Photo: Courtesy, ArkansasRazorbacks.com
If chicks still dig the long ball as former Atlanta Braves pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine once opined in a 1999 Nike ad, the Arkansas Razorbacks shouldn’t have any problems getting dates.
The No. 4 Razorbacks walloped five homers including a fourth-inning grand slam by second baseman Jack Kenley Thursday night en route to a 14-4 rout of No. 16 LSU at Baum-Walker Stadium.
The Hogs (38-12, 18-7 SEC) face the Tigers (30-20, 14-11 SEC) for the second game of the series at 6:30 p.m. Friday night. The Razorbacks are attempting to hold their two-game lead in the SEC West and are chasing the Vanderbilt Commodores (39-9, 18-6 SEC) for the overall SEC regular-season title.
The five dingers give the Razorbacks 69 homers on the season, moving them ahead of South Carolina for the SEC lead in the category and just nine off last year’s pace of 78 in regular-season play with five games to play.
The Hogs have hit 25 round-trippers in the last 10 games with center fielder Dominic Fletcher, right fielder Heston Kjerstad, and shortstop Casey Martin each accounting for four apiece during that span.
Along with Kenley’s grand slam, Martin (4 of 5 on the night), Fletcher, catcher Casey Opitz, and first baseman Trevor Ezell drove balls out of the park.
The grand slam was Kenley’s 10th of the season, which surpassed Arkansas’ coach Dave Van Horn’s expectation for the junior from Germantown, Tenn.
“We thought Kenley would hit some home runs this year,” Van Horn said. “I didn’t know he’d get to double digits. We thought he’d get close. He does a nice job of fouling off pitches and taking pitches and getting some good pitches to hit.”
Kenley said making good contact on the right pitches has been the key for him showing more power this season.
“To be honest, it’s a simple thing going back to when you’re a little kid,” Kenley said. “Coach would say, ‘You shouldn’t try to hit a home run. You try to hit a line drive and if you hit a line drive, it’ll find its way out.’ That’s pretty much what I want to do, is get a good pitch and put a good swing on it.”
The Razorbacks’ home run uptick has coincided with the Hogs hitting the ball better in general.
“We’ve hit a few here and there, and, you know, a lot of times the second half of the season, when your team usually hits them, it warms up a little bit and your guys are in a little bit more of a groove offensively, seeing the ball better,” Van Horn said. “I don’t even know how many we have. Every now and then it’s nice to hit some and put up some quick runs and that’s what we did tonight.”
Martin took the lid off the stadium first with a solo shot in the first inning to tie the game, 1-1, but LSU’s Daniel Cabrera swatted a lead-off homer on Razorback ace Isaiah Campbell to regain the lead, 2-1. But Opitz put Arkansas on top for good in the bottom half of the inning with a two-run drive that carried over the right field fence, 3-2. From there, the Hogs never looked back.
LSU hit Campbell (9-1, 2.57) early, but he limited the damage to earn another victory.
“I’ve said this many a time this year that Campbell, a lot of times in the past, he might have given up more runs, but he’s learned how to get out of those jams,” Van Horn said. “He just gave up one. They, obviously, hit a home run in the next inning. You just tip your cap to Cabrera. He’s a really good hitter, probably one of the top hitters in our league. Solo home runs don’t beat you a lot of times.”
The Tigers have been the author of so many Razorback woes over the years that when LSU took a 1-0 lead early, Arkansas’ fans were a bit tame.
“Obviously, you’re playing a team like LSU and you’re playing a team in the league, and it’s the first game of the series, then they punch in a run in on your game one pitcher, it will make you start thinking a little bit,” Van Horn said. Maybe that’s what the crowd was doing.
“I don’t think there was any panic in our dugout whatsoever. We haven’t even hit yet. When Martin hit that ball, it lit the crowd up a little bit. We’re confident, and we’ve been playing pretty good. This team, I’ve said it a lot, they feel like they’re never out of a game and they’ll fight you.”
Winning the first game of the series takes a little pressure off the Razorbacks.
“Taking that first one is huge, especially against a really talented team like that,” Ezell said. “But [Martin] said it already and will tell you that baseball is just a crazy sport. We can have 14-4 win today and a nail-biter the next day, the exact opposite. So just getting that first win under our belt and getting the wrinkles out of opening the series is big.”