FAYETTEVILLE – Last Saturday night, six Arkansas Razorbacks pitchers allowed 15 hits, walked 11 and hit six batters in a 16-4 SEC loss to the Kentucky Wildcats before 6,145 at Baum Stadium.
Sunday afternoon, before 3,489 at Baum, one Arkansas pitcher, freshman Keaton McKinney, was within two outs of a shutout and ultimately logged a complete-game, 7-3 victory over the Wildcats while striking out five against one walk and no hit batsmen.
McKinney marked Arkansas’ first complete game for 2014.
“Good job bouncing back by our team after getting whipped yesterday,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said Sunday. “I am proud of them. We came out and got after it. Obviously, we got a great pitching performance by McKinney. We need that. We played really well.”
Coupled with Trey Killian — the Norfork native and Mountain Home High grad, winning 5-3 Friday night with reliever Zach Jackson extricating himself from a precarious seventh-inning to log a three-inning save — the Razorbacks won two games to win their third consecutive SEC series.
They stand 20-16 overall heading into concluding a seven-game homestand, hosting Stephen F. Austin University in nonconference games at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and 3 p.m. Wednesday, and have recovered from a 1-5 start to be 7-8 in the SEC West going into next weekend’s three-game SEC series at Texas A&M.
Kentucky, with one of its SEC games rained out, drops to 19-15 overall and 5-9 in the SEC East.
Right-hander McKinney of Ankeny, Iowa, with no Razorbacks stint longer than five innings, threw a two-hit shutout without a Wildcat reaching second base through eight until two Kentucky ninth-inning singles preceded Ka’ai Tom’s one-out grounder to second, scoring one run from third.
JaVon Shipley, who should have been called out on strikes, fans grumbled loudly, hit a two-run home run after the close call was deemed a ball. Van Horn never budged between the home run and Dorian Hairston grounding out to end the game.
“No, no, no,” Van Horn replied if he considered relief once the shutout was done followed by Shelby’s home run. “The only time I would have taken him out would have been when his pitch count got up (110 total) or he was wild. And he wasn’t wild. He was throwing strikes. We felt the pitch before (Shelby’s home run) was Strike Three. We thought it should have been Strike Three, game over.”
McKinney, both he and Van Horn said, eschewed the breaking ball to rely on fast balls and change-ups and never broke rhythm.
“I threw one breaking ball,” McKinney said. The fast ball and changeup was working. I honestly wasn’t tired at all. The arm strength’s there to go any time out. It’s just been doing well enough through the innings to be able to go nine.”
Arkansas center fielder Andrew Benintendi — on a nine-game hitting streak and the national leader in home runs with 13 after hitting two Friday night — went the other way with a single through short to knock in Clark Eagan (lead-off single followed by Joe Serrano’s walk) for Arkansas’ 1-0 lead in the first.
“That was great,” Van Horn said. “They left that hole open, and he just took what they gave him. They were pitching him away and he drove it into left field. That’s how you stay hot. You just kind of take what they give you.”
Rick Nomura struck out with the bases-loaded ending the 1-0 first, but the Arkansas second baseman more than atoned for that in the third. With two out and runners at first and second against losing starter Kyle Cody, Nomura singled to left-center, scoring a run and prolonging the inning for Michael Bernal to whack a two-run double for a three-run lead and 4-0 lead insurmountable the way McKinney pitched.
Nomura, for another RBI, and Bernal both singled during Arkansas’ three-run eighth commenced by Tyler Spoon’s home run.
“It was good to see Rick Nomura (3 for 4) drive in a couple of runs,” Van Horn said. “He hadn’t driven anybody in in a while, and he’d had some opportunities. That was a big hit he got with two outs and Bernal drove in two or three runs.”
Eagan, Benintendi, Bernal and Spoon each had two among Arkansas’ 13 hits Sunday.
Saturday night, Dominic Taccolini, Arkansas’ most reliable starter early season when Killian was sidelined by tendonitis, walked the game’s first batter on four pitches and never ceased struggling.
“That was not a good sign at all when you walk the lead-off man on four pitches,” Van Horn said. “Four pitches and three of them were in the same spot, ankle high. Obviously ‘Dominic didn’t have much of anything and off and rolling they were.”
Kentucky led 10-0 in the third inning Saturday night so Van Horn kept going the back of bullpen mopping up to save his top relievers for Sunday.
Turned out McKinney gave them another day off.
“We were hoping for five maybe six innings,” Van Horn said. “After the seventh we thought he could finish this thing.”
Arkansas vs. Kentucky
Kentucky…000 000 003 – 3 5 2
Arkansas…103 000 03x – 7 13 0
Cody, Logue (3), Martin (8), Jack (8) and Fettes; McKinney and Gosser, Shaddy (4).
W-McKinney (2-1). L-Cody (2-4).
HR-Kentucky: Shelby (4). Arkansas: Spoon (4).
Kentucky…307 021 300 – 16 15 3
Arkansas…000 001 021 – 4 7 1
Beggs, Pop (9) and Arnold; Taccolini, Stone (3), Patten (6), Sanburn (7), Chadwick (7), Pate (8) and Pennell, Shaddy (6).
W-Beggs (4-2), L-Taccolini (5-3).
HR-Kentucky: Hairston (3).
Kentucky…010 000 200 – 3 9 0
Arkansas…120 100 10x – 5 11 1
Brown, Schaenzer (7), Strecker (7) and Fettes; Killian, Jackson (7) and Gosser, Pennell (7).
W-Killian (1-2), L-Brown (2-4).
HR-Kentucky: Hairston (2). Arkansas: Benintendi, 2, (12) (13).