As Tennessee head baseball coach Tony Vitello noted, Arkansas redshirt senior first baseman Brady Slavens has done a lot of great “damage” during his time in Fayetteville.

Slavens added to that damage legacy Sunday with a three-run, two-out  triple in the second inning and the No. 5 Razorbacks used three freshmen pitchers to roll to a 7-2 win over the Vols before 10,625 fans at Baum-Walker Stadium.

His three-bagger knocked out  Tennessee starter Drew Beam (4-2), was one of Slavens’ four RBIs on the day and was the big blow as the Razorbacks (29-7, 11-4) completed a three-game sweep of Volunteers (23-13, 5-10).

The sweep came in front of 32,774 weekend fans and pushed Arkansas’ lead to over LSU (29-6, 9-5) to a game-and-a-half in the SEC Western Division.

The Razorbacks not lost a series to Tennessee since 2005 and not since 1996 in Fayetteville.

“It was just a big, big win for us, to finish this thing off,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. “Especially when we’re facing a pitcher who had been as hot as Beam had been.

“The guy has good stuff. Good breaking ball, good fastball, and he’d only walked nine all year. And we got his pitch count up, we fouled off a lot of pitches. I think he walked four or five.”

Slavens picked up something from Beam – who came in with a c-x record and x.xx ERA – that he immediately used to his advantage.

“Yeah, he was just starting out all the lefties with a breaking ball, and so I thought it might be a good idea to jump on it first pitch,” Slavens said.

“…I was thinking double, and then it kind of got stuck in the corner, so I decided to go to third.”

Vitello – a former Arkansas assistant under Dave Van who is now 1-9 against his mentor, thought about changing pitchers, but decided against it.

“Slavens is tough,” Vitello said. You talk about leaving a guy (Burns) in, that was the biggest at bat of the game and maybe if we got somebody different out there, he gets him out. But Slavens has done a lot of damage in his time here at Arkansas.”

Arkansas starter Ben Bybee pitched into the fourth inning before exiting in favor of fellow freshman Dylan Carter, who would pitch scoreless baseball for the next 4 1/3 innings.

Christian Foutch then got the last three outs in a series for Arkansas, who hosts UCA Tuesday and then hits the road to face Kentucky.

“Really, really gutsy performance by Dylan Carter,” Van Horn said. “I wasn’t sure exactly how many pitches [he had thrown],” Van Horn said. “I knew it was near 70. 

“We had him up and down a couple times yesterday, so that counts as pretty much pitching. We just felt like he kind of got better there in the eighth. We were thinking, ‘That’s probably it.’ He wanted to go back out, and he had a really quick eighth. I think he just ran out of gas.”

Foutch had thrown just  6 1/3 innings this season before Sunday.

“Obviously Christian came in,” Van Horn said. “He’s one of the younger guys we have left in the bullpen, but you’ve got to go with what your eyes tell you, what you see. And what we’ve been seeing is Christian has been throwing good, been throwing better than some other guys. He’s hard to hit.”

“He throws a heavy ball. You saw his velocity. He’s got a pretty good downer type split-finger pitch. He threw to Merritt there, and then he slipped him a fastball and he was probably sitting on that off-speed again, and he just threw that 96 right by him. That was a big out. He jammed the next hitter. 

Then obviously, even count he went with the fastball, or maybe full count (it was 3-2 to Dreiling) and he hit it hard. Stovall made a great play on.

As it turned out, Razorbacks got all the runs they would need in the first inning while taking a 3-0 lead and sending eight men to the plate.

Tavian Josenberger led off with a walk, stole second and raced home on a Peyton Stovall single. 

That was followed by two more walks, a Slavens’ sacrifice fly and a Caleb Cali run-producing single.

John Bolton open the bottom of the second with a single, Josenberger walked and Diggs was hit by a pitch before Slavens unleashed his triple that pushed it to 6-0 and ended the day for Beam.

Slavens and his teammates split a mid-week series with Little Rock – winning 21-5 on Tuesday and losing 11-4 on Wednesday.

Arkansas got the sweep despite missing injury left fielder Jared Wegner, who is hitting .351 and leading the Razorbacks in home runs (12) and RBIs (44).

“They may be dealing with it today,” Van Horn said. “There could be a decision made whether they want to go ahead and just let it heal exactly the way it is or if they need to go in and put a pin in there that will speed things up while it heals. 

“We’re thinking that we’ll get him back probably for maybe the last series of the season, at 100%.”

Tennessee had jumped out on solo home runs by Jared Dickey the last two days, but couldn’t do the same on Sunday.

“We had scored first the last couple of days,” Vitello said. “And it is not that you don’t ever want to score first. We didn’t today, but then putting up as many runs as they did early was tough for us.

“I didn’t notice a huge difference, but it kind of deflates your guys a little bit when expectations are so high and then you don’t meet them.

“So really it made it tough in general in the first inning.” 

Beam ended his pitching stint by going 1 2/3 innings and giving up six runs on four hits, four walk, hitting a batter and throwing 66 pitches, 33 of which were strikes.

“He didn’t throw in the strike zone,” Vitello said. “I don’t have many good answers for you. He is a pretty good pitcher, pretty good competitor, too. 

“So when they score runs, you left left them in too long and I don’t even know what the opposite of that is to be honest with you.”

Burns allowed just one run, a Josenberger home run that extend Arkansas streak to 32 of at last one home run in a game.

He had been an integral part of the Vols’ 57-9 squad last season, but has struggled this season.

Burns went 5 1/3 innings while allowing one run on three hits, fanning five, walking two and throwing a wild pitch.

“He came in and did great and that’s what you want out of a guy,” Vitello said. “It’s been kind of awkward for him. Certainly the results don’t speak to me on how he is throwing the the ball and the stuff he has. 

“I think today he came in and, really the whole weekend, he was more relaxed and just waiting for his chance to get the ball. He went out there and did what we asked.”

Vitello didn’t take any solace in the fact that his team kept all three games within reach.

“Carter threw the ball well,” Vitello said. “We were close on all those guys, but that doesn’t do you any good except, of course, in horse shows and hand grenades.

“We need to find a way to put together a big inning. I think we went the whole weekend without  one. Well, I think that is easy to say if you do the math. We went the whole weekend without having a big inning.

“The way you do that is to get guys on base, which we did, but then you pile on and you are able to hit with runners in scoring position and all that good stuff.”

No one expected Tennessee to be 5-10 start in the SEC at the mid-point of the conference season.

“To me, it is about us,” Vitello said. “The league, I don’t know where everybody stands, but we are just worried our dugout.

“The league will dictate that if you are .500, it was a phenomenal year.  And even a game under five hundred is something that you can hang your hat on. In this league, anything above that is phenomenal.

“We have work to do if we are going to get close to that mark. But I think it is more about us not playing as well as we can to be that far under .500 or however you want to describe it. 

“We have faced some really good teams.”

Vitello does not see the toughness that he did from his program last season.

“I worry about this team being tough enough,” Vitello said. “Tough enough that we all feel good about it…when we get on the bus and go home and lay your head on the pillow. That is what I want. That has been said indirectly and directly and that good stuff.

“This league will chew you up and spit you up if you are not tough, but baseball itself will do it, too. 

“At the end of the day, you want to be able to hang your hat on something. There is only going to one team that wins the last game of the year this year.

“So if it is hanging you hat on just wins and losses only, you are chasing a ghost.”

Feels like you have tried a lot of stuff and it is not working.

“You don’t want to make it a guessing game every day as to what is going one, but at the same time, you don’t want to stand still in one place.

“It is a group that likes to be active. I would to think our coaching staff is young – a lot of them by age, but also at least some of them by heart.  We are out here playing a kid’s game and we are trying to get a Rubik’s cube out and try to at least get the panels close on one side.”

Photo by John D. James