FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – A Luke Bonfield homer coupled with another strong outing from pitcher Blaine Knight helped the fifth-ranked Razorback baseball team to a 4-0 shutout of the USC Trojans Friday night in Baum Stadium to open the three-game series.
Arkansas (8-2) has won three in a row since coming home from its San Diego road trip and remains undefeated in Baum Stadium this year at 6-0. The loss for USC (7-2) breaks a seven game win streak it had coming into the game as the Hog pitchers handed the Trojans their first shutout of the season.
Bonfield’s homer came in the first inning, a two-run blast that was his second of the year, but turned out to be his only hit of the game. As a team, Arkansas scattered eight hits, six off USC starting pitcher Chris Clark. Seven different Razorbacks recorded at least one hit, but it was Grant Koch who came away with the only multi-hit performance of the day, his first of the year.
On the mound, Knight wasn’t as nearly as dominant as he had shown in recent outings, but was able to work around nine baserunners in six innings to not give up any runs and only allow one walk with four strikeouts on 98 pitches. The win moves his record to 2-0 and drops his ERA to 0.53, his lowest after his first three starts in his career.
Freshman Jackson Rutledge came in to pitch the seventh and shut the door on the Trojans, picking up his first collegiate save. Rutledge gave up one hit over three innings and struck out one on 43 pitches.
Moments That Mattered
Arkansas puts runs on the board in the first inning for the fourth time this year after Bonfield unloaded an 0-1 pitch that was up over the plate and sent into the Hog Pen, giving the Razorbacks a 2-0 lead. Junior Jax Biggers had set the table three batters earlier with a lead-off single and then a steal of second.
With Bonfield’s long ball, Arkansas has hit 16 home runs this year, one more than it had through the first 10 games of the 2017 season.
With the two-run cushion, Knight settled in to throw five more shutout innings as he allowed just one runner to reach third base throughout the rest of his outing. Besides giving up the lone run in the second inning against Cal Poly last week, Knight has thrown scoreless frames in 16 of his 17 innings this year and has built up a 3.75 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
The Razorbacks added two more runs in the fifth after freshman Heston Kjerstad knocked an RBI single through the right side, scoring Biggers. In the next at-bat, Bonfield hit a groundball that was deep enough in the hole at short to score Cole from third, making it 4-0.
Kjerstad has at least one RBI in eight of 10 games this year and continues to lead the team with a .424 average and 12 RBIs.
“I thought Blaine Knight didn’t have his command today and USC did a great job laying off a lot of pitches and getting his pitch count up. That’s a big part of their offense. They have an older team and a lot of guys that have great feel at the plate. Defensively, we made some good plays. They hit some balls right at us. On the offensive end, we only struck out a couple times. Their starter didn’t strike us out. We found a way to win, bottom line. I thought Jackson Rutledge came in and did exactly what we wanted him to do and that’s throw the ball over the plate with a little velocity.” - Head coach Dave Van Horn on the shutout over USC
“With our lineup, we had a lot of left-handed hitters. With Luke (Bonfield), it was good to see him leave a slider, but he got one he liked. It was a fastball or a cutter that was up in the zone. I didn’t know if it was going to get out of the park, but I knew it was going to get over the outfielder’s head and score a run. It was nice to see it get out. He’s a veteran in the middle of the lineup. You need that presence in there, especially with a right-handed hitter when you have all the lefties. It’s nice to have one that can pick up some RBIs.” – Head coach Dave Van Horn on Luke Bonfield’s three-RBI day
“In the fifth inning I kind of figured out what I had to do to throw more consistent strikes. My arm felt good, my body felt good. I figured I could get one more out of it. I just finally linked everything up. I told them ‘Hey, give me one more.’ They didn’t fight me too bad on it and sent me back out and it worked out.” – Blaine Knight on battling a tough USC lineup
““I knew he was a sinker ball pitcher, so I was kind of looking for something up over the plate. I got it and I was able to put a good swing on it and catch a barrel.” – Luke Bonfield on his first inning home run
“That was huge. To be able to come back, pump strikes, and be able to have some success as compared to last time, that was big for me. I’m happy with the way it went.” – Jackson Rutledge on rebounding from last week
The Razorbacks continue their series with USC on Saturday with game two’s first pitch at 2 p.m. at Baum Stadium. The game will be televised on SEC Network+.