FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas pitcher Ryne Stanek had struggled throughout most of his first five starts at Baum Stadium this season.
The junior had issues with command, ran his pitch count up quickly and usually left the mound disappointed. He hadn’t made it through five innings, was 1-1 at Baum Stadium and struggled to match the success he had enjoyed on the road.
There was good news for Stanek on Saturday, though. He finally felt right at home.
The Razorbacks rebounded from Friday’s loss to beat LSU 8-3 in front of an announced crowd of 9,884 on Saturday. Stanek led the way by allowing just four hits in 6 2/3 scoreless innings to earn his first win at home since the season opener, while Arkansas catcher Jake Wise hit a three-run home run and drove in four runs.
It helped Arkansas (25-11, 9-5 in SEC) even the series and snap LSU’s 15-game win streak. The Tigers (33-3, 12-2 in SEC) had won 10 straight conference games during that stretch, but the end of the streak sets up the deciding game today at 1:05 p.m.
“It was just a good ballgame for us,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “Stanek set the tone by getting us back in the dugout. Jake had the big swing for us (Friday night) that got us the lead and gave us a lot of confidence.”
Stanek threw 103 pitches Saturday, frustrating an LSU lineup that had averaged 8.3 runs during its lengthy win streak. He had to work some through the early innings, but the Tigers never found a way to break through against the junior.
Stanek (4-2) was modest about his performance, rating it as “pretty good” and his command “OK.” But Wise said otherwise after catching Stanek.
“It was one of the better performances of the year,” Wise said. “He mixed in all four pitches. The fastball, the curveball, the slider and change-up and had good command. When he’s got all four pitches working, it’s hard to score some runs.”
Wise gave Stanek a nice cushion to work with in the fourth inning, when the Razorbacks finally broke through against LSU starter Ryan Eades. With two runners on and one out, Wise hit a first-pitch fastball over the wall in left field.
It was Wise’s second home run of the season. The big hit came after Arkansas debated whether to let Wise swing away or lay down a bunt to advance the runners.
Van Horn and the Razorbacks made the right choice.
“I just felt like I think that they were looking for the bunt a little bit and we talked about that,” Van Horn said. “He sat on a pitch and he got it and he hammered it.”
Arkansas scored again on Tyler Spoon’s RBI single and sent nine batters to plate in the fourth. Stanek helped Arkansas maintain the momentum and the 4-0 lead in the fifth inning by retiring the Tigers in order for the second time in the game.
The Razorbacks got to Eades again in the bottom of the inning, chasing the right-hander after Brian Anderson and Dominic Ficociello led off with singles. Arkansas scored its fifth run on Wise’s sacrifice fly, which drove in Anderson.
Eades (7-1) — who had allowed nine runs, eight earned, in his previous eight starts this season — suffered through his shortest outing of the year (4 innings). The five runs allowed were his season high and Arkansas finished with 12 hits in the win.
“It just caught up to Ryan,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri, who watched Arkansas put the leadoff man on six times. “He walked two guys to lead off innings and gave up hits in two other innings to the lead off batter. Four times out of five you let the lead off hitter get on. Eventually the breaks of baseball are going to catch up with you.”
The night was much better for Stanek, who stayed on the mound until seventh inning, when he walked two batters. The Razorbacks brought Jalen Beeks out of the bullpen and the left-hander retired the final out to keep LSU scoreless.
Stanek lowered his ERA to 0.56 in SEC play with his performance Saturday.
He has allowed two earned runs in 32 1/3 innings in SEC games, including a current streak of 14 2/3 consecutive scoreless over the past two starts.
“I just try to go out there and do my job every day,” Stanek said. “The wins will happen. We played well (Friday). I just tried to go out there and do my job and make pitches and don’t really think about anything else.”
Arkansas came close to shutting out LSU for the first time this season, but the Tigers quickly scored three runs off reliever Landon Simpson in the ninth inning. But Michael Gunn wrapped up the win by retiring three of the four batters he faced.
The Razorbacks have a chance to hand LSU its first series loss of the season in today’s finale. Left-hander Randall Fant (2-1, 1.71 ERA) will start for Arkansas, while left-hander Cody Glenn (5-1, 3.12 ERA) is on the mound for the Tigers.
Arkansas will enter the finale with some much-needed confidence after an impressive night from Stanek. The Razorbacks also were much improved defensively, committing one error Saturday. Seven different players recorded hits, too, including Ficociello (3-for-3) and Jacob Mahan (2-for-3, 2 RBI)
“It’s like anything else,” Van Horn said. “It’s confidence and feeling good about it and it’s a little contagious. The dugout was going good and feeling good and looking forward to having a chance to help the team win. It was a good night.”