Diamond Hog Update: April 19 - "First Place in the SEC" Edition

Don't put your brooms away, folks.  After the previous week's demolition of St. Louis and sweep of the Mississippi State Bulldogs, the Hogs continued their winning ways last week.  The Diamond Hogs were a perfect 5-for-5 on the week, beginning with a mid-week sweep of a stout New Mexico club.  In fact, they were stouter than usual for a mid-week opponent; they threw their usual weekend starters for their games against the Razorbacks since their weekend opponent was a very poor Coppin St. team.  The Razorbacks followed this up with yet another SEC sweep, this time the over the hapless Georgia Bulldogs.  I said several weeks ago that the Hogs had a good chance to eclipse 30 wins by the time the travelled to Gainesville to face the Gators, and that mark was reached this weekend.  Not only that, the Diamond Hogs are on an 11-game win streak, the team has hit 10+ hits in a game for a school-record 16 straight games (and counting), and ace pitcher Drew Smyly tossed his first career complete game on Friday.  Oh, and the Hogs are now in sole possession of 1st place in the SEC.

For Game 1 of the New Mexico series, DJ Baxendale get the start.  Coach Van Horn want to use the opportunity to help Bax gain back some of his confidence after a few bad outings and to work on his pitching mechanics.  He does an admirable job through 5 innings, as he allows only 2 hits, no runs, and strikes out 5.  He's replaced by TJ Forrest in the 6th with both teams scoreless, and therefore isn't eligible for the win. The Razorbacks finally cross the plate in the bottom of the 6th, as Monk Kreder gets on base with a double and Travis Sample plates him with an RBI single.  Up to that point, the Hogs had left 6 runners in scoring position on the day.  Tim Carver follows that up with own double, and the Hogs finally run UNM's starter (who is part of their usual weekend rotation) off the mound.  After James McCann takes a HBP to load the bases, it looked like the Hogs were set to make a big run with Collin Kuhn at the plate, but Sample gets tagged at home trying to score on a wild pitch.  Forrest does pretty well through 2 innings, but lets the tying run score on a walk, a wild pitch, and a double, all with no outs.  This ends Forrest's day with 3 hits, 1 ER, and 1 K in 2 innings, as Mike Bolsinger comes in and promptly retires the next 3 batters.  The Hogs get a shot at a walk-off in the 9th, but Zack Cox's deep ball is quite deep enough, sending the game to extra with the score tied 1-all.  The Lobos strike first in the 10th, as Bolsinger loads the bases and lets a run score on a fielder's choice.  The tack on another run on a fielding error by Bo Bigham to go up 3-1.  The Hogs, though, battle back.  And Wilkins leads off with a walk, advanced to 2nd as Brett Eibner strikes out, Kreder hits a single to move him to 3rd, and Matt Vinson's single drives him home to cut the deficit to 1.  Tim Carver bunts to try to tie the game, but the Lobos make a fantastic play at the plate to put up the 2nd out.  Down to their last out, McCann, who's been in something of a hitting slump, notches his first hit of the day to score Vinson to tie the game.  Kuhn would strike out to end the inning, but the Hogs had earned another shot at getting the win.  Bolsinger is pulled in the 11th in favor of Jeremy Heatley.  Bolsinger has thrived in the reliever position, giving up 2 hits, 2 runs (1 unearned), and 3 Ks in 3 innings.  Heatley strikes out 2 Lobos, and McCann gets the 3rd out with a nice pickoff at 1st.  After shutting down the Lobos in the top of the 11th, it just felt like the Hogs would take the game in the bottom of the inning.  After singles by Bigham and Cox put runners on the corners, and Andy Wilkins is intentionally walked, Coach Van Horn calls for Thomas Hauskey to pinch hit.  You may remember Hauskey from his walk-off single against Alabama, and, like clockwork, he immediately comes through with the game-winning RBI single.  After some much needed heroics, the Hogs get the 4-3 win in 11 innings, with Heatley taking the victory.

Game 2 was a decidely less dramatic affair, although an equally narrow victory.  After going 0-5 during Game 1, Brett Eibner gets his swing back in the bottom of the 1st, as his 2-out double scores Zack Cox from 1st base.  Andy Wilkins draws a walk to put 2 men on, and Monk Kreder follows that up with an RBI single to score Eibner, as he extends his hitting streak to 16 games.  Back-to-back walks for Travis Sample and Tim Carver walk a run in to put the Hogs up 3-0.  Consecutive singles by Kreder, Sample, and Carver plate another run in the bottom of the 3rd.  Starting pitcher Geoffrey Davenport was on a pitch count, and Jordan Pratt relieves him in the 4th.  Davenport gives up 3 hits and no runs in 3 innings.  Pratt starts off shaky in the 4th, and Lobos get on the board with an RBI double.  Another run would score on a sacrifice groundout to halve deficit to 4-2.  The Hogs miss an opportunity in the bottom of the 4th, as Collin Kuhn successfully steals 2nd and 3rd with 1 out, but can't get batted in.  After giving up a lead-off double in the 5th, Pratt settles down and strikes out the side in one of his most dominant innings all year.  Pratt follows that up with a substantially less dominant 6th, as he allows the Lobos to tie the game at 4.  He's replaced by Christian Kowalchuk after only getting a single out.  Pratt ends the day with 5 hits, 4 ERs, and 5 Ks in 2.1 innings.  The Hogs retake the lead in the 6th on Zack Cox's RBI single.  That's all the lead the Hogs would need, though, as Kowalchuk doesn't allow a single Lobo on base in 3.2 innings to seal the 5-4 Arkansas victory.  The Diamond Hogs pick up a nice mid-week sweep against a quality New Mexico team, as Kowalchuk gets a much-deserved win.

For Game 1 of the Georgia series, I hope everyone tuned into the ESPN2 coverage.  It was the first time in a long time that I've heard anyone from ESPN heap such praise on any Arkansas program.  They had nothing but good things to say about the players, the fans, the facilities, ect.  It was some of the best national coverage we've had in a while.  Georgia takes an early lead on an RBI single in the 1st.  Another runner is knocked in after he steals 2nd and 3rd to put the Bulldogs up by 2.  That lead wouldn't last past the top half of the inning, though.  After Collin Kuhn singles and Bo Bigham is walked to put 2 on, Andy Wilkins crushes the first pitch he sees over the wall in center to put the Hogs up 3-2.  Zack Cox and Wilkins each add an RBI single in the 4th to push the score to 5-3.  After nailing a stand-up triple in the 5th, Travis Sample crosses the plate on a wild pitch.  Sample has been a huge contributor since being added to the lineup.  Bigham starts the 7th off with a single, and Cox scores him from 1st with an RBI double.  Then, after Cox steals 3rd, Eibner scores him with an RBI single to bring the Razorback lead to 6 runs.  And, at this point, Arkansas has had 10+ hits in a school-record 14-straigh games.  The Razorbacks add another run, pushing the score to 9-2, on Kuhn's RBI groundout in the 7th.  Starting pitcher Drew Smyly shows his defensive side in the 8th, as he pulls off the rare 1-3 DP to end the inning.  Smyly gets a little sloppy in the top of the 9th, letting two Bulldogs on base, but finally gets Georgia to hit into a game-ending DP, cementing the Razorback's 10-2 win.  Smyly tosses first complete game of his career to get the win, giving up 8 hits, 2 ER, 7 Ks, and no walks in a full 9 innings.

Game 2 started out similarly to Game 1, as Georgia strikes first, albeit helped out by a questionable call.  Zack Cox, who's playing 2B since Brett Eibner is pitching, gets a force out at 2nd, but fumbles the ball trying to make the DP at 1st.  Umpire calls it a drop and calls the runner at 2nd safe, erasing at least 1, and possibly 2, outs.  The next batter nails an RBI single.  In a repeat of Friday's performance, the Bulldog lead doesn't last past the top of the 1st inning - courtesy of Andy Wilkins, again.  With men on the corners, Wilkins knocks a 2-RBI double to score Collin Kuhn and Cox.  Georgia goes "little league" for the day, too as the center fielder camps out under Eibner's fly ball... and drops it.  Another officiating error helps the Bulldogs out, as Wilkins is called out at 3rd on the double steal, although the tag appeared to miss.   Monk Kreder singles to plate Eibner, putting the Hogs up 3-1.  James McCann knocks a solo homer in the 2nd to put the Hogs up by 3; it appears his hitting slump is officially over.  Eibner cranks a 2-RBI double to play Kuhn Cox in the 5th to push the score to 6-1.  Eibner continues with an RBI single to score Wilkins from 2nd in the 6th to increase the deficit to 6 runs.  The Bulldogs tack on a run in the 7th on a sac fly, after moving a runner to 3rd on a ground-rule double.  Kuhn takes that run back in the bottom of the inning, as he hits a stand-up triple to plate Tim Carver.  A wild pitch on the next at-bat would bring Kuhn across for Arkansas' 9th run of the day.  After 7 solid innings of pitching, Eibner is relieved by Jeremy Heatley for the 8th.  Eibner's day ends with 6 hits, 2 runs (1 unearned), 3 Ks, and 1 walk.  Georgia brings in a new pitcher for the 8th, as well... one that has an ERA hovering around 15.  It shows, too, as Eibner leads off the inning with a solo homer to make the score 10-2.  Heatley retires the side in order in the top of the 9th, and that's the ballgame.  The Hogs get their 4th consecutive SEC series win with their 2nd 10-2 win of the weekend, as Eibner gets his 3rd win of the season.

Contrary to what happened in the first 2 games, Arkansas takes the early advantage in Game 3, as Andy Wilkins hits a sac fly to plate Bo Bigham in the bottom of the 1st.  Starting pitcher DJ Baxendale gets shaky in the 2nd, and allows the Bulldogs to tie the game 1-1 on a walk, a single, and a sac fly.  After Travis Sample and Tim Carver get on with walks in the 2nd, James McCann hits an RBI single to retake the lead.  It gets crazy from there: Carver and McCann try to double steal 2nd and 3rd, and McCann seemingly gets caught in a rundown between 1st and 2nd.  While the Bulldogs are occupied with McCann, Carver steals 3rd AND home, and McCann manages to escape the tag and make it back to 1st.  Collin Kuhn singles to move the runners, and manages to take 2nd when the Bulldogs try to prevent McCann from taking 3rd.  Monk Kreder's groundout in the next play score McCann to put the Hogs up 4-1.  Georgia scores another run in the 3rd with an RBI double.  Poor baserunning keeps a run off the board in the bottom of the 3rd.  Sample and Carver get on 2nd and 3rd with no outs, but sample gets thrown out at home trying to score on a shallow popfly.  Carver would fare better, as he eventually takes home on a wild pitch.  After Kuhn is walked and Bigham takes a HBP, they both pull the double steal and Kuhn scores on an errant throw to push the score to 6-2.  Baxendale is replaced by TJ Forrest for the 5th.  Bax makes out with 4 hits, 2 ERs, and 3 Ks through 4 innings.  The Bulldogs greet Forrest with a solo homer to lead off the 5th, making the score 6-3.  After that hiccup, Forrest quickly retires the side on 2 groundouts and a K.  The Hogs would make up for that run, though, in the same inning, as Kreder knocks a 2-run bomb after Eibner gets on with a walk.  The Bulldogs would proceed to load the bases and walk a run home.  Wilkins puts the 11th run of the day with a 2-RBI single.  Eibner takes his 2nd walk of the inning, but the last ball is a wild pitch that scores Cox from 3rd.  Kreder gets plunked to load the bases again, but Sample grounds out to leave them stranded.  Hogs score 6 runs in the innings to go up 12-3.  With 2 outs in the 6th, Kuhn takes his 19th HBP of the season, Bigham singles to extend the Hogs' streak of games with 10+ hits to 16, and then cox singles to plate Kuhn and put the Hogs up by double digits.  Jordan Pratt relieves Forrest for the 7th.  Forrst gives up 1 hit, 1 ER, and 3 Ks in 2 innings.  Geoffrey Davenport comes on in relief in the 8th.  Pratt gives up only 1 hit and strikes out 2 in only 1 inning of action.  Mike Bolsinger comes in to close out the 9th.  He's shaky and immediately gives up 2 runs to make it 13-5, but he finally settles down and strikes out last 2 batters to seal another Razorback sweep.  TJ Forrest gets the win, moving to 6-0 on the year.

The Hogs showed a lot of heart this week, going a perfect 5-0.  The New Mexico series had "trap" written all over it, since they were starting their usual weekend staff against the Razorback midweek staff.  This is same New Mexico staff that took 2 of 3 against the Texas Longhorns, in Austin, in a weekend series, mind you.  They also dispatched an admittedly bad Georgia squad in convincing fashion, outscoring the Bulldogs by 24 runs.  The new weekend pitching rotation seems to be working well, the offense is clipping along at a blistering pace, and the Hogs have really cut down on the errors.  The weakest part of the schedule is over, but the Hogs are on pace to make this a season to remember.

This week:
The Hogs now sit at 31-6 on the year, and are currently ranked #4 in the country accoring to Rivals.  They're also holding firmly to the #2 RPI.  The Hogs start out with a mid-week game against Oral Roberts, before travelling to Gainesville to take on the Gators.  This will be a huge series, as a win (and definitely a sweep) would cement the Hogs as THE team to beat in the SEC.  It won't be easy, but Florida is realing from injuries, so this is an advantageous matchup for the Razorbacks.  The remaining schedule is very difficult; Four of the last 5 SEC opponents (SC, UF, Vandy, and 'Barn) are all in the top-25 RPI, and OM is cracking the top 50.  However, this team has proved that they don't know the meaning of the word "quit" and have the ability to will themselves to win.  It's an exciting time for Razorback baseball, and it all begins this week.  Woo Pig Sooie!

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