FAYETTEVILLE Just like in recent years, Arkansas is developing a taste for the late-inning dramatics.
Kyle Robinson’s bases-loaded sacrifice fly scored Bo Bigham in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the No. 22 Razorbacks a 5-4 win over No. 15 LSU Sunday at Baum Stadium. Arkansas swept the three-game series with its second consecutive walk-off win and third come-from-behind win in four games.
The series sweep, coupled with Vanderbilt’s weekend sweep of Alabama, pulled the Razorbacks (23-8, 6-6 SEC) within one game of the Crimson Tide for first place in the SEC West.
“We made up a lot of ground,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “We knew we needed to win this series at a minimum. When we did that last night, our guys weren’t satisfied when they came out to play today.
“I thought we grew up a lot at Alabama (last weekend). We lost Friday and booted some balls, and lost a close one again Saturday. We had to come out and win last Sunday, and we did. That prepared us for this series.”
Bigham led off the ninth with a double and advanced to third on Matt Reynolds’ bunt. Reynolds was safe at first when LSU reliever Matty Ott failed to clean the bunt cleanly. Sam Bates, who scored the game’s first run in the third inning, was intentionally walked to set the stage for Robinson.
“I was just trying to get on and do anything I could to get us a base-runner,” Bigham said. “With the bases loaded, Coach (Van Horn) wasn’t sure if I was going to tag right there, but he finally pulled the trigger and said, ‘You’re going.’ Luckily I got in.
“This win is huge. A lot of our guys don’t like LSU, I don’t like LSU and the coaches probably don’t like LSU, so that was big for our guys to come away with the win, not just because it’s a rival but for the division race. We had to win three games to get back in it and we did. Now we’ve got to take care of our business and things will fall back into place.”
It marked the second consecutive day the Razorbacks solved the Tigers’ trusted bullpen after James McCann’s three-run ninth inning home run gave Arkansas the win Saturday. Entering the weekend, Ott and Saturday losing pitcher Kevin Berry had a combined one loss in 28 appearances.
“I think our offense is coming around,” Van Horn said. “I think we’re becoming tougher outs. We’re battling and we didn’t strikeout a whole lot this weekend against some pretty good pitchers.
“I’m proud of them for battling and making the pitchers work a little bit, and getting into that bullpen.”
Arkansas took a 3-0 lead on Tim Carver’s two-run home run in the bottom of the fourth inning. Carver had missed on a bunt attempt a pitch earlier and was given instructions to swing after a quick meeting with his head coach.
“I’m lucky that I got another pitch and was able to do something else with it,” Carver said.
The lead held until the sixth inning when the Tigers began to solve Razorbacks starter Randall Fant, who gave up just four hits in 5 1/3 innings. It was Arkansas’ third quality start of the weekend as LSU was held scoreless in 25 of the 27 innings.
“Our pitching did a good job all weekend,” Van Horn said. “I thought what you saw a lot better was our defense.”
LSU led off the sixth with back-to-back singles from leadoff hitter Raph Rhymes and Tyler Hanover. The runners advanced on a sacrifice bunt and the Tigers loaded the bases when Fant intentionally walked clean-up hitter Mikie Mahtook.
That brought in right-handed reliever Barrett Astin, who gave up a grand slam to Austin Nola to give LSU a 4-3 lead.
“Nola is hitting behind (Mahtook) for a reason,” Van Horn said. “He went down and hammered his pitch, but we didn’t panic. We were down one run and had four innings to play.”
Arkansas responded in the bottom half of the inning. McCann started things with a leadoff single and scored on Carver’s fielder’s choice RBI. The Razorbacks had a chance to take the lead, but Bigham grounded out, stranding Matt Vinson on third base.
LSU (21-11, 3-9) threatened again in the eighth, but Arkansas reliever Cade Lynch came out of the bullpen to strike out Mason Katz and strand two Tigers base-runners. For the series, LSU left 21 runners on base.
“All three of the these games could have gone either way,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “We were right there. We’ve just got to make a play, make a pitch, have a better at-bat here or there and we could have turned all three of these games around. But it’s the way it goes.You’ve got to do it, and we didn’t do enough this weekend.”
Arkansas will travel to Missouri State Tuesday for a nonconference game. The Razorbacks host Mississippi State next weekend for a three-game conference series at Baum Stadium.