All good things must come to an end
They say all good things must come to an end, and for Arkansas they did.
No longer unscathed in the SEC baseball chase, the Razorbacks, 19-5 overall, stand 8-1 leaders of the SEC West after Mississippi State won the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader 12-4 for the Bulldogs to salvage one in this three-game SEC series.
Nevertheless, by winning 20-9 Friday night’s rain-delayed game that extended into a rainy/snowy Saturday afternoon, and winning Sunday’s first game, 5-1, Arkansas followed SEC sweeps of Florida and Auburn to win its third straight SEC series heading into Tuesday night’s nonconference visit to Missouri State in Springfield and next weekend’s three-game SEC series at South Carolina.
“Give them credit,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said after the Bulldogs blemished Arkansas’ SEC slate. “They got after us and we didn’t get off to a good start. But I’m really proud of them (the Hogs) for winning the first eight in the row with the first one today. We’re 8-1, shake it off and learn from the game and get better.”
Even with fair weather, both of Sunday’s games were decreed seven innings long by the SEC after heavy rain halted Friday’s game with Arkansas up 10-3 and batting in the fifth inning and then taking over two hours to complete during Saturday afternoon’s 35-degree mix of rain and snow.
Many of the Hogs' Friday/Saturday hitting heroes, including Travis Sample, 3 for 3 with a home run and 4 RBI Friday, and Andy Wilkins, 3 for 5 with a home run and 4 RBI Sunday, and senior second baseman Ben Tschepikow of Fayetteville, 2 for 3 with a RBI, hit well Sunday, too.
In Sunday’s first game, won by starting righthander T.J. Forrest’s five complete innings with Mike Bolsinger getting the save blanking the Bulldogs after inheriting no-out singles off Forrest in the sixth, Sample, Wilkins and Tschepikow all knocked in runs.
In Sunday’s second game, even with MSU lefthander Nick Routt going the distance to improve to 3-1, Wilkins went 2 for 4 with a towering home run that Mississippi State coach John Cohen remarked, “went from about here to Mississippi,” and Tschepikow netted a single and a RBI grounder.
However Arkansas’ biggest Sunday punch was packed by Brett Eibner, the previously slumping center fielder. Eibner also pitches and was to start against Missouri State Tuesday night in Springfield just as he did when the Hogs beat Missouri State, 10-0 last Wednesday at Baum Stadium.
On Sunday against Mississippi State, Eibner in the first game went 1 for 2 with a solo home run and a sacrifice fly. In Sunday’s second game, Eibner went 1 for 3, delivering a third-inning 2-out RBI single, cutting MSU’s early 4-0 lead to 4-3 after Van Horn assigned Collin Kuhn to beat out a surprise bunt single with Sample on first.
Van Horn’s strategy invested heavy confidence in Kuhn the bunter and Eibner the hitter.
“Kuhn’s a good bunter,” Van Horn said. “They were back on him and I thought get Eibner to the plate and he might pop one and we get the lead. And he did get a single. I was really impressed with that two-strike base hit to right. He showed me something there. We get a double steal and are one hit away from taking the lead. It just didn’t happen.”
Routt struck out Tim Carver to strand runners at second and third. Routt struck out Scott Lyons with runners at first and second to end the sixth with the Hogs only down 7-4 before the Bulldogs tacked on five in the nightcap’s seventh inning.
Two Razorbacks slipped trying to field two bunts and made one of their three errors. The Bulldogs scored three on Russ Sneed’s single, plus netted one of two bases-loaded walks issued among six Arkansas second-game game pitchers Sunday.
Losing starting pitcher Drew Smyly, four runs, three hits and two walks, didn’t survive the first inning after pitching well to win at Auburn last Sunday.
“Smyly didn’t have it,” Van Horn said. “He couldn’t hit spots with his fast ball and his breaking ball wasn’t working and we didn’t play good defense. We just got off to a bad start. Hopefully he’ll pitch better against South Carolina.”
In Sunday’s first game, Forrest, holding a 5-1 lead into the sixth, and Bolsinger, immediately inducing a doubleplay and strikeout in the seventh followed by a 1-2-3 seventh for the save, “both did a great job,” Van Horn said.
Forrest complimented Bolsinger for picking him up in the sixth.
“That was my ERA sitting out there on the bases,” Forrest said laughing. “He made a great pitch and got a 5-4-3 doubleplay and struck a guy out. He showed he can come into clutch situations and get the guy out.”
Forrest Sunday seemed in quicker rhythm than past starts. “I probably picked up the pace,” he said. “Don’t let the hitters get comfortable.”