FAYETTEVILLE, Arkansas – Various phases of the Northwestern State baseball team made a statement Wednesday afternoon.
None of them was as loud as Tyler Smith's.
Smith, a junior outfielder, tied an 11-year-old school record with three home runs, driving in a career-high seven runs in the Demons' 10-7 win at No. 6/8 Arkansas at Baum-Walker Stadium.
It was Northwestern State's second win against a Southeastern Conference team this season and its first win in an SEC ballpark since a 5-2 win on April 12, 2011, at LSU. The win came after the Razorbacks' 19-2 win in Tuesday night's series opener.
"It's a great response," third-year head coach Bobby Barbier said. "The character to come back from last night – and from being down 4-0 after four batters – and to stay in the game. We had some good pitching, some good at-bats. Obviously, Tyler Smith was tremendous. Peyton Graham, coming in and settling the game down. He got a little tired at the end, but we needed that. Our pitching was thin. We were trying to save guys. We needed that."'
The Demons (24-16) jumped to 1-0 lead on Smith's sacrifice fly in the first inning before the Razorbacks (31-11) answered with a grand slam by Dominic Fletcher after the first three Arkansas hitters walked.
From there, Graham entered and turned in a career-long 4 1-3 innings that kept the Demons in striking distance.
Smith handled most of the striking. He followed Caleb Ricca's RBI single in the third with a game-tying, two-run home run to right-center field off starter Marshall Denton.
In his next at-bat, Smith had runners on second and third when Elijah Trest balked home Sam Taylor with the go-ahead run. Two pitches later, Smith delivered home run No. 2, another two-run shot, this one to left field.
Smith's record-tying day continued his hot hitting that began with a six-hit series at Southeastern Louisiana two weekends ago.
"All the hard work is paying off," said Smith, who tabbed the opposite-field home run off Trest as his favorite. "I'm just trying to get into hitters counts and not miss the fastball when they throw it in there."
Smith's second home run made it a three-run Demons lead before Graham ran out of gas in the fifth inning, and Arkansas answered with a three-run inning of its own.
Graham's strong relief work set the tone for a bullpen that was nearly untouchable across the final four innings.
Austin Reich worked a scoreless sixth inning, working around a leadoff walk before David Hodo (1-2) tossed 1 2-3 scoreless innings to secure his first career win.
Hodo danced around Heston Kjerstad's leadoff double in the seventh, using a pair of strikeouts to put up a zero. Hodo retired the first two hitters in the Arkansas eighth before Casey Martin flared a double to left-center field.
Barbier called on left-hander Tyler Pigott, who got Matt Goodheart – Arkansas' leading hitter – to fly harmlessly to center field for the final out, allowing Smith to put the capper on his huge day.
With Ricca on first base and one out, Arkansas called on All-America closer Matt Cronin, who struck out Jeffrey Elkins on three pitches. Cronin, a left-hander, could not escape Smith, who yanked a 2-2 pitch over the right-field wall to join Mike Jaworski as the only Demons to hit three home runs in a game.
Smith's final home run backed up Lenni Kunert's go-ahead eighth-inning RBI double off Liam Henry (0-1). Kunert hooked his hit inside the third-base bag, scoring Austin Stegall, who had drawn a one-out walk and took second on a wild pitch.
Jaworski achieved the feat on April 12, 2008, at Texas-San Antonio.
Pigott then worked a perfect ninth inning with a pair of strikeouts to notch his second save, both of which have come against SEC teams. Pigott recorded a four-out save in the Demons' 3-1 win against then-No. 11/13 LSU on March 12.
"I'm so proud of our team coming out and being ready to play, especially after getting down and responding to that," Barbier said. "The last guy (Smith) hit the homer off of might be the best closer in the SEC. Left-on-left. It was his day. One thing about Tyler, he's been clutch in his career, and he was clutch today."
The Demons continue their season-long, five-game road trip Friday when they open a three-game Southland Conference series at Stephen F. Austin. First pitch is set for 6:30 p.m. at Jaycees Field.