FAYETTEVILLE – Senior Ben Tschepikow has produced clutch hits all season and Friday night was no different as the Fayetteville native hit a two out two-run opposite field home run in the bottom of the ninth against one of game’s premier closers to tie the game at four, a game the Razorbacks would eventually win 5-4 against California in 10 innings at Baum Stadium in front of a huge crowd.
The Razorbacks (8-1) won their fourth extra inning game of the season thanks to Collin Kuhn’s squeeze bunt in the bottom of the 10th while the Bears (7-3) left the ball park wondering what happened to what seemed like a comfortable two run lead in the ninth. The Razorback victory kept the 8,426 fans in attendance on the edge of their seats throughout the game. The crowd was the 17th largest in Baum Stadium history and was bolstered by more than 1,800 University of Arkansas students in the Hog Pen.
“We were getting beat around pretty bad early,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. “They never knocked us out and we hung in there. They have a very, very good baseball team. We got out of a couple of jams and cut the lead in half. Their relievers did a fantastic job. It’s like we always talked about. Its 27 outs, not 26 and they came through after a hit by pitch. It just gave us a chance to make it to the tenth. We got a big hit there and a couple of nice safety bunts. They defended the bunts pretty well but just couldn’t handle it. We got fortunate there and it’s a big win for us.”
Freshman James McCann was the first Razorback to bat in the 10th and he worked a walk on a 3-2 pitch. One out later and senior Chase Leavitt stroked a single past the third baseman and down the left-field line to place runners at the corners with one out. Kuhn was the next batter and on the first pitch he placed a fantastic bunt down the first-base line which was fielded and tossed to the plate, but McCann slid through the catcher jarring any chance for the fielder to make the play and sealing the win for the Razorbacks.
Of course, if it were not for Tschepikow’s heroics an inning earlier, the Razorbacks would never have had a chance to win the game. The Razorback ninth started with the first two batters being put out on five pitches. Kuhn stood at the plate and would get hit by a pitch on a 2-1 count to keep Arkansas’ hopes alive and two pitches later Tschepikow hit a ball into the Arkansas bullpen to tie the game at four.
Arkansas fell behind quickly as Cal took advantage of two Razorback errors in the first inning to score three runs. After the first, Arkansas starter Dallas Keuchel settled down and allowed five hits over the next five innings to keep the Razorbacks in the game. The Razorback bullpen showed no signs of its earlier troubles as Zack Cox, Christian Kowalchuk, Justin Wells and Stephen Richards combined to throw four innings and allowed just two hits, one walk and struck out six.
“I thought Cox came in and did a fantastic job,” Van Horn said. “We got him into the forties in pitches, but we didn’t want to hurt him. Then Richards came in and closed it out. It was a great game for them.”
Held without a hit until the third inning, the Razorback comeback started in the sixth when the Hogs cut a four-run deficit in half. Tschepikow opened the inning with a single to left field and moved to second when Andy Wilkins drew a walk. After a pitching change by the Bears and with Zack Cox at the plate a wild pitch squirted all the way to the Arkansas dugout allowing the Razorback runners to advance, but thanks to tremendous hustle, Tschepikow rounded third as the Cal catcher searched for the ball and came all the way around to score Arkansas’ first run. Cox would eventually ground out to second which allowed Wilkins to cross the plate and make it a 4-2 game.
Ben [Tschepikow] has been showing that kind of hustle all year long,” Van Horn said. “The catcher couldn’t find the ball and the next thing you know, Ben scores.”
The Razorbacks and Bears continue their series on Saturday afternoon with a 2:05 p.m. start at Baum Stadium. For more information regarding Razorback baseball or University of Arkansas athletics please visit ArkansasRazorbacks.com.