FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas continued its great play this season when pitcher Blaine Knight takes the mound as they won a pitcher’s duel with Auburn, 2-1, Friday night at Baum Stadium.
As expected, the Knight-Casey Mize matchup played out as it was billed with both aces combining for 13 strikeouts and two walks.
Both pitchers also worked six or more innings in the game before giving way to the bullpens.
For the fourth week in a row, Knight came out on top, earning his sixth victory of the year on a third-consecutive quality start.
He went 6.1 innings and gave up just the one earned run in the fourth, a home run, but he struck out six and walked only one.
Just like Knight, closer Matt Cronin was lights out in a series opener, as he threw a perfect final 2.2 innings with one strikeout to earn his sixth save of the year and fifth in his last seven appearances.
In each of his saves this year, he’s thrown more than one inning, while allowing a run to cross only once.
Mize, who came in as, arguably, the SEC’s best pitcher, was just as effective, going seven innings and scattering seven hits with two earned runs allowed and seven strikeouts on 107 pitches.
Luckily, the Hogs were able to scratch across two runs in the bottom of the fourth, one being a solo home run from Luke Bonfield.
Bonfield’s solo blast came after Mize had only allowed three baserunners into the fourth inning. He took an 0-2 pitch the opposite way and deposited his fifth home run of the year into the visitor’s bullpen, tying the game at 1-1.
Bonfield finished the game 1-for-4 with the lone run scored and RBI.
Earlier in the inning, Auburn had taken a 1-0 lead on an Edouard Julien solo home run, his seventh of the year. It was the only extra-base hit Knight allowed in his 6.1 innings of work.
The win also ups Arkansas’ home record this season to 17-2. As a team, the Razorbacks are hitting .345 in games played at Baum Stadium with 39 home runs hit, while the pitching staff has a combined 2.53 ERA and a .227 opposing batting average.
All seven of Arkansas’ hits Friday night came off of Mize during his seven innings. Jax Biggers, Casey Martin, Bonfield, Dominic Fletcher, Grant Koch, Jordan McFarland, and Carson Shaddy each had one hit in the game. No one was able to tally more than one hit.
After Bonfield’s homer, the Razorbacks were able to score one more after Fletcher doubled in the next at-bat and then was brought in on an RBI single by Koch.
Koch finished the game with one walk to go with his RBI single. It was the first walk Mize had allowed in 30.1 innings, including all of conference play.
Coming in, freshman outfielder Heston Kjerstad had a team-best 14-game hitting streak, but it was snapped Friday night as the Amarillo, Texas native went 0-for-4 at the plate.
Over the past four weeks in conference series openers, Arkansas’ offense has come up clutch against what is usually the opposing team’s ace.
In those games, as a team, the Hogs have scored 23 runs and are hitting .298. On the flip side, Knight has done his job as Arkansas’ ace, compiling a 3.04 ERA with three wins in four starts.
“He’s been huge. Anytime you can get off to a 1-0 start on the weekend, you’re pretty confident. We’ve been there on our fourth weekend in a row now, but we’ve only won one series. There’s so much more work to do and that’s what we talked about. It’s nice but, the whole plan is to win two on the weekend and that’s what we’re shooting for at a minimum.” — Coach Dave Van Horn on the importance of having Blaine Knight pitch well in series openers
“It was pretty much what we thought it was going to be. It was going to be a tight game. I think I threw that score out, 2-1, 3-2, to our players yesterday at practice. It was more about us having to beat a good pitcher but, we have to remember we have to beat a good team. It’s not just about the pitchers. They have good hitters and they play good defense, they know how to win. They fought us and they had some good at-bats.” — Van Horn on the 2-1 win over Auburn
“When facing a guy like that, we knew he was going to be tough for our team. We just stuck with the approach and were able to get a couple runs off him. There’s a reason why he’s projected to be the number one pick in the draft this year. When we face guys like Blaine (Knight) and Isaiah (Campbell) and all those types of pitchers, it puts us in a good position to do well against a guy like that.” — Luke Bonfield on facing Casey Mize
“I did have motivation. I wasn’t going to get hit like that again and I know the team didn’t want to lose like that again. We came out with an edge and a chip on our shoulder and we got the job done.” — Blaine Knight on being motivated to face Auburn again after losing to it last year
Game two between the Razorbacks and the Tigers is set for Saturday back at Baum Stadium with first pitch at 6 p.m.
The game will be televised online on SEC Network+.