triple with no outs.

“He left me a pitch low and I was able to put a good swing on it,” Cole said. “Thankfully he didn’t catch it, so it worked out for us. It would have sucked if he would have caught it.”

USC coach Dan Hubbs intentionally walked the next two batters to load the bases, setting up a force. Van Horn called the left-handed Fletcher off the bench to face the right-handed Lunn.

On a 1-1 pitch, Fletcher crushed a laser back up the middle, scoring Cole from third and the Razorbacks poured onto the field to celebrate a huge early season win.

“We don’t want this to be a super defining moment this early in the season, but we’re definitely going to enjoy this,” catcher Grant Koch said. “This is a huge win for us and it can definitely be a turning point for us. I think it can help build some momentum for a lot of guys.”

Both starters struggled some Sunday with high pitch counts early. Arkansas starter Kacey Murphy lasted four innings and USC starter Kyle Hurt went 4 2/3 innings. Neither figured in the decision, which came down to the bullpens.

After Arkansas took an early 1-0 lead in the second, USC scored four runs in the top of the fifth inning. Chase Bushor started the inning with a single and the floodgates opened when Dillon Paulson doubled down the right-field line, driving in 2 runs. Acosta added an RBI single and another run scored on a wild pitch for a 5-1 USC lead.

Arkansas answered back in the bottom of the sixth with four runs to tie the game at 5-5. Casey Martin led off with a single and Koch doubled. Martin scored on a groundout, but the Razorbacks added three more runs with two outs as Cole and Heston Kjerstad had RBI singles, and Cole scored on a wild pitch to tie the game.

Cole finished the game 4-for-5 with 2 RBI to raise his average to .395. Martin and Koch were 2-for-4 and both had doubles in the win.

Van Horn said the Razorbacks will take the next two days off before hitting another lengthy stretch of games heading into SEC play at home against Kentucky on March 16-18. Included in that stretch are a pair of midweek games at home against Texas.

“I think it’s a week we’ve been looking forward to,” Van Horn said of the break. “I think just to catch your breath a little bit, heal up. Got some guys that are a little banged up, got some pitchers whose arms are a little tired.”