FAYETTEVILLE — Trey Killian finally turned the Tide.
Arkansas’ sophomore right-hander entered Saturday’s game with Alabama the hard-luck loser of the staff, sporting an 0-3 record to go along with his near-3 earned run average. The Razorbacks had also lost six of their seven one-run games this season, including four by a 2-1 score.
Killian gave a fist pump after retiring Alabama in order in the eighth inning, almost like he knew a win was finally coming.
Eric Fisher’s single to left field in the bottom of the eighth provided the game-winning run and the Razorbacks forced a split of the first two games in the series against the Crimson Tide with a 2-1 win Saturday.
Killian was near perfect. A week after tossing his first-career complete game in a 1-0 loss to Florida, he threw nine innings against Alabama. He yielded just four hits and two walks while striking out seven in the Arkansas (12-8, 2-3) comeback.
“We haven’t really backed him up all year. He’s been incredible the last three weekends. He’s got a lot of toughness,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “He battled and I know his pitch count was getting up there — I didn’t even know what it was until right now when I looked at it — but I guarantee if we tried to take him out in the ninth, he would have went crazy.”
Killian made but one mistake - when he pegged Ben Moore in the helmet with a pitch in the first inning. The run he allowed should have been a play made, Van Horn said.
Moore knocked in Chance Vincent in the third inning with a two-out blooper down the right field line. Arkansas first baseman Blake Baxendale made a poor read off the bat and the ball dropped just outside the reach of Brian Anderson, who was coming over from second base. Had there not been two outs, Moore would not have been running on the pitch and likely would have been no farther than third after the hit.
The Razorbacks were silent in response. Alabama starter Justin Kamplain held them to just three hits through the first six innings and never allowed consecutive runners to reach base.
Killian’s emotion signaled a turning point. He was a little bothered in the fifth, Van Horn said, when a routine pop-up in the middle of the diamond went unclaimed. All four infielders and the catcher went toward the ball, but it dropped to the grass about eight-feet from the pitching rubber.
Two batters later Killian sprinted off the mound to catch a foul pop halfway down the first base line. In the eighth, he made a jumping stab with his glove to stop a likely infield single from Alabama’s leadoff hitter in the inning.
Each out drew more and more demonstrative reactions.
“It was an adrenaline rush to be honest,” Killian said. “I think my gestures showed it, but fist pumps after ever inning, I was riled up, ready to go. Intensity going, trying to get the rest of the team pumped up.”
Anderson walked to start Arkansas’ half of the eighth. Tyler Spoon bunted him over and Jake Wise was intentionally walked to set up a potential double play and provide Alabama a left-on-left matchup with reliever Thomas Burrows against Fisher. Fisher, who entered for Baxendale just an inning before, knocked a low fastball into left field with an 0-2 count for the game-winner.
“I was just reacting. They wanted me, so it made the matchup even better,” Fisher said. “Just got me fired up to go out there and compete.”
Arkansas tied the game with three straight two-out singles in the eighth. KrisJon Wilkerson started the rally, Bobby Wernes singled him to third and Michael Bernal took the first pitch he saw back up the middle to score Wilkerson and make the game 1-1.
Kamplain’s start was finished when walked Clark Eagan to load the bases after Bernal’s single. He threw 6 2/3 innings, gave up six hits and one walk while allowing the one earned run.
Killian has thrown 24 innings his last three starts after going just 2 2/3 innings in his season debut. In those last three he’s tossed two complete games and allowed just one earned run in each outing. Van Horn said it’s possible Killian becomes a Friday-night starter going forward but a determination wouldn’t be made until after the Alabama series.
“I just go out there and try to make pitches, you know?” Killian said. “Whether I have the best stuff that day or I don’t. If something’s not working, resort to something else.”
Wilkerson was the only Arkansas player with more than one hit, as he finished with two. Brian Anderson walked and was hit by a pitch and Eagan singled and walk to provide the Razorbacks with three players who reached base twice. No Alabama (15-7, 3-2) player had more than a single hit and only Chance Vincent - with two walks - reached more than once.
The paid attendance at Baum Stadium was 9,036 and the actual was 5,644, both season highs.
One night after the teams combined for 26 runs in the series opener, Alabama fell to 0-4 in games with a 2-1 final score while Arkansas moved to 1-3. Chris Oliver is scheduled to pitch for Arkansas in the final game of the set Sunday against Jon Keller.
“The 2-1 games have been tough on us,” Van Horn said. “I’d rather have it be 10-2, but just winning is good.”