No. 2 Arkansas takes over SEC overall lead with 10-3 win at Kentucky


Arkansas no doubt took a great deal of pride in what it did Friday night at a place called Kentucky Proud Park.

Hagen Smith fanned 14 batters over six innings and Kendall Diggs ended a slump with two big hits and four RBIs as the No. 2 Razorbacks downed the No. 8 Wildcats 10-3 in Lexington.

“Like I told the team, great pitching performance by Hagen,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. “A lot of contributions offensively up and down the lineup. It was just a really good team win on the road. Hagen’s stuff was amazing, especially from about the third inning on. He ramped it up a little bit. He was amazing.”

The win in the match up of SEC co-leaders before 4,742 fans gave Arkansas (40-7, 17-5) a one-game lead over Kentucky (33-10, 16-6) in the overall race.

It also gave the Razorbacks a two-game advantage in the Western Division race as No. 1 Texas A&M lost 6-4 at LSU on Friday night.

“It’s obviously a really good feeling,” Diggs said of the night’s results. “Good vibes throughout all of the game. We kind of broke it open there in the middle of the game. Now we are on it tomorrow and we’re just taking it inning by inning. We’re excited.”

Smith (9-0) allowed one run on two hits and walked two and lowered his ERA to 1.35 while throwing 101 pitches, 70 for strikes.

He did not think it was as good a performance as his 17-strikeout, six-inning one against Oregon State in his second start of the season.

“It definitely doesn’t compare at all to that night,” Smith said. “Stuff-wise, I felt I threw alright today. (Razorback catcher) Hudson White called a great game and the defense played really good behind me.

“My stuff wasn’t bad but it certainly wasn’t my best I’ve ever thrown.”

It left Kentucky head coach Nick Mingione impressed after his Wildcats lost for the fifth time in seven games since opening the SEC slate 14-1.

“He did to us what he has did to everybody else,” Mingione said. “Quite frankly I thought we would have better at bats than that, but he got us 14 times in six innings. He just did to us what he had done to everybody else.

“His stuff is just really good – the fast ball command, the fast ball movement and the slider is a really good pitch.”

The one run Smith allowed came on Ryan Waldschmidt’s RBI double in the third, but the Razorbacks answered with 10 unanswered runs, including six in the seventh inning.

Peyton Stovall’s one-out RBI double tied it 1-1 in the fifth after Hudson White had led off the inning with a double off Kentucky starter Trey Pooser (3-1).

Diggs’ two-run double in the sixth off reliever Cameron O’ Brien gave his team the lead and he came home on pinch hitter Ross Lovich’s double that made it 4-1.

Diggs, who was 0 of his last 15 before that hit, added a two-run single in the seventh.

“It was big,” Van Horn said. “I commented to the team afterwards that just to get him going a little bit … He drove in four runs, he got the big hit that gave us a two-run lead. Then had another hit there later. It was a big run at the time.

“Yeah, we need him. Just kind of put him down there in the order hoping those guys would get on in front of him and he would have an opportunity to drive in some runs, and he did it.”

Diggs admitted the skid had been mentally taxing on him.

“It felt really good man,” Diggs said. “The past couple of weeks have been tough for me at the plate as far as just producing knowing what I‘m capable of. It was really good to come through for the guys and just going to keep going.”

Diggs noted he has a support system in place and the big hits gave him some welcomed relief.

“I’d say ever since we got down here,” Diggs said. “Practice went really well. I had some good meetings with (Arkansas hitting) coach (Nate) Thompson.

“I was talking with my parents. At the end of the day, it’s taking a deep breath and going back to my roots. For me, it was the biggest thing. Just taking a deep breath and believing in myself. I felt really good. I had two knocks today. In every at-bat, I felt a lot better. Hoping to build on it.”

The six-run Arkansas seventh also included White’s RBI single, bases-loaded walks to Stovall and Jared Sprague-Lott and a run-scoring wild pitch.

“We just didn’t make enough pitches,” Mingione said. “We got to where we kind of lost the strike zone and it ended up costing us.”

Will McEntire took over for Smith in the seventh and hurled two scoreless innings while Kentucky got two runs in the bottom of the night against Dylan Carter to cap the scoring.

Arkansas and Kentucky will meet again Saturday at 1 p.m. CST and a Sunday at noon.

Brady Tygart (4-1, 2.68) is set to start on the mound for Arkansas while Dominic Niman (7-3, 5.00) will open for Kentucky.

“You know our deal – it expires at midnight,” Mingione said. “They’ll do that. We have done that all year. We will need to come out tomorrow and stay on the attack. You know us at our best when are pitching at a high level, defending at a high level and absolute grinding our at bats. That’s what we have got to get back to.”

“I always look at ourselves and see what we are doing,” Mingione said. “Obviously it is a process, right, but I always ask myself are we operating at the proper level and who is and who isn’t.

“This league, as you guys know, demands execution at a super high level. We have done that for a long time, but our execution hasn’t been good enough (lately) on every end of the spectrum.

“What is it, who is it, I think they are things you have to figure out, but execution wins and we haven’t executed well enough to win.”

Photo courtesy of Razorbacks Communications

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