Hogs Sweep Wildcats

Nate Allen

FAYETTEVILLE – Inheriting winning at least 2 of 3 in all 10 SEC baseball series while winning last year’s SEC championship, these 2022 Arkansas Razorbacks picked up where the 2021 Razorbacks left off.

From Friday through Sunday they swept the Kentucky Wildcats, 6-2, 9-3 and 3-1 in the SEC season-opening series at Baum-Walker Stadium. With eight consecutive nonconference victories before this SEC sweep Coach Dave Van Horn’s Razorbacks carry an overall 11-game winning streak and 16.-3 record into their next SEC series Friday through Sunday against the Missouri Tigers in Columbia, Mo.

Because of a snowy forecast, Wednesday’s nonconference game at the Kansas City Royals’ Kauffman Stadium vs. Nebraska-Omaha has been canceled, Van Horn said after Sunday’s game.

Kentucky falls to 14-7 overall/0-3 in the SEC.

Coach Nick Mingione’s previously hard-hitting Wildcats bringing a .324 team batting average to Fayetteville, mustered but six runs in three games. Winning Razorbacks starters Connor Noland, Hagen Smith and Jaxon Wiggins and relievers Evan Taylor, Kole Ramage, Zebulon Vermillion and Brady Tygart mostly silenced Kentucky’s big bats.

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The Wildcats hitters got no extra outs help from Arkansas’ errorless for the weekend defense while seven Kentucky errors aided Arkansas’ offense against mostly effective Kentucky pitching Friday and especially Sunday.

“I just feel it was about the defense,” Van Horn said Sunday. “We played good defense all weekend, made some super plays. Obviously pitching they pitched well and we pitched well. Some of our better hitters didn’t have a great weekend but other guys picked it up.”

Great fielding but previously 0 for February hitting center fielder Braydon Webb especially surprised the Wildcats.

Webb homered during Arkansas’ 3-run second inning of Saturday’s 9-3 and provided Sunday’s winning edge with a 2-run 440-foot third-inning home run after Kentucky losing starter Tyler Bosma yielded a leadoff single to Jalen Battles after retiring Arkansas’ first six batters in the first and second innings. Battle’s bunt single scored Arkansas’ final Sunday run in the third inning after Brandon Moore’s leadoff walk and combination stolen base and Kentucky throwing error scooted him from first to third.

“Webb today absolutely crushed that ball, gave us a two-run lead,” Van Horn said. “That was big, because at the time you could tell it was going to be tough to score today. I was happy for him. And he made some good plays in the outfield.”

Wiggins’ Sunday victory was not as easy as 1-2-3. For neither Wiggins through six shutout innings of striking out eight vs. four hits and four walks, nor Taylor, yielding Ryan

Ritter’s solo home for the seventh then stranding Jacob Plastiak after a double, nor freshman Tygart saving it with a scoreless eighth and ninth, ever finished an innings without at least one Wildcat on base. Wiggins stranded two runners at first and third and second and third in Sunday’s third and fourth innings.

“All three of those guys performed really well with runners on base,” Van Horn said. “It’s a credit to their toughness.”

And the defense behind them.

“Pitching with a defense like that behind you, you shouldn’t have any worries,” Wiggins said.

Defense and never trailing helped all the pitchers.

The pitchers certainly helped themselves.

Noland scattered six hits through 6 1-3 inninngs on a frigid Friday night striking out seven against walks followed by Taylor’s hitless/scoreless 1 2-3 innings and a lone run off Ramage taking a 6-1 lead into Friday’s ninth.

Second baseman Moore, 3 for 4 with three RBI including a home run, and left fielder Zack Gregory, 2 for 3 with a RBI, paced Arkansas’ Friday attack.

Freshman lefty Smith had a 9-3 lead after throwing six winning innings Saturday night capped by Vermillion’s three hitless/scoreless frames.

Moore, Webb and Michael Turner provided Saturday’s heavy Hogs hitting.

“Friday, with us putting the bat on the ball and them making some mistakes and us scoring some runs, we kind of carried that momentum into yesterday (Saturday),” Van Horn said Sunday. “And then just enough to win today.”

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