Kendall Diggs’ homer seals victory over LSU

Arkansas Razorback right fielder Kendall Digs celebrates after a three-run eighth-inning home run that sealed a victory over LSU on Thursday, March 28, 2024 in Fayetteville, Ark. (Arkansas Athletics)

Arkansas Razorback right fielder Kendall Diggs swatted a three-run eighth-inning home run to seal a victory for the Hogs over the defending national champion LSU Tigers, 7-4, Thursday in the opening game of their three-game series at Baum-Walker Stadium.

“That was a big swing,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “It gave us a little cushion, and made us feel better.. That was a good win.”

Van Horn explained that Diggs caught on to a pattern with the LSU pitching and made them pay.

“When Kendall hit the three-run homer, he kinda used the same sequence they used against (Hog first baseman Ben) McLaughlin — two breaking balls and then tried to sneak a fast ball by him,” Van Horn explained. “When they did, he took it. They tried the same sequence on Diggs, he caught the fast ball and took it out of the park.”

Diggs had been struggling of late at the plate, but game through big when the Hogs needed it the most. Van Horn wasn’t surprised by the clutch hit.

“We need him (to hit well),” Van Horn said. “He’s one of most experienced hitters, one of our best. He had a great night. We always talk about that you still have time (late in the game). To me he had a great night. He drove in three runs. That’s what I’m looking at. I don’t care what else he did. It took just one swing to flip his night and hopefully get him rolling.”

The four-run lead gave the Razorbacks a lot of options going into LSU’s final at bat.

The Razorbacks (21-3, 6-1 SEC) and Tigers (20-7, 2-5 SEC) play the second game of the series at 7 p.m. Friday at Baum-Walker. The game will be televised by the SEC Network. Saturday’s 2 p.m finale will be streamed on the SEC Network +.

“It was a very good job by our pitching staff,” Van Horn said. “They recorded a lot of outs, maybe 19 of them. It was just a back and forth game… “On the offensive end there was some clutch hitting. We took our walks and were patient and we never let them take the momentum back. When they took the lead, we caught them… and never gave it up.”

Up next for the Razorbacks

Opponent: LSU
When: 7 p.m. Friday, March 29
Where: Baum-Walker Stadium, Fayetteville
TV: SEC Network

Next few games:

March 30 – LSU, 2 p.m. (SEC+)
April 2 – Arkansas State, 6 p.m. (SEC+)
April 4-6 – Ole Miss

“Fortunately our pitchers kept them down, and I just like Mac (Will McEntire) out of the pen just filling it up away. Most of them were fast balls. I don’t know if he got tired there a little bit at the end.”

Arkansas left-handed ace Hagen Smith picked up the victory in six innings of work. He gave up five hits, including two fourth-inning home runs, but he also struck out 10 batters with no walks.

Van Horn described Smith’s effort as very good, reiterating that even after the home runs that “he never lost his stuff.”

“He was still pumping 95 or 96 in his last inning,” Van Horn said. “He could have gone out for another inning, but we are trying to take care of him a little bit.”

“I’ve seen him great,” Van Horn said. “Today he was real, real good, but I’ve seen him great.”

McEntire gave up 2 runs, 4 hits, and 2 walks in 2.2 innings of work against the Tigers’ dangerous lineup, but he also struck out eight batters.

Stone Hewlett earned the save with the game-securing strikeout in the top of the ninth.

“It was good to see Stone go get that lefty,” Van Horn said. “That was his job to get that hitter right there.

“He spun a couple of breaking balls and didn’t throw a strike, maybe three. Then he threw three fast balls in a row. I like the way he didn’t get all uptight about it and basically did what we wanted him to do. You throw the ball over the plate, and if they hit it, they hit it. You don’t walk him with (LSU slugger Tommy) White on deck.”

Diggs’ homer was a monster clout that traveled 381 feet over the right-field fence on an 0-2 pitch from Tiger righty Gavin Guidry. The homer, Diggs’ sixth of the season, provided the Hogs some late-game security with the lead sitting at 4-3.

Van Horn said the three runs from Diggs’ smash bought some life for McEntire on the mound for the first two outs of the ninth “instead of going to a closer or a different pitcher.”

Arkansas held that lead when McEntire worked himself out of trouble with a key strikeout with LSU threatening with runners on the corner in the top of the eighth.

The Tigers added a run in the ninth, but Hewlett slammed the door on their tail to earn the save and to give the Hogs the opportunity to win the series on Saturday.

Left fielder Jack Wagner also hit a solo homer for the Hogs to tie the game in the fourth before they retook a 3-2 lead.

“It was a big swing and changed the attitude in out dugout,” Van Horn said “… It was a really big swing.”

Second baseman Peyton Stovall had a 2 for 4 night with a walk and an RBI. Shortstop Wehiwa Aloy, first baseman Ben McLaughlin, third baseman Jared Sprague-Lott, and center fielder Ty Wilmsmeyer all added hits for the Razorbacks.

LSU fought back in the top of the fourth inning with back-to-back home runs by third baseman Tommy White and catcher Hayden Travinski to take a 2-1 lead before the Razorbacks answered with two runs in the bottom of the inning to take a 3-2 lead.

The Hogs could have tacked on another run in the fifth inning but McLaughlin failed to cross home plate before Wagner was thrown out at third for the third out.

“We made a base-running mistake,” Van Horn said. “You know it could have been a big swing there.”

While McLaughlin did not run through home plate before slowing, the key mistake was Wagner trying to advance to third when he didn’t have to, according to Van Horn.

“I’m just glad that didn’t come back and get us,” Van Horn said.

Van Horn and LSU coach Jay Johnson traded a bit of gamesmanship by altering their pitching lineups for the series. Johnson held back LSU ace right-hander Luke Holman, his normal first-game starter, from pitching against Smith. Van Horn said Arkansas didn’t learn who was going to start for LSU until Friday morning.

Holman, a transfer from Alabama, is 5-1 on the season and brings a stunningly low ERA of .078 into the game.

“You could say they are pitching off, or you could say they are giving him his normal rest,” Van Horn said of LSU holding Holman until today’s game. “It doesn’t really matter. That’s who we have to try to beat.”

Van Horn plans to start southpaw Mason Molina (3-0, 2.57 ERA) against Holman, moving Molina up to the second game of the series instead of the normal third. Arkansas plans to start Brady Tygart (3-0, 1.59 ERA), who struggled with control a bit last week at Auburn. Tygart is scheduled to face left-hander Gage Jump (2-0, 2.38 ERA) in what could be the deciding game of the series.