Hogs sweep opening series
FAYETTEVILLE - After routing Appalachian State ace starter Jamie Nunn in Friday's 12-2 season opener, some might have presumed the Saturday and Sunday games would be a piece of cake for the Arkansas Razorbacks, No. 25 ranked by Baseball America and hosting at Baum Stadium.
They would have presumed wrong. The Razorbacks, now 3-0, did sweep the now 0-3 Mountaineers but it wasn't easy.
Arkansas needed a 2.1-inning save by Michael Gunn to hold off Appalachian State 7-6 Saturday on behalf of starter Chris Oliver and on Sunday, before 5,072, won a much tighter game than the 8-3 final score indicates.
"We're playing against an older team and I knew they would give us a battle," Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said Sunday. "Any time you can win a ballgame and get three hits and score eight runs…"
Arkansas had just three hits for the game, and only one, Tyler Spoon's RBI double in the first inning, before the seventh when Joe Serrano's shot to left snapped a 3-3 tie doubling home pinch-hitter Clark Eagan, who reached with a hit by pitch. Brian Anderson's single up the middle scored Serrano.
The Hogs scored two without a hit in the second on a hit batsman and three walks. Andrew Benintendi's bases-loaded walk netted one run, and Serrano's sacrifice fly netted the other.
Arkansas scored three in Sunday's eighth without a hit thanks to three walks and a hit batsman, Michael Bernal whose base-loaded HBP netted a run, and Benintendi's infield out to first scoring one with another scoring on first baseman Tyler Zupcic's errantly throwing trying for a double play the hard way at second.
Appalachian State scored its three Sunday off freshman Alex Phillips on home runs by Michael Pierson and Dillon Dobson leading off the second and third, and Wiliam Head's RBI infield out in the second.
Razorbacks Zach Jackson, three innings, Jacob Stone, the winner, Colin Poche and Jackson Lowery, one inning each, all threw shutout relief.
Right fielder Spoon and first baseman Eric Fisher hit home runs Saturday, and designated hitter KJ Wilkerson homered Friday, and was hit by pitch The 12 HBPs for the weekend was Arkansas' most consistent offensive weapon and stressed by new hitting coach Tony Vitello.
"Last year we kind of struggled getting on base by hit by pitches and or walks," junior left fielder Serrano said. "I think we were like 256th (actually 258th according to the NCAA website) in the nation on hit by pitches. This year we have kind of emphasized it a little bit more, instead of ducking out of the way of balls, wear them for the team. Any way you can get on base, I'll wear one any day of the week to get on base."
Serrano said the Razorbacks came in steeled for Sunday's finale after opening last year ranked No. 1 nationally but losing 7-5 to Western Illinois after breezing 9-1 and 7-2 in the season-openers.
"Last year opening weekend we dropped Sunday," Serrano said. "We put a huge opening emphasis on sweeping this year. We knew Appalachian State was going to be a good matchup, probably the toughest opening-season matchup that I have seen. They are grinders, they play hard, they are an older group of guys and we really had to pounce. When we had a little breathing room with runs we didn't stop, we finished."
The Razorbacks next play Eastern Illinois in a three-game series at 3 p.m. Friday and 1 p.m. games Saturday and Sunday.