Hogs Win Series

FAYETTEVILLE –  Stunned 3-2 in Friday’s season-opener by the pesky Illinois State Redbirds, the nationally No. 2 by D-1 Baseball ranked Razorbacks rebounded with 5-1 and 4-2 victories Saturday and Sunday to win their season-opening series at Baum-Walker Stadium.

So Arkansas, drawing 31,356 for the three games at Baum-Walker, hit the road 2-1  playing Indiana, Stanford and Louisiana next Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night at the  Karbach Classic at the minor league Dell Diamond Park in Round Rock, Texas.

All three  loom  more formidable than the unranked Redbirds of the Missouri Valley Conference though Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn wasn’t at all surprised by Illinois State’s gritty performances.

First off it’s good to win the series after losing the opening game,” Van Horn said. “I told the team  before Illinois State arrived down here, that we were playing a veteran team that had three veteran pitchers who were going to fill up the zone and they weren’t going to beat themselves. We were going to have to beat them. We didn’t beat them on Friday and the last two days we had to go get them.”

That they did means plenty said senior Brady Slavens, 3 for 3 with a RBI and a run scored as Sunday’s designated hitter, and Kole Ramage, Friday’s losing pitcher in relief of starter Connor Noland bouncing back Sunday to record a 4-inning, two hits and one run save on behalf of winning 5-inning starter Jaxon Wiggins.

“Yeah, I think that kind of surprised us,” Slavens said Sunday of Friday’s loss.  “Fired us up and woke us up.  It’s definitely something that hurt a little. Came out kind of flat.  So the last two days have been really good.  I thought we did have energy and played pretty well.”

Ramage said pitching coach Matt Hobbs knew he’d be ready for an extended role Sunday.

“I felt really good even though I had thrown earlier on Friday,” Ramage said.  “I think just him being able to trust me and throw a lot  of pitches was big time.  I pretty much had all my off speed working as well as being able to go out to get a lot of swings and misses as well as really good defense behind me to make plays and allow me just to continue to throw.”

Freshman left-hander Hagen Smith got Arkansas its first win Saturday throwing six shutout innings.

Wiggins didn’t start Sunday as sharp Smith did Saturday with the Redbirds netting five hits and base-runners against him every inning but the 1-2-3 fifth, but the fireballing sophomore battled to allow ISU only a second-inning run, the game’s first run, while striking out five against two walks.

I thought Wiggins did a really nice job throwing the ball over the plate and he worked out of a jam and that was big to see,” Van Horn said.  “They hit him a little bit, but he didn’t let it bother him. I thought it was great that Wiggins went back out in the fifth and had a quick inning. Got us back in the dugout and we score two more runs and really had an opportunity to bust it open.”

Arkansas tied it 1-1 with two outs in the fifth off ISU starter Derek Salata.  Robert Moore doubled leading off.  Slavens’ 1-out single would have scored him but first baseman Jake McCaw knocked down the hit preventing it from skipping into right field and holding Moore at third. It got tense for Arkansas with Zack Gregory in a 1-2 count and two outs before delivering the game-tying single to center.

“We were looking for that spark and Greg started it off for us,” Slavens said.

Freshman first baseman Peyton Stovall infield singled with one out worth two bases because ISU second baseman Kyle Soberano threw wildly to first.

With two outs, ISU Coach Steve Holm opted intentionally walking All-American Moore to pitch to cleanup hitter Chris Lanzilli.  Lanzilli singled home Stovall followed by Slavens singling home Moore. 

Ramage took over from Wiggins Sunday starting the sixth inning  striking out the side with Arkansas up 3-1.  Touched for the winning run Friday during his 1 2/3 innings of relief, Ramage Sunday threw four complete innings unscathed other than Ryan Cermak’s home run leading off the eighth.

He’s been pitching really well this year, “Van Horn said of his senior right-hander.  “And that started probably midway through in the fall. When he came back from the holidays it just seemed like his stuff continues to be better and better. It’s better than it was last year. More command.  His offspeed stuff was good and his fastball a little firmer than it’s been in the past.”

Arkansas gave Ramage a little breathing room to start the ninth on Jalen Battle’s RBI insurance run double after Gregory walked leading off the eighth.

Van Horn was dismayed the Hogs stranded 11 including wasting a 1-out triple by Greenbrier’s Cayden Wallace in the eighth and Stovall’s leadoff double in the third.

“Probably the negative of the day was we left some more runners on out there,” Van Horn said.  “We didn’t get a bunt down. Just little things like that that add up. You’ve got a runner on second and nobody out and you don’t score him. You have a lead-off double (by Moore tagged out  beyond the bag in the seventh) and we pop up off the bag. W’ve got to clean that up.”

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