FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas handed LSU its fifth loss in its past seven Southeastern Conference games, and this one followed a familiar script until the Hogs broke it open late and took the series opener, 9-3 at Baum Stadium.
LSU could not score a run against a talented starting pitcher and was shut out for the first six innings while its ace did everything he could to keep the team in position to win.
"They just outplayed us tonight," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. "They deserved to win."
But the Razorbacks managed to get Alex Lange (3-4) out of the game early, then feasted on his replacements.
Arkansas padded its SEC-leading home run total with three homers in Friday’s game, two of which were three-run shots in the latter innings off LSU relievers to blow a close game wide open and make irrelevant a late-innings LSU offensive charge. Six of LSU’s nine hits and all of its runs came in the final three innings.
Jared Gates’ three-run home run to right field off Russell Reynolds in the sixth inning gave Arkansas a 6-0 lead, and Chad Spanberger’s three-run shot the next inning off LSU freshman Blair Frederick made it 9-1.
The way Arkansas sophomore right-hander Blaine Knight (5-1) was pitching, though, any lead probably would have felt comfortable.
Knight struck out six in six shutout innings, and never let LSU (20-11, 5-5 SEC) sniff home plate. The Tigers never put more than one runner on base in any of Knight’s six innings, and Knight did not allow a runner past second base.
That stood in sharp contrast to Lange’s night.
After posting two consecutive eight-inning gems, Lange was not at his sharpest Friday. Arkansas knocked him out after just 4.1 innings. But Lange certainly made the big pitches when they counted.
"It was a battle today," Lange said. "It was nothing short of that."
It seemed as if each of Lange’s 104 pitches came in a high-leverage situation, and more often than not, he came through in spectacular fashion.
Arkansas (25-6, 8-2) loaded the bases in each of the first three innings against Lange, and Lange got out of each of those situations without allowing a run to score.
"When you get guys on base, you're not just going to fold or quit trying or whatever," Lange said. "You've got to get out of the inning. I'll give up 27 hits; as long as there's no runs in the run column I'm happy."
Lange loaded the bases with one out in the first inning, then struck out Dominic Fletcher and Carson Shaddy to get out of the inning.
He loaded them up with two outs in the second and third innings, and struck out cleanup hitter Grant Koch to get out of the second, and leadoff man Jake Arledge to get out of the third.
In the first three innings, the Razorbacks went 0-for-5 with five strikeouts and a walk when they had runners at second and third.
"That's Alex," Mainieri said. "He's a very competitive kid. When his back's against the wall, he finds another gear."
The only person Lange couldn’t make the big pitch to was Arkansas’ No. 8 hitter, Eric Cole.
The Razorbacks’ designated hitter was batting just .198 coming into Friday, but he tagged Lange for a solo home run with one out in the second inning and then chased him from the game when he doubled in a run to make it a 2-0 game.
LSU will look to even the series against the SEC West leader at 6 p.m. Saturday.
"It's a tough league," Mainieri said. "We've got 30 of these games, that counts as one game. We've just got to recover, put it behind us, come back tomorrow and play better."