BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
When Tennessee open the door for Arkansas in the third inning Friday night, the Razorbacks came running through it and grabbed sole possession of SEC Western Division lead while doing so.
After falling behind by a pair of runs early, No. 5 Arkansas (27-7, 9-4) took advantage of two Vols’ third-inning errors to flip the script en route to a 5-2 win before a season-high 10,562 fans at Baum-Walker Stadium.
The second error allowed a run to score right before Tavian Josenberger launched a two-run homer that put his team up 3-2 and made it 30 straight games in which the Razorbacks have homered.
Jace Bohrofen also hit a round-tripper on a night when Arkansas lefties Hunter Hollan and Hagen Smith combined to fan 13 batters as the Razorbacks moved a game ahead of LSU.
“Oh yeah, the fans were unbelievable tonight, Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. “It was packed, they were loud. They were into it.
“I mean, this was the first time all year I think where they were on their feet in the ninth inning when we were trying to finish a game. Whether you’ve got a five-run lead, a one-run lead or a 10-run lead, that’s good stuff, especially when it’s full like it was tonight. It was a fun atmosphere.”
Arkansas won despite not having its top home run hitter and run producer in Jered Wegner, whose injured thumb limited him to just being a defensive replacement in the ninth inning.
“He’s feeling a little better,” noted Van Horn of the Creighton transfer that’s suffered a hairline fracture in his team’s 21-5 win over Little Rock on Tuesday night.”He didn’t hit with the team in pregame. He kind of did some hitting on his own.
“Started feeling a little bit better, just swinging lightly. But felt like he could go out there, put that glove on and run and catch a ball.
“So we’ll see how it’s feeling tomorrow and take it one day at a time.”
Tennessee head coach and former Arkansas assistant Tony Vitello was vexed by his team’s trio of errors on night when pitcher Andrew Lindsey (0-2) got his first weekend start of the season.
“I think it boils down to they didn’t gives us an opening on defense where as we did them,” Vitello said.
“…You just see a lot of defenders standing straight up so I guess mechanically that is my assessment. The angle wise made it really tough to see. But if you make a couple of mistakes, you open up the door for other things to happen.”
Hollan (6-1) fanned six while going throwing 101 pitches over six innings while Smith fanned 7 of the 10 batters he faced during the final three innings while picking up his second save.
“If we have the lead and a chance to win the game, we’re going to go for it,” Van Horn said. “If we had a big lead or something we might not use Hagen, but that game was never in hand.
“There’s too much offense and firepower over there. A hit by pitch and an error and home run and the game’s tied. So you’ve just go to go for it.”
Hollan gave up a first-inning home run to Tennessee lead off man Jared Dickey, allowed two more hits and then balked in a run with a count of 1-2 and two outs.
“No, it was fun,” Hollan said of pitching in front of a packed stadium. “Especially in the first inning. I was like ‘Damn, here we go.’ But it was good. It was good. It was a blast.”
Hollan pitched scoreless baseball after the first inning.
“I think he just gets into the flow of the game a little bit,” Van Horn said. “If you think about it, when you start, you’re out there all by yourself and sometimes maybe it’s not … Obviously, it’s not easy, but sometimes it just takes pitchers a while to get warmed up, lathered up, whatever you want to call it.
“…It was fun to watch, because we were hoping he could get us six. If he didn’t get that last out in the…(sixth) we were going to bring in a right-hander to get through the next hitter and then bring Hagen in in the seventh.
But we didn’t have to do that.”
Vitello was impressed with Hollan’s back.
‘He had a little bit more rhythm to everything he was doing,” Vitello said. “But it easier to do that when things are rolling for you.
“…He’s got some deception and you can tell he loves to compete in his own unique way. I say it jokingly, but all lefties are a little bit goofy. He did a nice job of mixing speeds as he always does.
“I thought our guys still had competitive at bats, put up some runs. But when you have an open door against a guy like that, you had better charge through it and we kind of went halfway through it.”
Smith then shut the door while throwing 52 pitches the final three innings.
“He jumps at you a little bit with his delivery and he relishes it,” Vitello said. “I want to win, but I am watching the game, too and you notice when guys went to be in the situation whether they are wearing our uniform or Florida State, Oregon or Arkansas. He wants to be out there.
“He’s jumping at you off the rubber and the ball is jumping at you, too. I have watched video of him before and he absolutely buries some guys. I don’t know that he necessarily did that to us. Our guys competed. They just had nothing to show for it.
“He is one of the best arms in the league and knowing him and knowing Coach Van Horn, they are anxious to get the ball in his hands.”
Vitello recruiting Josenberger out of high school, but he ended at Kansas before transferring to Arkansas.
“I saw him a bunch in high school and he is really talented kid,” Vitello said. “I don’t know exactly how his career went at Kansas. He really likes to play. He is stronger than the skinny kid I saw in high school and he put it to use right there.”
Josenberger’s home run was his sixth this season while fellow lefty Bohrofen’s was his ninth.
“We had two pitches that I think looked like down and in fast balls to lefties and they got them over the fence,” Vitello said.
Arkansas took a game lead over No. 1 LSU (28-6, 8-5), who lost 13-10 to visiting Kentucky on Friday night.
The two teams will play Saturday night at 6 p.m. Arkansas has not announced a starter.
Tennessee is likely to start Chase Dollander (4-3, 4.19 ERA), who was expected to be one of the nation’s best pitchers this season, but who haws struggled and has a 6.00 ERA in SEC games.
Photo by John D. James