BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
Backed by what Eastern Illinois head coach Jason Anderson called maybe the best-pitched game in his program’s history, the Panthers got out of Fayetteville without getting swept.
Australian Ky Matthews-Hampton pitched seven solid innings while allowing just three hits and the Panthers bats exploded late in a 12-3 victory over Arkansas Sunday afternoon at Baum-Walker Park.
Ryan Ignoffo and Cole Gober both homered as Eastern Illinois avoided a three-game sweep by Arkansas by scoring 11 unanswered runs to end the game.
“Man, our bats finally came alive,” Anderson said. “We’d been sleeping for five straight games. I know we are going to have a good offensive club, but it just kind of clicked there, we ran into some balls, got some momentum and they say hitting is contagious. We had been waiting for that for five or six games.”
Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn was understandably not pleased with his team’s play after starting pitcher Hunter Hollan pitched solidly enough for the home team to take a 3-1 lead into the sixth.
Hollan went 5 2/3 innings while allowing six hits, two runs, fanning four and walking a pair – both coming in a 30-pitch first inning.
“Yeah, after the first inning (where) I didn’t know where anything was going, had to slow down and just work to the glove,” Hollan said. “Really the biggest thing, I just told the catcher ‘Hey, just set up middle, and we’re going to get ahead.’
“Once I started doing that, I got a feel for some pitches. The changeup was really the difference-maker, just starting out first-pitch changeup to get them off the fastball, and then just getting ahead in the count later in the game.”
The Panthers (4-2) scored a run in the sixth against Hollan and then added four two-out runs in the seventh and six in the eighth against veteran relievers Cody Adcock and Zack Morris and true freshmen Gage Wood and Parker Coil.
Freshman Cooper Dossett pitched a scoreless ninth for the Raorbacks, but the damage was done.
“…Just some really, really big mistakes made as far as the count, 1-2, 0-2, giving up home run balls on elevated breaking balls that are supposed to be in the dirt, supposed to be chase-type pitches,” Van Horn said. “It all happened with two outs, I think. I think most of their runs early happened with two outs. But credit to them. They came out swinging and they got after it. They pitched extremely well. We didn’t pitch very well at all after we took Hunter Hollan out.
“Towards the end, we just basically put those freshmen out there and gave them another opportunity and some of them did the same thing they did last weekend, which was not throw the ball over the plate.”
Anderson was worried that only getting a run in the first against Hollan, who left the bases loaded, was going to haunt his team.
“He just settled in,” Anderson said. “We had him and just to get some breathing room is what we had been waiting for and we didn’t get it there. So I was a little worried what that was going to do to us and he started cruising and shut us down.
“We got it back and kept it going there at end, but that was a concerning moment for me because the momentum really shifted once he got out of that.”
Hollan had a stretch where he retired 12 of 13 batter and 8 in a row at one point.
Gober’s first of two homers on the came against Hollan in the sixth and cut it to 3-2 before Adcockj replaced Hollan and worked out of a two-on, two-out jam.
Chris Worcester tied it with a two-out RBI double off losing pitcher Adcock (0-1) in the seventh before Ignoffo followed with a two-run blast and Gober a solo shot to put the visitors up 6-3.
“I just got a pitch out over the plate and put a really good swing on it,” Ignoffo said. “That was a great feeling for us to finally break through this weekend.”
That was all the Panthers would need to make a winner of Matthews-Hampton, who turned the game over too Ignoffo and Zane Robbins after that.
“Unbelievable,” Anderson said. “Senior leader, just goes out and pitches and competes. We got the leadoff guy out 9 innings in a row. It’s very, very hard to do.
“…It might have been the best pitch game in the history of the program.”
“Honestly I went out there and kind of just blacked out,” Matthews-Hampton said. “I feel like it went pretty well. I had my sinker working early and I kind of just rode that, and when they started to get on that I just switched to try to keep them off balance, and it seemed to work well.”
Anderson was hired at Eastern Illinois in 2015 his game as head coach was a loss at Arkansas.
The former Illinois All-American and New York Yankees pitcher admitting winning at Arkansas – where the Razorbacks were 34-2 all time against the Panthers entering Sunday – was a little more special than at some other places.
“Yes, it does,” Anderson said. “It means a lot. This kids get overlooked a lot. We come and work every single day and to come down here and to be in this atmosphere and face a talented team that is as well coached as they group is – and to come out with a win…Our goal is just to play good baseball and see what happens and that is what we did this weekend.”
The Razorbacks downed the Panthers 13-2 on Friday and 10-3 on Saturday.
“They definitely played us very tough all three games,” Van Horn said. “Maybe if you look at the…you’ll see the final score in Game 1 and Game 2 and you weren’t here, you think oh you know, got after them pretty good.
“But realistically, those games were tight until just about the sixth, seventh, I know the eighth yesterday when we blew it open. I thought they gave us a great test. We got to feel a little bit of heat of them making a run at us, challenging us to win the game.”
Van Horn, who who won his 800th and 801st games at Arkansas this weekend, felt like the series was a learning one for his team.
“I just feel like that as a coaching staff you learn a little bit about your players, how they can handle it,” Van Horn said. “And that’s probably the best thing that happened this weekend for me is I got to see some younger guys pitch. Some may be ready, some aren’t.
“Got to see some older guys pitch that aren’t pitching very good right now that have been on the team for a few years. That’s got to change. We’ve got to have those guys step it up a little bit. I still believe that our offense is going to be pretty good. We weren’t very good today, but we have been pretty consistent.”
Arkansas has a Wednesday game with Illinois State (4-3) at 3 p.m. and then hosts Wright State (2-5) Friday and Saturday at 3 p.m. and at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
Illinois State beat Arkansas State on Friday and Saturday in Jonesboro before falling 14-10 to the Red Wolves on Sunday.
“Illinois State coming in Wednesday, they’ll be every bit as good as Eastern Illinois,” Van Horn said. “Veteran team. They’re winning. And then the team that we have coming in this weekend is a team that’s been to a regional a little bit. They’re not scared. I know they beat Kentucky yesterday. I don’t know how it went today.
“We’ve got to find a few more pitchers. Right now we’ve got about four guys, maybe four and a half, that we can go to. And after that, it hasn’t gone great.”
Photo by John D. James