FAYETTEVILLE — After Arkansas had its most robust offensive outing of the young season on Friday, the Razorbacks barely sniffed South Alabama’s Locke St. John on Saturday.
St. John earned his first win of the season after a pair of no decisions by stifling Arkansas, 2-1, in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader at Baum Stadium. South Alabama took the nightcap as well, 5-2.
Arkansas blew opportunities early and then managed very little against the junior lefty in the first game.
“Today, I had everything,” St. John said. “Fast ball, curve, change, they were all working for me. I minimized the walks the whole game and just let my defense work for me. I believe in those guys. I was very comfortable out there today.”
Tyler Spoon led off the second inning with a hard single off the third baseman and Krisjon Wilkerson followed with another sharp single to left. St. John grabbed Eric Fisher’s bunt and threw to third to easily force out Spoon. St. John retired the last two Razorbacks.
Michael Bernal led off the third inning with a double down the left field line. After Andrew Benintendi fouled out, Joe Serrano put down a perfect bunt down the first base line. South Alabama first baseman Hayden Jones dove for Serrano, who was well past him, but alertly sprung up and fired home in plenty of time to get Bernal — who tried scoring from second.
In the fourth, Wilkerson singled with an out and Brett McAfee singled him to second with two outs. But again St. John retired Jake Wise on a ground ball.
“I was composed the whole game,” St. John said. “I just kept telling myself it’s not over until it’s over. When they give us free outs, we take the opportunity.
Arkansas didn’t sniff St. John again until the ninth. St. John retired 12-of-13 batters following Bernal’s lead-off single in the fifth, including a double-play grounder to erase Bernal.
St. John’s first two starts were no decisions against Tennessee Tech and New Orleans. He went five innings in each, yielding 12 hits and three earned runs with six walks.
“The first start, probably nerves a little,” St. John said. “The second one, I felt better and better each week. Today, I felt good; a little atmosphere here and I felt good. I know we’re going to face other teams like this. Like coach says, it’s pitching and defense and it starts with the starting pitcher.”
Saturday, he went 8 1/3 allowing eight hits, walking two and striking out three. St. John threw 116 pitches, including 73 for strikes.
South Alabama gave St. John a 1-0 lead in the fifth inning. Adam Ballew started the inning with a single to right, took second on a sacrifice bunt and scored with two outs on Cameron Cummings line-drive single.
St. John got a little cushion in the seventh. Erik Hindman walked to open the inning for South Alabama, went to second on a sacrifice bunt, took third on a passed ball and scored when Arkansas shortstop Brett McAfee failed to field Drew LaBounty’s ground ball up the middle with two outs.
“The lefty didn’t throw anything over the middle of the plate,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “It was both sides of the plate — a backdoor breaking ball and mixed in a few change ups. He spotted the fast ball, kept us off balance and competed hard.”
Arkansas finally scratched across a run in the ninth. After Spoon flied out to the warning track, Wilkerson walked. Fisher followed with a hard single to right, which chased St. John. Brandon Hallford allowed a fly ball to McAfee, which scored pinch-runner Clark Eagan and retired pinch-hitter Blake Baxendale on another fly ball for the save.
South Alabama 5, Arkansas 3
GAME 2 — South Alabama starter Kevin Hill was just about as good as St. John in the nightcap on Saturday, beating the Razorbacks to complete the doubleheader sweep.
Except for Spoon’s two-run triple off the wall in right center in the fifth inning, Hill throttled the Razorbacks.
Hill went eight innings, struck out five and threw 72 of his 126 pitches for strikes.
South Alabama (5-5) roughed up Trey Killian in his first start after serving a suspension to begin the season.
South Alabama scored four times off Killian in the third inning. Matt Wojciechowski singled home a run, Erik Hindman doubled home two more and Cole Gleason greeted reliever Colin Poche with a run-scoring single.
Hill retired the side in order in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings and retired 10 in a row after Spoon’s fifth inning triple.
“They didn’t make too many mistakes,” Spoon said. “When they did, we seemed to put the ball in the air. We put the ball in the air way too many times today. They changed speeds and were in the strike zone all day. We didn’t have any timely hits today.”
Arkansas (7-2) had scoring opportunities, but like the first game didn’t cash in, bouncing into double plays in the third and fourth innings.
“We had our opportunities,” Van Horn said. “He got us to chase some balls down in the zone with runners on. We hit into a couple of double plays on balls that we probably shouldn’t have swung at.”
Arkansas also threatened in the ninth inning, loading the bases on two hit batsmen and a walk. Andrew Benintendi’s sacrifice fly scored Wilkerson and Serrano’s infield hit loaded the bases again. But Brandon Hallford retired Brian Anderson for his second save of the day and third of the season.
Arkansas left 17 runners on combined in the doubleheader.
“We had a lot of runners out there,” Van Horn said. “Sometimes that the way the game works. We’re still a work in progress, but we’ve got to do a better job in some situations.”