BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
During any long sports winning streak, there are going to be times you have to take advantage of the opponent’s mistakes to keep it alive.
That’s just what Arkansas’ baseball program did again on Saturday as it pushed the spree to 12 victories in a row by downing Auburn 9-3 at Baum-Walker Stadium.
Kendall Diggs’ bases-clearing double in the opening inning was a prime example as the Razorbacks (17-2, 2-0) clinched a win in their SEC opening series for the sixth straight season.
“That was the biggest swing of the game by far,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. “We load the bases with one, two and three, and then they get four and five out, and Kendall, he didn’t mess around. He got a fastball, and he stayed through it, split the gap in left-center, we’re off and rolling. That was big.”
Auburn head coach Butch Thompson lamented that freshman starting pitcher Zach Crotchfeldt (0-1) couldn’t get out of the first inning unscathed for his Tigers (13-5-1, 0-2)
“We have an error on the first batter of the game, a walk and an HBP on an 0-2 count and then it is right in the middle of their line up,” Thompson said. “He actually makes two good pitches and gets two outs and gets it down to one batter and Diggs is just setting there laying for a first-pitch fast ball and we absolutely give it to him.”
Tavian Josenberger added a two-run homer in the second and the Razorbacks tallied four more in the fifth.
That was the 16th time in 19 games that Arkansas has scored four or five runs in an outing.
That was plenty of run support for Arkansas pitcher Will McEntire (4-0), who fired six innings before turning the game over to Dylan Carter, who pitched the final three frames for his second save.
He worked out of a second inning jam by allowing just one run, which was the opposite of what Arkansas did.
“The second inning we have the bases loaded and everything set and we just can’t cash in when they try and give us something, and they are not giving us things often, and we are just not cashing in at game time has been the difference in these two games,” Thompson said.
McEntire was coming off a nine-inning, complete-game effort against Louisiana Tech last Saturday when he allowed just three hits and went the distance on 97 pitches.
He allowed three runs on five hits against Auburn while fanning six and walking two and throwing 62 strikes among his 91 pitches.
“Last week was outstanding, and today was really good,” Van Horn said of McEntire. “Wasn’t his best, but it was good enough to hold down a good offensive team for a while.”
McEntire was clear he enjoys pitching with a comfortable lead.
“It’s so much easier to pitch with a lead, especially a bigger lead,” McEntire said. “You can give up one or two and it’s not really gonna hurt you too bad.”
Carter continued his meteoric rise from a bit part beginning the season to a key pitching piece for the Diamond Hogs now.
He used 54 pitches to get through his three innings with 33 of them being strikes while allowing one hit, fanning three and issuing no free passes.
“He just comes in and he pounds the zone with three pitches and he makes other teams swing, and if we field it, we’ve got a chance,” Van Horn said. “Just like today, he struck out two or three guys, but for the most part he just used the infield, got a couple fly balls and just did a tremendous job.”
It was the same pitching formula Arkansas used in Friday’s 7-2 win as starter Hunter Hollan went six innings and Hagen Smith got a save with three scoreless and hitless innings.
Arkansas, which out-hit Auburn 9-6 on Saturday will look to sweep the three-game series Sunday at 2 p.m, with both teams not announcing who they planned to start as of yet.
Thompson surmises that his team has just not been ready to play at game time and Arkansa has been.
“Just a difference in the two games here – and it is okay to just call it out – is we are not playing at game time,” Thompson said. “Arkansas is playing at game time.
“…At game time, we are not playing defense, pitching or getting the barrel in position either one. That is the difference in the ball game. These scores are a little more spread out and they won all three categories again today.
“But it is close enough that if you could get a barrel in position when it matters, if you can make a pitch when it matters or walks, HBPs and errors are coming together and it is our mismanagement of not handling the baseball is really, for me, the difference in these games in these two day and why we are 0-2 in this series is simply at game time.
“Arkansas has performed at game time. We have not.”
Photo bypass John D. James