I write this update with a much more somber tone than usual. The Hogs lost the series with LSU. They lost it in the worst way imaginable, too: with a series victory in hand, they let one bad inning destroy 15 innings worth of work. Now, make no mistake; LSU will likely be back in Omaha this season (as will the Hogs), so a series loss in Baton Rouge is hardly anything to be worried about. However, the specific struggles the Hogs faced, they may be cause for concern, but one game (or one series) has never defined a season.
Starting pitcher Mike Bolsinger was the story of Game 1. Through 7 innings, he held the potent LSU offense to 4 hits and 2 ER, while striking out 4. He started shakily, letting LSU knock him for a back-to-back triple and home run to put LSU up 2-0 in the 2nd, but that would be all they could muster until the 9th. The Hogs came roaring back in the 4th, though, as Andy Wilkins returned the favor and hit his own 2-run homer. Three batters later, Brett Eibner hit another 2-run shot to put the Hogs in the lead for good, 4-2. The Hogs padded their lead in the 8th, as Eibner hits his second 2-run homer of the day. By all accounts this thing was an absolute blast, going over the scoreboard in left field, and repeatedly referred to as a "moonshot". See here to get a sense of the magnitude. LSU would attempt to rally in the 9th, plating 1 on a sac fly, but that's as far as they'd get, as the Hogs pick off the runner on second to clinch the win. Hogs win 6-3, Bolsinger picks up the W, Baxendale with the save. This game was a balanced effort, with the pitching staff holding the LSU offense at bay, and the offense rocking the LSU pitchers for 11 hits, including 3 homers.Game 2 was a much more disappointing affair, especially since the Hogs dominated LSU for 8 of the 9 innings. LSU gets on the board first again, with an RBI single in the 1st. From that point on, until the bottom of the 7th, it would be all Hog ball. In stark contrast to Friday's game, the Hogs go with a small-ball approach in the 3rd. With no outs and 2 men on, Jarrod McKinney's sac bunt down the third base line advances the runners, then Collin Kuhn hits a 2-RBI double to put the Hogs up 2-1. Monk Kreder hits his own 2-RBI double later in the inning, scoring Zack Cox and Kuhn. In a move reminscient of Friday's game, LSU has a runner at first picked off to end the 4th. Hogs would blow a major opportunity in the 5th, however, ending the inning with the bases loaded. Unfortunately, that missed opportunity would haunt the Diamond Hogs. In the top of the 7th, Zack Cox greeted the LSU reliever with a leadoff solo shot, pushing the Razorback lead to 5-1. Jeremy Heatley came on in relief in the 7th after a blister forces starting pitcher Drew Smyly out. Smyly tosses a gem through 6 innings, allowing only 2 hits and 1 ER, while striking out 5. It would all go downhill from there. Heatley's outting is far less fantastic compared to Smyly's, as he promptly loads the bases and lets a run score, before being pulled for Geoffrey Davenport without recording a single out. Davenport doesn't fare much better, walking a run across, then lets LSU tie the game with a 2-RBI double, still with no outs. This is one of the great injustices of baseball; Smyly's gem gets demolished in approximately 10 minutes by a pair of relievers. Davenport walks two more, giving LSU the 6-5 lead. A sac fly finally gets the first out of the inning, but also pushes the lead to 7-5, and also ending Davenport's day: 3 walks, 1 hit, and 3 ER through 0.1 innings. Jordan Pratt comes in and strikes out his first batter, but lets another run score on a wild pitch before finally closing out the side. In the short span of 1 inning, the Hogs saw a 4-run lead (and series victory) transformed into a 3-run deficit. Despite the demoralizing 7th, the Hogs won't go away, with Kuhn hitting a 2-run homer to cut the deficit to 1. That's as far as the rally would go, though, as Monk Kreder's strike out strand 2 more runners on base. Down to their final chance in the 9th, Arkansas has its own experience with "iffy" baserunning, as pinch runner Atkins gets picked off trying to steal 2nd. Bo Bigham's strike out would end the Hogs misery, sealing the 8-7 LSU victory.
LSU seemed to pick up some momentum from Saturday's come-from-behind victory and never looked back in the rubber match. LSU scores first, again, with an RBI single in the 4th and a solo shot in the 5th. Eibner, who was also the starting pitcher, did his part to get the Hogs in the game, hitting a solo homer in the 6th, but that would be all the offense the Hogs could muster. LSU would repay the favor in the bottom of the inning with their own solo shot. DJ Baxendale would replace Eibner in the 7th. Eibner had an "okay" outing: 7 hits, 3 ER, and 7 Ks through 6 innings. Baxendale only lasts an inning, giving up 4 hits, another 2 ER, and no Ks before being replaced by Davenport, who closes out the game. Three quick outs in the 9th, and the Hogs lose a series that should have been wrapped up on Saturday.
This is tough pill to swallow for Hog fans, and certainly for the team. They were clearly the better team in 17 of the first 18 innings, but couldn't seal the deal. This was really the first time the ever-present reliever woes had a direct influence in the outcome of a game. You can bet this will be a point of emphasis in the coming week. In addition, the Hogs went a deplorable 0-15 with RISP during Sunday's rubber match, which is something that cannot happen in SEC games. Despite these glaring problems, the Hogs will be fine. Letting LSU off the hook will be something that this team regrets, but will surely motivate them.
After the LSU series loss, the Hogs now sit at 13-5 (1-2), and are ranked 15th by Rivals. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Hogs travel to McNeese State for a mid-week series. They return to Baum for a weekend series with #22 Alabama, who's coming off a nice win against Vanderbilt. With the LSU loss, the series against 'Bama is suddenly a lot more crucial, as the Hogs can't afford to fall behind in the SEC West race. I'm confident, though, that coach Van Horn will have his team polished and ready to play. Woo Pig Sooie!