FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas pitcher Trey Killian promised he didn’t get sick Friday.
His hard-luck season may have continued when he watched from the dugout as a two-run leave evaporated in the ninth inning. But the sophomore, who hasn’t gotten much run support in his 10 starts, still believed something good would happen.
“I had confidence in the team. I had confidence we would walk them off,” he said.
Killian was right. Arkansas nearly squandered another masterful performance from their ace, but recovered in the bottom of the ninth to secure a 3-2 win against 20th-ranked Texas A&M in front of an announced crowd of 6,249 in Baum Stadium.
Arkansas left fielder Joe Serrano’s single up the middle scored shortstop Michael Bernal from second base, igniting a celebration in the outfield on the program’s annual Fireworks Night. Killian, who entered the game with a 2-8 record, couldn’t notch his third win of the season after leaving the mound with a 2-1 lead in the eight inning. But he and the Razorbacks got something much more important: an opening-nigh win in a critical series with SEC Tournament and NCAA Regional hopes at stake.
That was more than enough Killian, coach Dave Van Horn and the rest of the Hogs.
“I think that’s big for us,” Van Horn said. “The more the game goes on, I really feel like the pressure was on us. We really needed to win that game. We let it slip away, and then for us to go back and grab it there, that was really big for our team.”
Arkansas (31-20, 12-13 in SEC) entered its final home weekend with plenty at stake, facing a Texas A&M team coming off a series win against LSU.
The Razorbacks had plenty of injury issues to work through as well.
Starting pitcher Jalen Beeks is not available because of arm soreness. Catchers Jake Wise (concussion) and Blake Baxendale (hamstring) were out as well because of injuries, leaving freshman Alex Gosser to make his Arkansas debut.
Arkansas had planned to redshirt the North Little Rock native this season, but he was pressed into action when Wise was ruled out earlier Friday. The Razorback crowd acknowledged Gosser’s sacrifice as well, giving him a big ovation when he stepped up to the plate for his first at bat Friday.
“I appreciated it. I know he did too,” Van Horn said. “They recognized that he gave up a little for us. … We’ve had a lot of conversations. He wanted to play.”
His teammates were impressed by his poise as well after being thrown into the fire.
He went 0-for-4 at the plate and left four on base, but played well behind the plate.
“In my mind, the player of the game was Alex Gosser,” Serrano said. “He just came clutch. I don’t think anybody expected him to do that well. For not catching or seeing any live pitching, he was unbelievable.”
Gosser got a close look at another strong start by Killian, who had thrown an SEC-leading four complete games this season.
Killian nearly took care of Texas A&M (30-20, 12-13 in SEC) himself. The right-hander retired the first 14 batters he faced with the 15th reaching on an error by first baseman Eric Fisher. The Aggies didn’t get a hit until the seventh inning, when Cole Lankford hit a two-out double.
Texas A&M did break through in the eighth when Troy Stein led off the inning with a solo home run. But Killian retired the next three batters to maintain a 2-1 lead.
He didn’t come out for the ninth inning, though, after throwing 98 pitches. He allowed one run on two hits, struck out seven and walked none in eight innings.
“We really felt like we needed to get him,” Van Horn said. “He’s going to pitch on short rest going next Thursday. There’s a lot going through your head as a coach. You feel like he deserves to try to finish, but then again, we leave him out there and they tie it, and we leave our guys in the bullpen. Then when they scored, you wish you have left him in. It’s just the way the game works.”
Gunn couldn’t slam the door on the Aggies. Texas A&M tied the game after pinch hitter Jonathan Moroney doubled and scored on Cole Lankford’s RBI single.
The Aggies threatened to take the lead, too, by loading the bases on Gunn. But the junior finally got out of the inning by getting Ronnie Gideon to strike out. Then the Razorbacks regrouped in the dugout before their final at bat.
“I don’t really know what anybody said. It was just a bunch of yelling,” Serrano said. “I assume they were yelling, ‘Let’s go. Let’s win this. It’s Firework Night.’ I know that the juniors and seniors here hadn’t won a Firework Night since we’ve been here.”
Bernal started the game-winning inning by singling off Vinson (2-2). Clark Eagan — who went 2-for-3 with a home run and 2 runs scored in the leadoff spot — moved Bernal to second with a sacrifice bunt. It left Serrano, who drove a 1-0 pitch into center field and watched as Bernal slid into home for the game-winning run.
“It was a little closer than I thought, but it doesn’t matter. We won,” Serrano said.
The win helped Arkansas — which finally got to enjoy the postgame fireworks show in the dugout — improve to 7-11 in one-run games this season. It also was just the third time the Razorbacks have won an SEC series opener this season.
Arkansas will try to win the series when the teams meet tonight at 6:05.