BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
Auburn head baseball coach Butch Thompson summed up his team’s lost weekend at red-hot Arkansas pretty clearly on Sunday.
“…If you come to Arkansas and score five runs on the weekend, it is going to be a challenging weekend,” Thompson said. “…We’ve experienced success and now we have been kicked in the teeth.”
That’s exactly what happened, culminating with the Razorbacks’ 13th straight win – a 5-0 victory over the Tigers on Sunday that completed a weekend sweep.
Arkansas (18-2, 3-0) won 7-2 on Friday and 9-3 on Saturday to put itself in position to sweep, something that Razorback head coach Dave Van Horn deemed important.
Cody Adcock made it three straight Arkansas pitchers with six-inning quality starts that shut down the Tigers (13-6-1, 0-3).
“Well, like we told the guys yesterday and then again today,” Van Horn said, “…after you win the first couple of games, you’ve got a chance to sweep, then mentally you’ve gotta flip it to ‘Hey, this is a one-game series, we need to win this game.’
“That’s how important the games are. You’ve got to get them when you can because this league’s tough and you can run into somebody that’s hot or you’re not playing good or whatever the case may be. It’s just kind of the way the game works.”
SEC Western Division leader Arkansas joined Eastern Division programs Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Kentucky and Missouri as the five SEC teams to get a sweep on opening weekend.
Defending national champion Ole Miss joined Mississippi State, Auburn, Georgia and No. 2 Tennessee (15-6) – who lost a trio of games at Missouri – in going 0-3.
The 13-game winning streak is Arkansas’ longest in one season since 2010 and the Razorbacks 16-1 with one game left on its 18-game homestead.
“It’s a long season and we’re excited about getting off to a good start, but we know we have a lot of work ahead of us,” Van Horn said.
Jared Wegner’s 470-foot, three-run homer in the second inning proved to be more than enough runs for a quartet of Arkansas pitchers that combined to blank the Tigers.
The homer was Wegner’s ninth and pushed his RBI total to 33 – numbers that lead the team in those two categories – and he doesn’t; believe he had ever launched one that far.
“No, I don’t think so,” Wegner said. “I definitely think I got every piece of that baseball right there, so it’s fun.”
Van Horn was reminded of former Razorback Matt Goodheart’s 471-footer in March of 2020, the longest one measured at Baum-Walker Stadium.
“The only difference is, Matt’s disappeared on the building,” Van Horn said. “So it was probably a pretty good guesstimation there, I don’t know, by that technology. I stopped watching it once I knew it went out of the park.
“I knew that he crushed it. But yeah, it was a hit a long way, that’s for sure. He got jammed his previous at bat on a fastball, and I think that he kind of guessed right on that one. Got him another one and he was definitely on time.”
A strong start by Adcock, his first major college one in two years, set the tone as he pitched six scoreless innings while allowing just one hit, fanning six and walking one.
It was not only the first start of the 2023 season for Adcock but also his first major college start since appearing against the Razorbacks while at Ole Miss in the 2021 SEC Tournament.
“That’s kind of cool,” Adcock said. “Honestly, coming into this game, I knew that was my only other start that was big. And so, I was thinking about that. I actually watched the highlights of that game the other night. I was like ‘Man, I’ve gotten so much better since then, so I should be able to handle these guys.”
Austin Ledbetter pitched two innings and Gage Wood got an out in the ninth before Hagen Smith got his second save in three days by getting the final two outs.
“I thought our pitchers manned up and did a great job today,” Van Horn said. “When you go into Sunday in the situation we’re in with a little bit of our experience and depth and things like that with the injuries.
“We were hoping to get at least four out of Cody, we got six. His fifth and sixth might’ve been his better innings, but pitch count was getting up. Needed nine outs. We knew what we had left in the bullpen. So gave it up to Ledbetter, he gave us a couple of innings and obviously we finished it up.”
Van Horn thought Adcock, who spent last season at Neosho (Mo.) Crowder College, was more consistent in throwing quality pitches on Sunday than he had been.
“I felt like he didn’t have nearly as many bad misses,” Van Horn said. “ He had a lot of close pitches. Maybe in the first inning or second inning he hung a pitch when he was ahead in the count.
“Other than that, he got it together and he pitched like he was in command. They’ve got good hitters. They’re going to square up some balls. I liked his confidence out there and just the way he just kept attacking the zone. He just (did a) good job.”
Thompson felt like his team not being sharp at the plate helped Adcock who retired the last 10 batters he faced and allowed just two base runners.
“I just don’t think we are swinging it very well so I think they got two or three extra innings out of a reliever’s good fortune,” Thompson said. “He threw it really good and the biggest thing he did as he just didn’t walk us.
“He had kind of a two-pitch mix as a reliever, but he got extended there because we just could not get the big hit early. So he did a good job shortening the game and then of course Smith came back in and got the last two outs.”
The aforementioned blast was disappointing according to Thompson after his team had kept Wegner (.386) and teammate Jace Bohrofen (.406) in check through most of the weekend.
“Werner and Bohrofen, those two lethal hitters for them with just a amazing numbers and averages and home runs, we had held them at bay,” Thompson said. “ But Wegner got his big swing off today.
“Handling those guys in the middle of the line up for three days and doing a pretty good job, it was kind of disappointing that that happened today.”
Van Horn was frustrated his squad didn’t continue to pile on runs.
“It wasn’t a super pretty game by any means,” Van Horn said. “After four, we had a 5-0 lead. Really should’ve scored some more runs there. That was probably the only disappointing part of the day for me personally.
“Really proud of the team. First weekend out. Really cold temperatures. Showed up everyday and played well. Played really good defense today and really all weekend…Just a great weekend for us.
Thompson was left feeling as if his team just didn’t put forth its best effort.
“Kind of similar early on to the first two games except we just kind of steadied ourselves,” Thompson said. “We played much better today, but kind of got the same outcome.”
Auburn has a Tuesday game against South Alabama and will host Georgia beginning Thursday.
“We’ll just keep these guys working make some adjustments and see what we need to do to get back home and keep fighting and be ready to go in Montgomery on Tuesday (against South Alabama) and then welcome the Georgia Bulldogs on Thursday,” Thompson said.
Arkansas will host Southeast Missouri (10-12) Tuesday at 3 p.m. and then travel to No. 1 LSU (18-2, 2-1) for a three-game series beginning on Friday.
“Don’t know a whole lot about them,” Van Horn said of Southeastern Missouri State . “We’ll be working on that tonight and tomorrow. (Southeast Missouri head coach) Andy Sawyers is a former (Nebraska) catcher of mine. Trevor Ezell, a former (Arkansas) infielder. It’s a good combination.
“They got off to a really good start. I know they’ve been up and down a little bit. I know this weekend they were doing well. But I don’t know.
“We just have to look at this weather forecast, too. We have a lot of rain coming in, so we have to figure out that, so we’ll look at that tomorrow.”
Photo by John D. James