AUBURN, Ala. – Senior Ryan Cisterna’s ninth inning solo home run to right field was the difference in a classic Friday night Southeastern Conference baseball game as the Arkansas Razorbacks defeated the Auburn Tigers at Plainsman Stadium in Auburn, Ala., 3-2.
The Razorbacks (14-4, 4-0 SEC) match their best SEC start ever with the victory while Auburn (15-6, 2-2 SEC) falls to two games behind Arkansas in the standings.
“That was a great Friday night game,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. “Auburn usually beats you with the home run but tonight we came through with the home runs. Defense won the game for us. To win on the road in the SEC is big.”
A tie game going into the final inning, Cisterna led off by taking a 1-1 pitch over the right-field wall as the Auburn fielder stood at the base and watched. A towering shot, the high flight gave the appearance that the hit might stay in the park, but it carried just over the wall for the Gilbert, Ariz., native’s second home run of the season.
Auburn wouldn’t back down in the bottom of the inning as it faced a pair of relief pitchers in Mike Bolsinger and Stephen Richards. Bolsinger would retire the first batter on a fly out to left field and then Richards came in and got the next batter to ground out after a 10-pitch at bat. Another long at-bat by Casey McElroy ended in a double to left-center field, but Collin Kuhn cut off the gap shot, turned and fired to second base where Ben Tschepikow kept the tag on the runner who slid past the bag and was called out. The assist by Kuhn was his second of the game and third by a Razorback outfielder in the contest.
On the mound, Arkansas starter Dallas Keuchel may not have been the overpowering pitcher he was a week ago against Florida, but the Tulsa, Okla., native was good enough to scatter nine hits over eight innings of work, allow only two runs while walking no one and striking out four for his third win of the season.
“The starting pitching on both sides was great,” Van Horn said. “Both pitchers were able to work themselves out of jams.”
The Razorbacks were the first team on the scoreboard when they scored two in the top of the third inning. With one out Chase Leavitt drew a walk and two batters later Tschepikow stroked the first pitch he saw down the right-field line and over the wall for a two-run home run. Tschepikow’s shot was his seventh home run of the season and 21st RBI. It was also the first home run allowed by Auburn starter Grant Dayton this season.
Auburn cut its deficit in half in the bottom half of the inning with three singles and a sacrifice fly to deep right field, but with runners on the corners and no outs, Razorback starter Dallas Keuchel induced the sacrifice fly, struck out the next hitter and got the side out two batters later on a harmless ground ball to second base.
Arkansas had several chances to push another run across the plate, but came up short as it left nine runners on base through the first seven innings. One opportunity came in the seventh when Andy Wilkins hit a single to center field with runners on first and second. Scott Lyons rounded third and attempted to score but a perfect throw to the plate from the Auburn center fielder got Lyons at the plate by a hair and ended the inning.
Riding the momentum of their play at the plate, Auburn would knot the game at two in the bottom of the seventh. A leadoff single was erased by Keuchel who fielded a sacrifice bunt attempt and threw out the runner advancing to second. Another single by Auburn put runners on first and second with one out, but Keuchel buckled down and got the next hitter to fly out to right field for the second out. Auburn’s next batter and leading hitter Trent Mummy hit a rocket to center field that short hopped the wall. Playing the ball perfectly, Brett Eibner hit Tschepikow who relayed the ball to the plate to nail the Auburn runner rounding third by two steps and end the inning with only one run across the plate.
The Arkansas win was also one for the record books for Van Horn as it marked the 100th of his career against SEC opposition and was the 249th of his career at Arkansas. The Razorbacks’ 4-0 start matches those of the 1998 and 1992 Razorback squads who also opened the conference season 4-0, but each lost their next game.
At the plate, Tschepikow and Cisterna had the big flies to account for all three Razorback runs, but Andy Wilkins quietly had his second three-hit game this week and now has eight hits in his last four games. Lyons is also on a hot streak as he pushed his hitting streak to eight games with a single and had two hits on the day.
The Razorbacks and Tigers continue their series on Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. For more information regarding Razorback baseball or University of Arkansas athletics please visit ArkansasRazorbacks.com.