FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Nonconference games don’t mean a whole heck of a lot when you play in the SEC. Arkansas won’t get to host an NCAA Tournament Regional based on out-of-league games.
But ask anyone who was around Baum Stadium the last 48 hours. It sure feels good to them to sweep Texas, regardless of its importance.
None of it is to say beating Texas is meaningless. Wednesday’s 7-5 win gave the Razorbacks a two-game sweep. And a two-game sweep over a decent, possible NCAA Tournament team is a feather in the proverbial cap. If it comes down to Arkansas and some other team to host, then a beating of the Longhorns looks good. It just won’t be the deciding factor.
The best thing about Arkansas’ impressive two-day stretch was it began to remedy its biggest nonconference ill. Razorbacks’ lineup bats weren’t quite as hot as they were the day before, but coach Dave Van Horn appears to have found most of his best lineup and the top reserves across the board. Not a moment too soon as SEC play does begin Friday when Kentucky visits.
Arkansas (13-4) used a four-run fourth inning, thanks to some help from poor Texas fielding, to take control in the series finale. The Diamond Hogs batted around in that inning. Clean-up hitter Jordan McFarland – who had another big game at the plate – started it with a walks. Singles from Casey Martin, Evan Lee and a fielder’s choice by Eric Cole drove in the runs.
Three of those players – McFarland, Cole and Martin – have been especially good during nonconference play. McFarland has only just come on as of late, but Cole and Martin would probably split team MVP votes in pre-SEC scheduling. Together they had three hits and three runs Wednesday. Martin jacked a home run, his sixth of the year.
Texas rallied in the eighth to pull within a run. The surprise was it came against Jake Reindl, arguably Arkansas’ best reliever in 2017. He recorded just one out and gave up three hits and two runs before being pulled for Matt Cronin was only just better, giving up a knock and hitting a batter to load the bases with two outs. But Michael McCann was caught staring 1-2 pitch to leave the bases loaded and deject the Longhorns bench.
Arkansas also worked itself into some trouble in the fifth. Kole Ramage had to keep the lead in an emergency that inning. The freshman entered for juinor Barrett Loseke after Loseke had walked a batter and gave up two hits. With runners on second and third with just one out, Ramage walked the first batter he faced. Arkansas only led by two runs. Texas’ 5-hole hitter, Austin Todd, though, knocked a ball into the ground straight to shortsop. Jax Biggers to Hunter Wilson to Jordan McFarland. The 6-4-3 double-play drew a sigh of relief.
Wilson’s RBI single in the eighth provided a run of insurance to create the final score.
Grading the Hogs
Arkansas’ bullpen is a bit of a mish-mash right now. The veteran right-handers, namely Reindl and Loseke, have not been good this year. Reliance on freshmen, while they’ve been quality, is dangerous going forward.
It was…above average. Six runs on nine hits and five walks. Three different innings saw crooked numbers. Not spectacular, but something you’ll take more often than not if you’re Arkansas.
The Big Stick + The Arm
Arm: Caleb Bolden
Ramage saved the day in the fifth, but it was another freshman, Bolden, who was biggest. It was somewhat a surprise he didn’t take the hill to start the game for Arkansas. He did enter in the second, however, and worked three innings of one-hit ball allowing his lineup to rally after Hunter Milligan gave up two runs in the first.
Red-hot. He has 10 RBI over his last three games, the first of which he came off the bench and delievered five. One on Wednesday. He’s likely to get the lion’s share of the at-bats at first base this weekend.
What’s next for Arkansas?
Texas was fun for Arkansas and all, but the games that count start this weekend. Kentucky visits Baum Stadium to start SEC beginning on Friday.
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