BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON AND ABBY GRACE HENRY
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – With front-running Arkansas poised to take its second SEC overall championship in three years, Vanderbilt uncharacteristically came to Hawkins Field bearing gifts on Friday night.
The No, 2 Razorbacks used four early errors by the 12th-ranked Commodores to jump out to a 7-0 lead after four innings in what turned into an 8-2 runaway in the opener of a three-game series.
It was the eighth win in nine league games for Arkansas (39-13, 20-8) and moved it’s magic number to one to clinch a share of the SEC title and two take the undisputed crown as Florida and LSU also won on Thursday.
“I just think they (the Razorbacks) came out and kind of played the way they have been,” Van Horn said. “Very confident, loose, not worrying about what everybody else is doing. Just play baseball.
“Really just tried to take care of business tonight, try to do it again tomorrow. I really like what I saw, really good approach.”
Peyton Holt had three hits, including a two-run single in eighth, while Brady Slavens homered and Caleb Cali a two-run single for Arkansas.
Jared Wegner returned to the Razorback line up for the first time in over a month after a thumb injury and was hit twice and scored two runs while going 0-of-3.
Arkansas pitchers Hagen Smith (8-1) and Will McEntire (second save) combined to limit Vanderbilt to only six hits.
Smith went the first five innings and allowed two runs on five hits, fanning seven and walking two while McEntire finished up with four innings of one-hit baseball with six strikeouts and no free passes.
Vandy came into the game 11-1 at home in league games and 23-5 overall at Hawkins Field.
“Just a great job by our pitching staff,” Van Horn said. “I thought Hagen did a tremendous job going through a tough lineup. They’re really good at home. They’ve been good at home all year.
“Even when we had a 7-0 lead we knew they’d make a run at us. They did a little bit. I thought Will came in and did a tremendous job. He threw a lot of strikes. He didn’t walk anyone. I think he ended up with six strikeouts.
“On the offensive end, man we took advantage of everything they gave us. They walked us. They made errors. We got a couple of big two-out hits and we just kept adding to the lead. So it was a good win.”
Holt, who has filled in for the injured Peyton Stovall (torn labrum) the past three weeks, had three of his team’s seven hits, a walk and saved at least a couple of runs with some great glove work.
“He did a great job,” Van Horn said. “I mean, offensively, three hits, scored a run. Saved a couple of runs with his glove. I don’t know, he just had a great game. It’s nice having somebody down there in the bottom third of the order starting rallies and also driving in runs.”
Holt, who is 9 of hit last 14 at the plate, is just taking a next-man-up mentality.
“I mean it sucks how it happened, prayers out to Stovall, hope everything goes good with his recovery,” Holt said. “But I mean it’s my spot now, and I’ve just got to do everything I can to play my butt off and help the team win in any way I can, and just keep playing hard.
“…Any time you lose a player for the season, I mean it’s… I felt for him. At least he’s young, so he’s going to be back next year, be stronger, be better. I felt for him, but then I had to kind of focus up, like, ‘Okay, now I’ve got to go step in and do my job that he was doing before me.’”
Arkansas’ win game it 20 SEC games ones for just the fourth time since entering the SEC in 1991.
“Yeah, 20 in this league is tough, really tough to get to,” Van Horn said. “Yeah, that’s a big number. I heard somebody mention it on the bus, one of the coaches. It’s something
“… At first, you just try to get to 15. You get to 15, you feel like you’ve got a chance to be in a Regional. Anything after that might lead to having a chance to win something.”
Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin’s team lost its fourth straight and its sixth in seven SEC contests.
It booted the ball at the most inopportune times.
“Well, we just didn’t play well in any category,” Corbin said. “We didn’t get off to a good start and we just did ourselves in too many times and you can’t do that with a good team. We put guys, too many guys, on base.”
Vanderbilt, without is two injured starters only got 1 2/3 innings from opener Patrick Reilly, who allowed five runs on two hits, but walked six and saw his defense let him down.
Sam Hiboki come in and pitched 5 1/3 innings of relief while allowing four hits, three runs, fanning seven and giving up a two-out, run-scoring wild pitch.
“We pitched really well after that second inning, but we still didn’t play well enough to win the game,” Corbin said.
“…That is not us, trust me. We have got to flush that quick. We have just got to get into some kind of positive activity where they can start feeling better about themselves.
“They are young kids and they are pressing. I can see it, you can see it. That’s not us.
“They are human beings. They don’t want to play like that. That is uncharacteristic of how they played all year. That’s not representative of Vanderbilt and who they are.”Corning was impressed with the efforts of Smith and McEntire.
“Hagen Smith is real,” Corbin said. “That’s a really good arm, a really competitive kid.
“McEntire is an executor. His breaking ball is real too, the kid is tough you’ve kinda got to wait him out. But they pitch well, they pitch well.”
Arkansa and Vanderbilt will meet Friday at 7 p.m. on the SEC Network and at 2 p.m. on Saturday on SEC Network +.
The match up will likely feature Arkansas’ Brady Tygart (2-0, 2.92) and Vanderbilt’s Devin Futtrell (6-3, 2.93).
“Yeah I have confidence, I have a lot of believability in the spirit and the fibers of the team, we’ve worked very hard,” Corbin said. “This is a team that comes out between games and puts a lot of effort into what they’re doing and they execute well. Now it’s the transformation of the game because they do care and I don’t worry about them.”
Photo courtesy of the University of Arkansas