FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - After scoring a combined 46 over the previous two games, the third-ranked Razorback baseball team only needed three runs to secure a sweep over Bucknell Sunday afternoon, winning 3-1 at Baum Stadium.
Arkansas' hitters scattered nine hits over the course of the game and got a key home run from junior Eric Cole in the seventh inning to provide the insurance run. Cole finished the game a perfect 3-for-3 at the plate with his lone run and RBI coming off his first long ball of the year.
On the mound, redshirt junior right-hander Keaton McKinney made his first appearance since 2016 after having to go through Tommy John surgery last year. The Iowa native looked good through two innings, giving up just one run on one hit with two walks and two strikeouts. He was limited to a pitch count as he faced eight batters and threw 44 pitches.
Following him, fans got to see the arms of sophomore Matt Cronin, freshmen Caleb Bolden and Jackson Rutledge, and junior Jake Reindl, respectively. Cronin ended up earning the win after throwing a scoreless third inning. Bolden had the longest outing with three innings of work and one hit allowed. Reindl ended up with the save as he battled back from a lead-off double in the ninth and struck out the final batter.
The opening weekend sweep was Arkansas' fifth straight dating back to 2014. The 49 runs produced over the three-game stretch is easily the most by an Arkansas team over its first three games of the year since 1997 when the Hogs plated 60 runs against ULM, Missouri Southern, and Iowa.
Moments That Mattered
Bucknell was able to strike first in the second inning as McKinney struggled with command, walking two of the first three batters of the inning. Tyler Wincig's RBI single to left-center scored the game's first run, but McKinney got some help from his defense in the next at-bat. Freshman Heston Kjerstad's catch and throw to the plate on a Bucknell fly ball was a perfect strike to get Evan Klugerman, who was trying to tag up on the play.
The defensive play was just the latest in what was a big weekend for the Amarillo, Texas native. Kjerstad finished the series as Arkansas' leading hitter with a .667 average with six hits, two being doubles, five runs scored, three RBIs, and four hit by pitches.
In the bottom of the second, Arkansas put its first run on the board, which started with a two-out hit from catcher Grant Koch. After a Jared Gates walk, Carson Shaddy singled Koch home for his ninth RBI of the weekend.
Shaddy was, arguably, Arkansas' most efficient hitter of the weekend as he went 4-for-7 (.571) at the plate with a team-leading nine RBIs, two home runs and walked four times.
Arkansas broke through again in the third inning to take a 2-1 lead off a Luke Bonfield single. With the lead in hand for the Razorbacks, Bucknell was forced to go to the bullpen and bring in one of their top pitchers in Jeff Gottesman. Gottesman held the Hog bats in check for the next 4.2 innings, giving up just one run on three hits with one walk allowed.
The Hogs did get one big hit off Gottesman, which came in the seventh inning from the bat of Cole. The junior took a 1-0 pitch the opposite way and had enough power under it to carry through the strong wind that was blowing in and land in the Hog Pen.
"Obviously it was a lot crisper game, the wind made a difference. I think they may have hit one ball that may have gone out of the park and over our centerfielders head and two other balls that may have gotten out of the park, but that's the beauty of baseball." - Head coach Dave Van Horn on the win and the windy conditions
"They (Bucknell) stayed in the game. It was a good ball game. Looking ahead, the game is probably what we needed. A little drama and tension, nothing in the bag headed into the ninth inning. We got that feeling. Overall, it was a great weekend for our team." - Head coach Dave Van Horn on winning a close game
"Defense will win you games and I have told this team many times that if we can play defense, we are going to be hard to beat." - Head coach Dave Van Horn on his team's strong defense through opening weekend
"At first the wind was kind of weird today and I didn't know how deep it was going to go. It ended up going deep enough to where I knew it would be a close play. As soon as I saw the ball coming, I knew we had a shot. He (Kjerstad) threw the ball really well and he gave me a lane. I wanted to make the play for Heston (Kjerstad) because he made a great throw and plays like that can change a game." - Grant Koch on the throw from Heston Kjerstad to complete the double play in the second inning
"It felt good to be out there today, it has been a while. Overall, I felt good. My arm did get a little tight, but this is all part of the process and I just need to work through it." - Keaton McKinney on his first outing since Tommy John surgery
"We aren't going to score 30 runs every game and I think it was good to have a close game on a Sunday and get the freshman ready for this upcoming weekend because we know we will have close games. Coach (Van Horn) always harps on championship teams winning on Sundays." - Eric Cole on winning the close game with Bucknell
Up Next The Razorbacks head west to take part in the Tony Gwynn Legacy Tournament in San Diego, California. The tournament will begin on Friday, but the Hogs will play one neutral site game against Arizona on Wednesday at Tony Gwynn Stadium on the campus of San Diego State. First pitch is scheduled for 9 p.m. CT and will be televised on CST.
For the weekend, Arkansas will face Cal Poly on Friday at 3 p.m. and San Diego State on Saturday at 8 p.m. It'll finish the weekend against San Diego on Sunday at Noon. All games next week will be televised regionally on CST.