After Kilponen’s gem pulled LSU even in series, Arkansas relies on power surge, Haff to wrap up share of SEC title

LSU’s Ali Kilponen met Arkansas’ greatest challenge head-on in the first inning Monday and turned the Razorbacks away for the remainder of the game.

Kilponen held Arkansas to a lead-off single in the first and went on to retire the last 16 batters she faced in a 2-1 victory in the first game of a doubleheader with Arkansas at Tiger Park. The Razorbacks (40-7, 19-4 in SEC) won the nightcap 4-1 and captured the series and a share of their first SEC championship.

LSU (29-17, 11-9) closes out the regular season against Auburn with a three-game SEC series at Tiger Park beginning at 5:30 p.m. Friday. The Tigers, who had won their last five doubleheaders, dropped only their second SEC series of the season and are in seventh place in the league standings.

Kilponen (13-6) worked her way out of a bases-loaded jam in the first inning. She limited Arkansas to its lone run, and following a two-out walk to Keely Huffine, set the Razorbacks down in order in the final five innings for her second shutout of the season.

“I think my defense is a huge key. My defense was outstanding,” Kilponen said. “They were making routine plays, they were making plays that were really hard. I was just thinking, just try to get outs. I was thinking quality pitches to get outs and trust my defense. My defense was stellar today. I was just thinking to get a ground ball to get an out.”

She also became the first LSU pitcher to throw a SEC shutout in four years since Ali Walljasper silenced Tennessee in April of 2017. She walked three, all in the first two innings, and struck out three.

“Ali was exceptional today and she just keeps doing what she’s doing,” LSU softball coach Beth Torina said. “When she’s on, I feel she’s as good as anyone in the league. Her future so bright.”

LSU rallied with a run in its half of the first and added another run in the second and turned the game over to Kilponen who was in complete control.

Aliyah Andrews (2-for-3) and Ciarra Briggs each singled off Arkansas starter Mary Haff and following two outs, Amanda Doyle drove a ball up the middle for a run-scoring single to tie the game.

LSU loaded the bases in the second against Haff, who checked the Tigers’ bats on four hits in Saturday’s 1-0 win, with Shelbi Sunseri getting hit by a pitch, a walk to Taylor Tidwell and Andrews’ bunt single.

Briggs then delivered the go-ahead run, sending an 0-2 grounder to shortstop to score pinch-runner Anna Jones.

Haff (22-5) allowed four hits, walked two and struck out three.

LSU got a bit of a break during the first inning when after Arkansas loaded the bases, Danielle Gibson sent a deep drive to center field, but because the wind was blowing into the field of play, Andrews made the catch on the warning track for a sacrifice fly.

The Tigers defense recorded their fourth double play of the weekend when Taylor Pleasants ignited the double play, taking a groundball and throwing to second to Tidwell, who threw to first to Georgia Clark.

Tidwell also delivered another superlative play in the sixth inning when Hannah McEwen led off the inning with a liner that the former St. Amant standout made a diving catch going the second base bag.

Arkansas 4, LSU 1: Arkansas, the nation’s third-best home run hitting team and tops in the SEC, had gone two-plus games without a homer until the Razorbacks stretched an early 1-0 lead to 3-0 on back-to-back homers from Linnie Malkin and Kayla Green off LSU reliever Shelbi Sunseri.

“It’s tough for your offense to try and match that when you can’t shut them down,” Torina said. “We did a good job of battling with them and just came up on the wrong end of it.”

Senior Maribeth Gorsuch, who recently rejoined the team after the passing of her father, made her first appearance since April 9 and left in the third inning after battling control problems in which she hit three of four batters in the first inning when Arkansas took a 1-0 lead.

Arkansas extended its home run total to 89 with consecutive solo shots off Sunseri to extend its lead to 3-0 when Kilponen came on in relief of Sunseri. Kilponen had her streak of 16 batters retired in a row snapped at 24 straight when Green singled and Ally Monzo followed with a RBI-double.

LSU, which finished with five hits, tallied a run in the fourth when Pleasants doubled and scored on Doyle’s run-scoring single to left-center field.

Arkansas replaced starter Autumn Storms with Haff, who appeared in all three games against LSU, and threw 3.1 innings of scoreless relief with four strikeouts. She pitched a total of 16.1 innings against the Tigers, allowing two runs on nine hits with 11 strikeouts.

“She was really difficult,” Torina said of Haff. “She might be the best pitcher in the league this year. She may be the best there is. It’s deceptive. She doesn’t throw extremely hard. You feel like you’re right there, you can hit it and all of a sudden it’s gone. It’s not exceptionally hard, but she just competes and wins. She’s done this to everybody in the league this year, not just us.”

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William Weathers

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