This week saw the Diamond Hogs back at Baum for a mid-week series against South Dakota St. and a weekend series against Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In theory, these opponents should have been little more than warmup, but that wasn't necessarily the case, with plenty of tense situations and even a head-scratching loss.
The Hogs split the SDSU series 1-1, despite outscoring the Jackrabbits 23-5. The Hogs got on the board first in Game 1, when Collin Kuhn's single scored Matt Vinson in the second, that would be all the offensive production the Hogs could manage until the very end. Starting pitcher Sam Murphy would get into a major jam in the 4th, giving up a HBP, a single, and a 2-RBI double before being pulled for Jason Fuqua without recording an out. SDSU would add another run in the 6th. Down to their final 3 outs, the Hogs would attempt a rally, to no avail. A Zack Cox walk, a single by Tim Carver, and pinch-hitter Matt Reynolds getting plunked loaded the bases with no outs. Kuhn strikes out looking, PH Brett Eibner's pop-out drives in one run, and Jarrod McKinney strikes out swinging to end the Hog rally and seal the SDSU victory, 3-2.The Hogs' offensive production returned in Game 2. Zack Cox knocks a 2-run shot in the first, and Kuhn added his own solo shot in the second. Starting pitcher Randall Fant did his job well through 3 innings, striking out 3 and giving up no runs or hits. Reliever woes reminiscient of the Cal series returned, as TJ Forrest allows 3 hits and 2 runs to score in the 4th before being pulled after only getting 2 outs. The Hogs started playing "small ball" in the 4th, with Bo Bigham's single scoring Kyle Robinson after Robinson advanced to second on Carver's ground out and then to third on a wild pitch. Kuhn would get his own RBI in the 6th, scoring Carver on a sacrifice groundout. Andy Wilkins kept the ball rolling with his own 2-RBI double two batters later. Bo Bigham came through again in the 7th, hitting a 3-run, bases-load double with no outs. Bigham scored on the next play with Matt Vinson's sac fly. Armed with a 11-run lead, the Hogs wouldn't let up and really sealed the deal in the 8th, which saw the Razorback offense torch SDSU reliever Spinar for 7 hits, 10 runs, 5 earned. You read that right: 10 runs. Hogs earn the series split, 23-2, with Fant taking the W and Baxendale the save.
Game 1 of the UWM series began to look like it was going to be a let down. Hogs and Panthers traded runs for most of the game and end up tied 6-6 at the end of the 6th. Starting pitcher Mike Bolsinger had a disappointing outing, giving up 8 hits, 6 runs, 5 earned, and only 4 Ks through 5.1 innings. Despite being tied, the Hogs had been unable to limit UWM's production, who took advantage of every opportunity they were given. Yet again, though, a late inning push blows the game open. Bo Bigham's single in the 7th plates Eibner and James McCann, Zach Cox's single plates Bigham and Carver, and after Andy Wilkins is walked to load the bases, McCann launches a grand slam to tear the game open and run UWM reliever Franzke off the mound. Through 1.1 innings, Franzke gave up 9 earned runs, single-handedly turning his 1.29 season ERA to 11.11. Ouch. UWM wouldn't score another run, and the Hogs win 14-6.
Game 2 was a decidely less nerve-wracking event, as the Hogs shutout the Panthers and scored much more consistently. Bo Bigham's double scored Monk Kreder, who had doubled himself 2 batters earlier, in the 2nd. Collin Kuhn's lead-off homer in the third would extend the lead to 2. A UWM error in the 7th puts Matt Vinson on third, and he scores on the next play with Kuhn's sac fly, running UWM starter Pierce off the mound; his reliever promptly gives up a single to Zack Cox and an Andy Wilkins homer to push the lead to 5-0. Later in the inning, Kreder's single plates McCann. After Tim Carver is plunked, loading the bases, UMW reliever Annen is shelved after giving up 4 unearned runs and not recording a single out. Bo Bigham's popout on the next play would end the damage for the Panthers. This game signaled Smyly's return to form, although against admittedly weak competition: 4 hits, no earned runs, and 11 Ks through 7 innings. The last of the Hog runs would come in the 8th, with Eibner driving a run home after reaching on an error. Despite the lopsided score , this game could have been a huge blowout. The Hogs left the bases loaded 3 times this game, in the 4th, 7th, and 8th innings. Smyly gets the win, Baxendale the save, and the Hogs clinch the series.
Game 3 was a tense one, again, and fairly uneventful until the late innings. Starting pitcher Eibner would get in a jam in the 4th, letting a run score and loading the bases before being replaced by Geoffry Davenport, who got quickly got the third out of the inning. Eibner ends a disappointing outing with 6 hits, 1 unearned run, and 2 Ks in 3.2 innings. The Hogs would fall behind 2-0 after Davenport gives up a solo shot in the 6th. Down to their final 2 outs, the Hogs rally to tie the game. Bigham's single scores Kuhn, and Zack Cox scores on a wild pitch to tie the game. McCann would ground out to end the inning, but not before the Hogs got new life for extra innings. With two outs in the bottom of the 10th, Matt Vinson hits a walkoff solo shot to clinch the series sweep. Hogs win 3-2 in 10 innings.
Hogs have a minor set-back against SDSU, but I think it will be better in the long run. The out-of-conference schedule is for fixing kinks in the system before SEC play starts, and you can't fix kinks that aren't readily apparent. Hogs move to 12-3 on the season, and Rivals bumps the Razorbacks up to 13th. So far this season, Zack Cox is batting .410, and Andy Wilkins leads the team in homers with 6. Freshman Matt Vinson, who just earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors, is batting a paltry .188, but he's been incredibly clutch big hitter. Out of his 3 hits, he has mananged to hit 2 triples (one a game-tying triple) and a walk-off solo shot. Drew Smyly has been impressive, thus far, averaging over 1.5 Ks per inning. The relievers need to work on not giving up runs, and their "small ball" efforts are improving, but could still use some work. You can bet these will be points of emphasis this week.
No mid-week series this week, but that's just as well, as the Hogs have to travel to the not-so-friendly confines of Alex Box Stadium this weekend for a series against (formerly #1, now #8) LSU to start SEC play, and perhaps get a little revenge for LSU's domination of the Diamond Hogs during the 2009 CWS. The Tigers were beaten convincingly by Kansas over the weekend. Wasn't that the same Kansas team that Arkansas blew out earlier in the season? Not really; that was a midweek game, and all it proved was that the Razorback mid-week staff is superior to Kansas'. LSU's performance against Kansas means two things: the Tigers aren't invincible... and they'll probably extra motivated to not drop two consecutive weekend series. It should be noted that the LSU is the run-away favorite to win the SEC this season, with Arkansas and Florida neck-and-neck for the second spot. A road win against the Bayou Bengals could easily put us in the driver's seat in the SEC. My "sources" (read: message boards) say that LSU ace Anthony Ranaudo, who's been injured and hasn't pitched at all this season, may still be out for this series. If you're interested, this series will be televised by CST. With basketball season over (though, the drama certainly isn't), and spring practice still a few weeks off, I think we can all muster up some LSU hate and get behind the Diamond Hogs for this series. Woo Pig Sooie!