FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Zack Hess stood in foul territory behind home plate at Baum-Walker Stadium, watching as Arkansas' Trevor Ezell rounded third base. The incoming throw had no chance of beating Ezell to the plate.
Hess had allowed the go-ahead run Friday night. He strode back to the mound and kept pitching, but the lead LSU held over the No. 5 team in the country had slipped away.
The No. 18 Tigers lost 11-6, even though the Razorbacks (39-12, 19-7 Southeastern Conference) didn't take the lead until the seventh inning.
"It sucks," starting pitcher Eric Walker said. "I think we had them on the ropes today."
Who's starting, how to watch and what to watch for when LSU baseball ends its series against Arkansas.
LSU entered Friday night’s game reeling, having lost four straight as the regular season neared its end. Its pitching staff had allowed 45 runs over the past three games.
For a moment, the Tigers seemed to reverse their recent skid. Walker gave LSU (30-21, 14-12) its best start in more than a week, even though he did not pitch out of the fifth inning.
Meanwhile, the Tigers jumped on Arkansas left-handed starter Patrick Wicklander. Left fielder Daniel Cabrera drove in a run, and catcher Saul Garza hammered a two-run homer. LSU held onto a 3-0 lead through the second inning.
After LSU loaded the bases with one out in the fourth, Arkansas brought in junior righty Kevin Kopps. He forced a double play. LSU didn't score again until the ninth inning.
"We didn't change our approach," center fielder Zach Watson said.
In nine games without Cole Henry, LSU has a team ERA of 6.70.
Walker cruised through four innings. Arkansas scored its only run during that stretch when Walker gave up an RBI double. Then he retired the side to strand the runner on second base.
But Walker gave up a single to begin the fifth inning. He walked a batter in a full count. After recording the first out of the inning, coach Paul Mainieri brought in Hess with runners on the corners.
"I didn't know if we'd have another lead the whole weekend," Mainieri said.
Walker frowned as Mainieri approached the mound. He wanted to keep pitching.
"I was pretty upset," Walker said. "Obviously, I think we're understaffed right now. I was pretty pissed about coming out.
"But coach has reasons behind everything. I don't know what those were in that situation. I definitely want to extend there. That's something I need to talk to him about because I feel like I could've."
LSU baseball gave up five home runs as it lost to Arkansas 14-4 on Thursday night.
Hess induced a ground ball to the right side of the infield. A run scored. (It counted against Walker.) Hess gave up another run in the sixth inning on a solo home run, which tied the game.
Still, Hess kept pitching. Mainieri wanted to use Hess multiple times this weekend, but LSU had a chance to win a conference game on the road, bolstering its chances of hosting an NCAA regional.
Hess strode out for the seventh inning. He gave up a double to Ezell, the leadoff hitter. Then Casey Martin singled to left field. Ezell scored. Arkansas took a 4-3 lead.
"Just left a few fastballs over the middle of the plate, and that's a very good hitting team," Hess said. "You make mistakes like that, they're going to make you pay for it."
After the Razorbacks scored their fifth run on a single up the middle, Mainieri took out Hess. Trent Vietmeier ended the seventh inning, but he gave up five earned runs in the eighth. (Vietmeier left with an injury. Mainieri did not have specifics after the game.)
Once Arkansas took the lead, “Callin’ Baton Rouge” rung over the stadium loudspeakers. The song played by LSU before every game stopped after one line. A video of a woman appeared on the video screen. She shattered a vinyl record. The sold-out crowd broke into a celebratory chant.
LSU had controlled the game early, but its most feared bullpen arm surrendered the lead. Then Arkansas pulled far ahead as LSU gave up double-digit runs for the fourth straight game. The Tigers lost again, and their losing streak reached its longest point of the season.
Despite the string of recent losses, the Tigers continued to believe in their ability. As fireworks exploded behind the stadium, Walker, Hess and Watson, three veterans, said if LSU puts together a complete game — hitting, pitching, fielding — it can play with anyone in the country.
That has not happened yet, and time is running out on the regular season.
"We have to have a good game to get us going," Walker said. "That's the bottom line. We haven't put together a whole game yet. If we don't do that, we're going to continue to struggle."