BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
With his team having suffered a humbling 12-1 home loss to Alabama on Friday night and being no-hit through three innings on Saturday, Arkansas and its weekend diamond fortunes were looking pretty bleak.
But after rallying for a 9-6 win on Saturday and 5-4 one on Sunday, the No. 6 Razorbacks (23-5, 6-3) found themselves with a series win and in a first-place tie with LSU in the SEC Western Division race.
The bounce back left Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn with growing respect for his team.
“I thought they had some serious attitude yesterday and I loved it,” Van Horn said. “ They were quiet and intense and we elevated our game yesterday. Today, they came out maybe a little bit looser, but you could tell the focus was there and they were going to fight, and they knew what we were up against.”
What they were against was Alabama left handed starter Grayson Hitt, who was presented with a 2-0 lead in the top of the first of the series-deciding contest.
But Arkansas had tied it by the end of the the first, eventually took a 4-3 lead on Jared Wegner’s two-run homer in the fifth and scored the winning run in the sixth on Parker Rowland’s RBI single.
“A really good lefty (Hess) that, you know, projected to be a high pick in the draft, draft eligible this year, he’s got a good arm, good mechanics, throws strikes for the most part, and they knew that when we got an opportunity, we needed to score,” Van Horn said. “Got his pitch count up pretty quick, and that allowed us to get to the bullpen.”
Speaking of the bullpen, the Razorback one did yeoman’s work with Cody Adcock (3 1/3 innings) coming in to replace starter Ben Bybee in the first inning and Dylan Carter (3 2/3) and Gage Wood (1 1/3) finishing things while allowing just two more outs.
“Well, bullpen was great,” Van Horn said. “We would’ve got swept if it wasn’t for the bullpen. I love good starting pitching, but the bullpen, that’s going to determine if you have a good team or not, because the games are won seven through nine. Seventh, eighth and ninth innings, that’s when games are
“…If you can’t stop people, you’ve got a little lead there, you can’t stop people and you get your starter out, it’s demoralizing, and what Smith did yesterday and Carter and Adcock and Wood did today, you couldn’t have drawn it up any better, looking back on it.”
Wegner’s blast was his team-leading 12th home run and boosted his RBI total to Razorback best 43 on a day he went 2 of 4.
It also extend Arkansas’ streak with a home run to 23 consecutive contests.
Alabama head coach Brad Bohannon, whose team had 22 hits in his rout on Friday and who was ejected in Saturday’s game, knows his team let a series slip away.
“It’s a tough one when you have a chance to win a signature series on the road against a top five opponent,” Bohannon said. “We just needed to make one more pitch or get one more big hit.
“We did a lot of good things this weekend, competed really, really well and unfortunately it just wasn’t quite enough to win a series.”
Bohannon, who led a mock Hog Call after getting ejected on Saturday and was greeted with one by the Arkansas faithful while turning the line up on Sunday, knows the Crimson Tide (23-6, 3-5) missed a great opportunity.
He also credited Arkansas fans with getting their team to the finish line.
“A couple of our guys look tight early and I would even tell you that Arkansas’ fans won the series,” Bohannon said. “Once Grayson got through the first he settled down and put up some zeros and gave us a chance to score even though we didn’t until he came out.
“You know, you just can’t give a really good team free base runners and 90 feet and we did that a couple of times today.
Alabama has faces a tough early season SEC gauntlet.
“It is time for us to take a step forward,” Bohannon said. “We have played a really good schedule. We could take a lot of teams across the country and go to Florida, play Kentucky at home and go to Arkansas and it is hard to have a winning record in that scenario. But it doesn’t get a lot easier when you look at the next couple of weeks going forward.
“Again, we are doing a lot of good things and we have just got to play a little bit cleaner, get one more hit, make one more pitch and it needs to start on Tuesday night.”
Van Horn raved about winning pitcher Carter (4-0), who also pitched three scoreless innings on Saturday and then tune it over to Wood as he got the last four outs for his first college save.
“Cody Adcock, great job,” Van Horn said. “Dylan Carter was the man, though. I mean, Dylan came in and did a tremendous job going through that tough order, left, right. Super job.
This is a guy that threw…(Saturday) and threw 27 pitches I think. He throws another 60-something (63). We just thought it was time to get him out.”
Carter was willing to pitch as long as he needed to do so.
“I told them before the game, I was like ‘I feel better today than I did yesterday. Give me the ball whenever, and I’ll take it however long you need me for,’” Carter said.
Wood has bounced back since a tough college debut against TCU in the College Baseball Showdown in Arlington, Texas.
“Yeah, they helped tremendously,” Wood said. “I got thrown out there in probably the biggest crowd that I’ll see as a freshman our second game of the year against TCU, and it did not go well at all for me. I think that kind of made me better and stronger as a player. I just kind of had to fight through some adversity. It helped a lot and made me grow as a pitcher.”
Van Horn said that the experience got Wood ready for a spot like Sunday.
“I think all the outings leading up to today helped (Wood) get ready for today,” Van Horn said. “I mentioned that after the game to the team. You’re going to have your ups and downs preseason. Maybe throw them out there here and there and I remember the first time he got the ball, when I went out and got the ball from him he looked super nervous. But I knew he would be.
“I think that was in front of a ton of people down there in Arlington. But we threw him out there to get him ready for something like this, because these are the games that really matter.”
Arkansas hosts Arkansas State Tuesday night at 6 p.m.