LAKE CHARLES, La. – Brett Eibner had two hits and scored the eventual game-winning run, while the Razorback pitchers totaled 11 strikeouts Tuesday night as the No. 16 University of Arkansas baseball team held off McNeese State, 3-2, at Cowboy Diamond in Lake Charles, La. TJ Forrest picked up the win in a relief appearance and Jeremy Heatley earned his first career save. The Cowboys had the game-winning run at the plate in the bottom of the ninth but Blake Ellender grounded into the game-ending double play to send Arkansas (14-5) to victory.
"It was a well-played game," head coach Dave Van Horn said. "They were one big hit away from beating us and we were one big hit from taking a three- or four-run lead. We took advantage of the few hits we got. Both teams played solid defense and made a couple of nice plays."
Both teams left a runner in scoring position in the first inning as Tuesday’s starters, Matt Click for McNeese and Randall Fant for Arkansas, worked out of early jams. In the Hogs’ half of the inning, Zack Cox singled with two outs to extend his hitting streak to 19 games, but was eventually left stranded at second. The Cowboys had a runner on third with one out in their half of the first but Fant retired the final two hitters to keep the home team off the scoreboard.
McNeese (8-10) put together another scoring threat in the second. Bryn Thompson led off the inning with a single up the middle and Matt Fontenot drew a walk to give the Cowboys runners on first and second with no out. Once again, Fant buckled down to get out of the inning unscathed with a pair of strikeouts and a flyout.
The Razorbacks put up two runs in the top of the third to take the early lead. Matt Vinson and Matt Reynolds opened the inning with back-to-back singles and moved up a base on a Collin Kuhn sacrifice bunt. Vinson scored the game’s first run when a Click uncorked a wild pitch; Reynolds moved up to third on the play. Tim Carver followed with an RBI groundout and Arkansas led, 2-0.
A solo home run Steven Irvine in the bottom of the fourth cut the Razorbacks’ lead in half. It was the last hitter to face Fant, and the only run allowed by the freshman lefty. In his second career start, Fant matched his first outing with three innings of work and three strikeouts.
Arkansas pushed its lead back to two with an RBI single by Monk Kreder in the top of the sixth. Click retired the first two hitters but ran into trouble with a single to Eibner. Before the base hit by Eibner, the McNeese right hander had sat down eight in a row. After a walk to McCann, Kreder singled to right field to plate Eibner and give the Razorbacks a 3-1 advantage.
With the Cowboys threatening in the bottom half of the seventh, Kuhn cut down a runner at the plate to preserve the Hogs’ lead. On a single to left by Josh Cholley, Kuhn came up throwing and McCann applied the tag to record the second out. Later in the inning, McNeese had runners on second and third with two outs, but Heatley, on in relief of Forrest, struck out Jace Peterson to get Arkansas out of the inning.
Forrest (2-0) was strong in his relief appearance for the Hogs. Pitching in his home state, the Benton, La., native pitched 3.2 innings without allowing a run and logging a season-high five strikeouts. It was Forrest’s first appearance on the mound since a March 10 outing against South Dakota State.
In the bottom of the eighth, McNeese scored a run to cut the Arkansas lead to 3-2. Irvine collected his second hit of the game with a single and came around to score on a base hit to left field by Fontenot.
The Razorbacks’ week-long trip through Louisiana will conclude Wednesday with game two of the midweek series at McNeese State. First pitch of the finale is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Cowboy Diamond. For more information and continued coverage, log on to ArkansasRazorbacks.com.