Lethal lefty: Hagen Smith handcuffs Racers in victory

Arkansas left-hander Hagen Smith gave up a solo home run to Murray State’s first batter Friday at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville. After that, he allowed just 1 walk with 12 strikeouts over 6 innings as the No. 5 Razorbacks defeated the Racers 5-1. More photos at nwaonline.com/32msuua/.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)
Arkansas left-hander Hagen Smith gave up a solo home run to Murray State’s first batter Friday at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville. After that, he allowed just 1 walk with 12 strikeouts over 6 innings as the No. 5 Razorbacks defeated the Racers 5-1. More photos at nwaonline.com/32msuua/. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)


FAYETTEVILLE -- Hagen Smith and the Arkansas Razorbacks kept up their sizzling strikeout streak and Jayson Jones provided a key two-run double as the No. 5 Hogs opened their weekend series against Murray State with a 5-1 win on Friday.

Smith (1-0) allowed a home run to Drew Vogel on the second pitch of the game, then proceeded to strikeout 12 and permit no other hits and only one base runner to notch his first win of the season before an announced crowd of 9,215 at Baum-Walker Stadium.

"It's not an ideal start, but I have faith in the offense," said Smith, who has 31 strikeouts in 13 innings.

"Obviously, I didn't want it [the home run] to happen, but it happened. So it put a lot of fire in my body a little bit, just got me locked in a little more."

Arkansas (7-2) leads Division I with 133 strikeouts, including Smith's school-record tying 17 in his last outing against Oregon State last week in Arlington, Texas.

Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said many people asked him how he thought Smith would throw the week after his three-hit, six-inning effort in a 5-4 win against the Beavers.

"It's tough whenever you have an outing like he had last weekend, which for some people it's once in a lifetime, but I don't think with him it's going to be," Van Horn said. "My comment was 'He'll be good.' I don't expect him to be as good because it's the outing after.

"I thought he threw the ball extremely well. He gives up a leadoff home run and that was really about all they did with him."

Said Murray State Coach Dan Skirka, "The guys were excited to face [Smith], obviously a talent like that. ... Drew was ready and then Hagen really settled in there after that and started landing that slider. I think that was the biggest difference there. It got us off the fastball and he just did a phenomenal job."

Smith, who threw 54 strikes on 81 pitches through 6 innings Friday, has given up 5 hits and 4 walks through 3 starts this season.

Freshman Gabe Gaeckle inherited the tying runners on base with one out in the eighth inning and struck out Vogel and Dustin Mercer en route to his first save. Vogel's at-bat was an 11-pitch affair with five foul balls.

"He was just battling," Gaeckle said. "He was just making me work, so every pitch I was taking a deep breath and focusing on it and executing it. Eventually I got him, but it was a tough out."

Smith, Koty Frank and Gaeckle combined to strike out 20 batters for the team's third 20-plus strikeout game of the season, each surpassing the previous school record of 18 strikeouts entering the season.

Murray State (6-3) held the 1-0 lead provided by Vogel for one full inning before senior right-hander Cade Vernon (1-1) ran into a brief control issue in the second.

Ben McLaughlin walked on five pitches to open the inning and Wehiwa Aloy moved him up with a two-strike single up the middle. Hudson Polk, in his first game as designated hitter, hit a swinging bunt to third base and the Razorbacks had the bases loaded on the infield single.

Jayson Jones then drilled the first pitch he saw to the right-field wall for an opposite-field double to give the Hogs a 2-1 lead.

"I was trying to hunt a heater out over the plate," Jones said. "The [at-bats] before, he [Vernon] was definitely coming at a lot of guys and we strung a lot of great ABs in a row. So I know he was trying to find something to attack me with. So I just trusted my hands and I hit the barrel backside."

Peyton Holt brought Polk home with a ground ball to shortstop on which Jones was retired trying to reach third to give Arkansas a 3-1 edge.

Vernon pitched well after that, retiring the final 11 Razorbacks he faced on 99 pitches through seven innings.

The score stayed 3-1 in a swift affair over the next five innings.

"That was the disappointing part of the game is we had a couple of other chances to score a few more runs and maybe have a four- or five-run lead before [Vernon] came out of the game and it didn't happen," Van Horn said.

The Razorbacks finally broke through again off senior left-hander Thomas McNabb, a former Conway High School standout, in the eighth inning, but it took a little luck.

Kendall Diggs led off with a single up the middle, the first hit by a lefty against McNabb this season. McNabb had Diggs picked off, but the throw to second from first baseman Taylor Howell hit Diggs' helmet and skirted into left field. Jared Sprague-Lott's opposite-field single to right through a big hole moved Diggs to third base.

McLaughlin followed with a grounder to Howell on which it appeared the first baseman had a play on Diggs at the plate but didn't take it, opting for the sure out at first. Aloy's ground ball pushed Sprague-Lott to third and he scored when an inside pitch eluded catcher Ethan Krizen.


  photo  Arkansas starter Hagen Smith (right) is congratulated Friday by catcher Hudson White after recording the final out in the second inning of the Razorbacks’ 5-1 win over Murray State at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)
 
 


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