BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
Arkansas’ baseball team headed home from Starkville on Sunday with quite a few parting gifts.
The No. 12 Razorbacks’ 11-6 win over Mississippi State gave them a weekend sweep of the Bulldogs, 7 straight SEC wins, the Western Division lead and a tie for the league’s overall lead.
Arkansas (36-12, 17-7) is tied with Vanderbilt (34-13, 17-7) atop the SEC and a half-game ahead of West foe and No. 1 LSU (37-10, 16-7), who lost two of three to Auburn this weekend.
“Yeah, the team’s kind of unreal to be honest with you,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. “They just believe they can win and they just show up. That’s what I said yesterday. They show up every day to play and they think they can win.
“If you don’t think you can win, you’re not going to win as many as you should. They did it this weekend now, but I mean, we’re obviously all happy with where we are.
“We’re just trying to win today. Try not to worry about everybody else. The guys are getting ready to finish up some school this week and now we’ve got South Carolina coming in that struggled (got swept) at Kentucky. So I’m sure we’ll get their best shot next weekend.”
Brady Slavens hit a 3-run homer – one of his three blasts this weekend and his eighth of the season to put Arkansas up in the 3-0 in the third inning.
Jace Bohrofen’s two-out, 0-2, bases-loaded, bases-clearing double in the fourth surged the Razorbacks back ahead 6-3 after at the Bulldogs plated three in the bottom off the third to tie it.
Kendall Diggs’ grand slam in the fifth – his 10th homer run of the season – was followed immediately by Bohrofen’s team-leading 13th blast as the visitors scored five to push their leads to 11-4.
The Razorbacks were without a trio of injured starters that are the normal top three in the batting line up in Tavian Josneberger, Peyton Stovall and Jared Wegner.
All may be able to play next weekend’s series when No. 3 South Carolina (36-11, 14-9) visits Fayetteville per Van Horn.
Bohrofen noted Arkansas was overcoming injuries like a lot of SEC teams are facing.
“I think that kind of speaks to our team,” Bohrofen said. “We have a lot of talented kids on the team. It’s not just us fighting injuries. It’s all over the league, you know? I know some other teams are banged up.
“But it’s how the guys come off the bench and help you, it’s kind of what they do when you don’t have your starters out there. I think we’ve done a really good job of just contributing and stacking quality at bats and having quality outings on the staff as well.”
Arkansas took Friday night’s game 6-2 when three pitchers combined to limit Mississippi State to three hits, routed the Bulldogs 14-2 on Saturday using just two pitchers and then finished them off Sunday with a trio of hurlers.
“I don’t know, just excited to get out of here with all three games,” Van Horn said. “Came down here a little beat up again, just playing guys that hadn’t played much all year and it seemed like they just kept making good plays in the field, advancing runners and helping the team win.
“I thought we did a great job hitting with two outs. I think we might have scored just about all our runs with two outs.”
Indeed Arkansas scored all 11 of runs with two outs.
The first five came off Mississippi State starting pitcher Jurrangelo Cijntje (3-4), who is ambidextrous.
“It just was a great day for us, having a chance to come out here and sweep,” Van Horn said. “Facing a really good pitcher with an incredible arm. I guess he throws with both arms, which is really amazing.
“We got his pitch count up and fouled off a lot of pitches and put up some big swings with, like I said, two outs and runners on, drove in a lot of runs there. Pitching, they held them down. Good offense and they held them down, all weekend really.”
Hunter Hollan started and allowed 4 runs on 4 hits while fanning 3 and walking 3 in innings before turning it 3 2/3 innings before turing it over to over to Cody Adcock, who gave two runs and got the next four outs.
“… His stuff was a lot better,” Van Horn said of Hollan. “He was missing, but he was just missing. I mean, it was a ball or two off. It’s not like it was a foot off.
“He got himself into trouble. He got behind and that’s usually when they got him. It’s almost like he was a little rusty. I think we were all encouraged by what he saw, really good stuff but maybe just not quite the command he had maybe three or four weeks ago. I’m guessing we’ll see the command next weekend.”
Senior pitcher Zack Morris (1-3) continued his reemergence with three scoreless and hitless innings and then freshman Parker Coil got the last three out of the game.
“It seems like a month ago, that game we lost in (North) Little Rock,” Van Horn said of a 9-7 Tuesday night loss to Liberty. “I guess that was last Tuesday. Seems like a couple of weeks ago. I thought Zack threw extremely well.
“So that’s maybe the beauty of a mid-week game, even though you don’t win it, you get to see some things and get some guys out there. He threw really well.
“The thing a lot of people don’t know is we had him up and down in the bullpen a couple of times this weekend. So he threw a lot of pitches this weekend. Not just the ones you saw in the game, but getting up, pitching, not coming in, not coming in. Cause we had him hot last night until we got the last out. Just a really good job of Zack really helping us out today.”
Morris knows his team needs him to be a main cog in the past.
“ I just continued to build the confidence I’ve had in the previous outings, just trying to get things rolling ‘cause this team needs it. I need it too, but this team needs it more. With a few pitchers going down, just got to find a way to step up and help this team win.
“…I mean it’s huge. Like you said, I’ve had a rollercoaster season so far and just couldn’t really find a groove earlier in the year, but this is where you want to get your team hot.
“It’s this time of the year, so I’m just trying to find my way into this staff again, trying to be a reliable arm and then just trying to stack up quality outings.”
Mississippi State, who won the 2021 national championship, lost its seventh game in a row.
“We don’t make enough pitches,” Mississippi State head coach Chris Lemonis said. “We don’t make enough plays. Don’t get enough hits. I think all 11 runs score with two outs. We’ve got a chance to get off the field. We’re a lot of positive counts, trying to waste pitches, we end up throwing a pitch for them to hit.
“Two of the innings when they score double-digit runs, we have double play balls, where you can get off the field. And we don’t make them. On the flip side, they make them.
“Last night, we dropped the pop ups. They’re fighting. They’re almost fighting too hard. They showed up today to play and gave a great effort, we’re just not playing good enough. That comes back to the coach. We’ve got to figure it out and move forward.”