Razorbacks beat LSU, advance to SEC Tournament semifinals

Arkansas starting pitcher Hagen Smith (33) delivers to the plate, Thursday, May 25, 2023, during the first inning of the Razorbacks’ game against the LSU Tigers at the 2023 SEC Baseball Tournament at the Hoover Metropolitan Complex in Hoover, Ala.

Arkansas scored five runs in the fourth inning against SEC pitcher of the year Paul Skenes and the No. 4 Razorbacks advanced to the SEC Baseball Tournament semifinals with a 5-4 victory over the No. 3 Tigers on Thursday in Hoover, Ala. 

By remaining in the winner’s bracket, Arkansas (41-15) will not play again until Saturday. The Razorbacks’ opponent will be determined by the winner of an elimination game Friday at 3 p.m. between LSU (43-14) and Texas A&M (34-24).

Arkansas defeated Texas A&M 6-5 in 11 innings Wednesday. The Aggies won 5-0 against South Carolina on Thursday in an elimination game.

The semifinal and championship rounds at the SEC Tournament are single elimination. 

Arkansas took a 5-2 lead during its five-run fourth inning. It was the highest-scoring inning against Skenes, eclipsing a three-run fourth by Ole Miss against him April 21.

Skenes (10-2) also tied his season high with five runs allowed. Kentucky scored five runs against him in six innings April 13. 

Skenes entered the game ranked in the top five nationally in ERA (1.77), WHIP (0.75) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (10.93). He is projected to be the first pitcher selected in this year’s MLB Draft. 

Arkansas forced Skenes to throw 40 pitches during the fourth inning. He was replaced by left-hander Riley Cooper with two outs and the game tied 2-2.

It appeared it would remain tied when Kendall Diggs popped up to shallow center field with two outs, but LSU catcher Alex Milazzo was called for interference with the bases loaded. That forced home the go-ahead run before Jace Bohrofen followed with a two-run single. 

Two of the runs against Skenes were earned. The Razorbacks’ first four hitters reached safely against him in the inning. Jared Wegner was hit by a pitch and Brady Slavens singled before back-to-back RBI singles by Caleb Cali and Peyton Holt. 

Skenes allowed 4 hits and 2 walks, and struck out a season-low 3 in 3 2/3 innings. He threw 55 of 88 pitches for strikes. 

Skenes’ previous low strikeout total was nine in six innings against Alabama on April 28. He struck out 12 in seven innings when he took a no-decision against Arkansas on March 24. 

Arkansas left-hander Hagen Smith out-dueled Skenes in what LSU coach Jay Johnson called the pitching matchup of the year prior to the game. Smith and Skenes were both voted first-team All-SEC pitchers earlier this week. 

Smith, on a pitch count, allowed 2 runs on 5 hits and 1 walk, and tied a career high with 9 strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings. The sophomore threw 49 of 76 pitches for strikes. 

LSU put together a two-out rally against him in the first inning and Tommy White scored on Tre’ Morgan’s RBI single. The Tigers took a 2-0 lead in the top of the fourth when Hayden Travinski scored on a two-out wild pitch by left-hander Hunter Hollan with the bases loaded. 

Hollan struck out Milazzo to strand two Tigers in the fourth. In his first relief appearance, Hollan allowed 2 runs, 6 hits and 1 walk in 5 1/3 innings. He threw 56 of 86 pitches for strikes.

The Tigers scored both runs against Hollan in the eighth and ninth innings. Jordan Thompson’s one-out RBI single to left field in the eighth cut Arkansas’ lead to 5-3, and SEC player of the year Dylan Crews hit a one-home run to left field in the top of the ninth. 

Hollan struck out Paxton Kling for the second out and White grounded out to end the game. 

LSU blew a scoring chance against Hollan in the sixth inning after Travinski and Morgan led off with consecutive singles. The inning turned when Holt made a heads-up throw to third base to complete a shortstop-to-second base-to-third base double play. Brayden Jobert flied out to end the inning. 

The Tigers stranded eight base runners. 

Hollan and Smith combined to throw all 10 innings of the Razorbacks’ 9-3 victory over the Tigers on March 24. LSU won that series with a doubleheader sweep the following day. 

Arkansas advanced to the SEC Tournament semifinals for the second time in three seasons. The Razorbacks won the tournament for the first time in 2021.