FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The No. 5 Arkansas Razorbacks jumped on Kentucky starter Sean Hjelle early in Friday’s game at Baum Stadium and never let its foot off the gas as it defeated the No. 4 Wildcats, 9-4, to open Southeastern Conference play.
Junior Eric Cole’s first-inning home run was one of three runs that Arkansas scored on Hjelle in the first frame. The reigning SEC Pitcher of the Year had only given up four earned runs in 26.2 innings leading up to Friday’s game, but nearly equaled that total in the first inning against the Razorbacks.
Cole’s round-tripper was his only hit of the game as he went 1-for-5 at the plate, but he is now one off team leader Casey Martin with five home runs this year.
Junior catcher Grant Koch broke out his bat in a big way, hitting home runs in the fifth and seventh innings, marking it his first multi-home run game of his career. He is the first Razorback catcher to hit two home runs in the same game since James McCann did it in 2010 against Grambling State in the NCAA Fayetteville Regional (June 4, 2010) and he is the third Hog player (Casey Martin, Jordan McFarland) to achieve the feat in a game this year.
On the mound, junior Blaine Knight made his fifth start of the year, but was unable to make it through five innings. He worked through 4.2 innings, giving up just two earned runs on six hits, one being a solo home run, but only walked one and struck out four.
Junior Jake Reindl saddled the victory with 1.2 scoreless innings in relief of Knight, his first win of the year. Sophomore Mat Cronin picked up his second save in as many games, throwing the final 2.2 innings and striking out four on 50 pitches.
Arkansas (14-4, 1-0 SEC) has won six of its last seven games, five by five runs or more. Kentucky (14-4, 0-1 SEC) was given its’ second loss in a row.
Every Razorback starter notched at least one hit in the game, but Jax Biggers and Koch were the only ones to record more than one. For Biggers, it was his first multi-hit game since March 3 against USC and both hits were doubles, which ties a career-high.
Koch’s first home run of the game came in the fifth inning after Kentucky had already taken Hjelle out and been to the bullpen twice. The Wildcats had battled to get within two runs of the Hogs, but Koch’s monstrous two-run shot changed all of that to make it 6-2 as it got the 8,751 fans in attendance to one of its loudest points in the game.
Kentucky was on its fifth pitcher when Koch came around to bat again in the seventh. He only needed to see one pitch before finding another one he could drive as he clubbed his second home run in as many at-bats, giving him four on the year.
Koch now has a hit in nine of his last 10 games going back to Arkansas’ game against San Diego (Feb. 25), as he’s hitting .419 during that span with nine RBIs and four multi-hit games. No other Razorback has been hitting better during that same stretch.
Due to the forecasted rain and thunderstorms in the Northwest Arkansas area on Sunday, Arkansas and Kentucky will play a doubleheader on Saturday at Baum Stadium starting at 2 p.m. Both games will still be televised online on SEC Network+.
Fans with tickets to Sunday’s game will be able to exchange that ticket for Saturday’s doubleheader or any future 2018 home game. Saturday’s ticket will be accepted for both games of the doubleheader.
Fans are encouraged to contact the Razorback Ticket Office with any questions at 1-800-982-HOGS (4647).
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