Diamond Hog Update: April 4 - "Easter Miracle" Edition

I usually wait until Monday night to do my write-up for the week, but I'm just too excited to wait this week.  The reason why will become apparent.  The Diamond Hogs spent the entire week in the friendly confines of Baum, going 4-for-5 in the process.  The took from a rather hapless Centenary team during a midweek series, and then took 2 from Kentucky for another SEC series win.  This will be Centenary College's last year in D-I, as theyre moving to non-scholarship D-III next season.  They've been a non-conference staple for the Razorbacks for a long time, and they'll be missed.  Despite the wins, there were definitely some downsides to this week.  Zack Cox's hitting streak ends at 24 games, and star first baseman Andy Wilkins goes down over the weekend with a strained hamstring.  He's projected to be out of the regular lineup for about 10 days, and his offense will be missed - he leads the team in both HRs and RBIs.

For the past 5 games or so, the Hogs have let their opponents score first, and Game 1 against Centenary would be no different.  After starting pitcher Sam Murphy gives up a walk and two sac groundouts to put a man on third, a wild pitch scores one for the Gents in the 1st.  The Hogs would make up for it in the bottom of the inning, though.  After Tim Carver and Zack Cox draw walk, Andy Wilkins' single scores Carver.  Centenary's starting pitcher would get called for 2 balks in the inning, including one that drives a run in to put the Hogs up 2-1.  Wilkins would hit a solo shot in the third.  That's the 47th of his career, making him 5th all time in HRs for the Razorbacks.  The Gents would add an RBI in the 5th, after Murphy walks 2 and allows another 2 sac groundouts, cutting the Hog lead to 1.  The Razorbacks use the 4th to pad their lead and never look back.  Bo Bigham and Kyle Robinson notch singles to start the inning, and then Matt Vinson gets plunked to load the bases.  Collin Kuhn comes through with a 2-RBI single to put the Hogs up 5-2, still with no outs.  An error by the second baseman allows Wilkins to reach with the bases loaded, and another run scores.  A passed ball during Monk Kreder's at-bat allows another run to score, and he knocks a single himself to drive Wilkins and Cox in.  The Hogs manage 6 runs on 5 hits during inning, taking a 9-2 lead.  Christian Kowalchuk takes over the mound for the 5th.  Murphy's day ends with 2 hits, 2 ER, and strikeout through 4 innings.  The 6th inning turns out to be huge for the Hogs, as well.  Vinson doubles to lead off the inning, Kuhn reaches on an error, and then Carver hits a 2-RBI single to score Vinson and Kuhn.  Zack Cox hits a single to push his hitting streak to 24 games, and Wilkins hits a sac fly to score Carver.  Kreder and Bigham are walked, only to have Robinson hit a bases clearing double.  Robinson himself would then score on Vinson's single.  The Hogs top their 4th inning performance with 7-run 5th, and now lead 16-2.  The hits keep coming in the 7th, as Bigham hits a double with one aboard, and Thomas Hauskey hits a 2-RBI single that scores Kreder and Bigham.  This one turns into a laugher as the Hogs now lead 18-2.  Kowalchuk reaches his limit after the 7th:  no hits, no runs, and 3 Ks in 3 innings.  Zack Hall then makes the first pitching appearance of his Razorback career, coming on in relief of Kowalchuk.  He performs admirably, allowing 1 hit, no runs, and nailing a K in 2 innings.  The Hogs explode to an 18-2 win torching the Centenary pitching staff for 15 hits.  Kowalchuk picks up the win.

The Hogs have another bad 1st inning in Game 2.  What a surprise.  An error by SS Time Carver lets one aboard,then starting pitcher Garrett Methvin shot himself in the foot with a walk, and RBI single, and a 3-run homer (by the Centenary pitcher, of all people) to let the Gents go up 4-0.  Methvin's day ends after walking a batter on 4 pitches in the 2nd:  2 hits, 3 ER, and 1 K through 1.1 innings.  As his first career appearance, that equates to an ERA of 20.25, folks.  Jordan Pratt in on relief.  The Hogs finally get a little offense going in the 3rd, as James McCann hits a double, followed by Travis Sample's single, to put men on the corners with 1 out.  A wild pitch scores McCann, and two batters later, Brett Eibner cuts the deficit to 1 with his 2-run homer.  After nailing 2 outs in the 4th, Pratt beans the next 2 batters, and Coach van Horm pulls him.  Pratt ends with no hits, no runs, and 1 K in 1.1 innings, and he's replaced by Geoffrey Davenport.  Wilkins leads off the bottom of the 4th with a stand-up triple.  Tim Carver grounds out to SS, but also scores Wilkins, to tie the score at 4.  Davenport was apparently brought in only to get out of the previous inning, as he's replace by TJ Forrest after only facing one batter, who he also struck out.  The Hogs get their first lead of the day in the 5th, as Andy Wilkins hits a double that scores Cox.  James McCann keeps the offense rolling, as he hits his own double to score Wilkins.  Bo Bigham then hits his own double to score McCann, and the Hogs now lead 7-4.  Jeremy Heatley replaces Forrest in the 7th.  Forrest goes 2 innings, with 1 hit and 1 K.  The Hogs keep rolling in the 7th.  Kuhn singles to lead off the inning, then Eibner hits a double that scores Kuhn.  Two batters later, Monk Kreder hits yet another double, scoring Eibner and pushing the Razorback lead to 9-4.  Despite a valiant effort, Zack Cox's hitting streak would end.  Hitless for the day through 7 innings, the Hogs managed to work through 5 batters in the bottom of the 8th to give Cox another shot at a hit, but he flies out to end the inning.  He also left the bases loaded.  Regardless, the crowd on hand gives him a standing ovation.  DJ Baxendale comes in to close down the 9th.  Heatley manages no hits, no runs, and a strikeout in 2 innings.  Three up, three down for Bax, and that's the game.  Hogs win 9-4, and TJ Forrest picks his 4 win in 8 days (remember the 3 from last week?).

The Hogs have made a nasty habit of digging holes, only to dig themselves out, all season.  They finally dig a hole too deep in Game 1 of the Kentucky series.  The 'Cats put up 8 unanswered runs in the first 3 innings, the largest deficit these Razorbacks have faced.  Starting pitcher Mike Bolsinger (who shut down LSU just 2 weeks ago) gets absolutely torched: 9 hits (2 of them homers), 7 ERs, and only 2 Ks in 2.1 innings.  He's replaced by TJ Forrest, who lets the final of the 8 runs across before getting out of the 3rd inning.  The Razorback offense finally gets some life in the bottom of the 3rd.  Jarrod McKinney is walked and then advanced to 2nd by Collin Kuhn's groundout.  Brett Eibner then hits an RBI single to finally put the Hogs on the board, 8-1.  Zack cox and Monk Kreder then hit back-to-back single to plate Eibner.  Andy Wilkins follows that up with his own RBI-single, and Tim Carver follows the pattern, hitting his how RBI single to cut the Wildcats' lead in half.  After looking lifeless for the first 2 innings, the Hogs get 4 runs on 5 hits in the 3rd.  Jarrod McKinney comes up with some legit defense in the top of the 4th, gunning a runner down at home from right field.  The 4 run deficit that the Hogs now face would be the difference, as they'd trade runs with the 'Cats for the rest of the game.  Cox comes up with an RBI single in the bottom of the 4th.  After 2 outs in the 5th, Forrest reaches his pitch count:  2 hits, 2 Ks, and no runs in 2.1 innings.  He's replaced by Jeremy Heatley.  Kentucky answers Cox's RBI with a solo shot in the 7th to regain the 4-run lead.  Kreder and Wilkins would each hit sacrifice RBIs in the 7th, but it would be for naught.  After letting 2 on in the 8th, Heatley is replaced by Baxendale.  Heatley ends with 3 hits, 1 ER, and 3 Ks in 2.1 innings.  Kentucky gets those 2 runs back, as Zack Cox fumbles a bases-loaded dribbler, which should have been an inning-ending DP, and the next batter hits an RBI-single.  Baxendale, who's usually automatic, gets pulled in the 9th for Christian Kowalchuk.  Bax has an uncharacteristically soft outing, giving up a hit and notching only 1 K.  Kowalchuk starts things off by letting a pitch leave the park, pushing the Kentucky lead to 12-7.  Down to their final 3 outs, the Hogs go for the rally.  With two outs, Wilkins' single scores Eibner from 2nd to put the deficit back to 4.  That's as far as they'd get, though, as Tim Carver strikes out to seal Kentucky's 12-8 win.  This is a tough one for the Hogs and snaps their 7-game win streak.

In response to the Hogs' offensive woes, Coach van Horn shuffles the lineup significantly.  It seems to work, too, as for the first time since the second McNeese St. game, the Hogs get on the board first.  This is also the first game since the second 'Bama game that the opposition has been held scoreless in the 1st inning.  In the bottom of the the 3rd, the Hogs get on base with Collin Kuhn's double, and Zack Cox's single drives him home.  Brett Eibner then singles to put men on 1st and 2nd, followed by Andy Wilkins' 2-RBI double that puts the Hogs up 3-0.  It's this play where Wilkins hurts himself, and he's replaced by Jarrod McKinney.  This also requires significant shuffling of the fielding lineup in order to fill the hole at 1B.  The Razorback offense continues in the 4th.  Travis Sample gets on with a single, Tim Carver's sac bunt moves him to 2nd, James McCann's single puts runners on the corners, and finally Collin Kuhn lauches a 3-run homer to put the Hogs up 6-0.  At this point, the Hogs officially have Kentucky's number.  In the 5th, four straight singles (Eibner, McKinney, Kreder-bunt-, and Sample) drive 2 runs in, all with no outs.  Carver's then loads the bases on another single (5th in a row).  McCann grounds into a fielder's choice to finally record an out, but he also scores Kreder to put the Hogs up 9-0.  And now the wheels come off for Kentucky (as if they weren't already): Carver and McCann pull the double steal, Kentucky throws it away trying to nail Carver, and he scores easily.  The Hogs' shutout hopes end in the 7th, as UK scores their one and only run off and RBI single.  Starting pitcher Drew Smyly's day ends after the 7th, and he didn't disappoint in his return:  4 hits, 1 ER, and 5 Ks through 7 innings.  Pratt comes in to clean up, and the 'Cats never threaten again.  Hogs win 10-1, Smyly with the W.  This was an excellent way to bounce back from Friday's disappointment.

Due to Easter festivities, I miss the first part of Game 3.  I came in for the top of the 6th, with the Hogs leading 13-7.  This game, however, would be proof that no lead is safe.  The Hogs return to their old habits, as Kentucky gets on top of starting pitcher Brett Eibner early, putting up 5 runs in the top of the 2nd.  That lead wouldn't last, though, as the Hogs put up 8 in the bottom of the inning, making it all the way through the lineup once, and then some.  The Razorbacks would score 2 more in the 3rd, and 3 more in the 4th, to account for their 13 runs. Kentucky won't go away, though, scoring two runs each in the 4th and 6th innings, to put the current score at 13-9, Arkansas.  Eibner's time on the mound is over after notching 2 outs in the 5th.  He allows 9 hits, 9 runs (8 earned), and 6 Ks through 4.2 innings.  Jeremy Heatley comes on in relief.  He lasts 1.1 innings, with no hits or runs, before Baxendale comes in to hopefully lock the game down.  Despite the fact that Bax has been extremely reliable all season, this just isn't his day.  In the span of less than an inning (0.2, to be exact), he gives up 5 hits, 7 ERs, and no strikeouts, giving Kentucky a 16-13 lead.  Mike Bolsinger, the Friday starter who got smashed by the 'Cats, comes in and takes care of the final 4 outs in the game, but the damage has been done.  The Hogs are down to their final 3 outs, and the situation looks bleak.  They have to make something happen, but Monk Kreder grounds out, Jarrod McKinney is walked, and then Tim Carver strikes out looking to put the Hogs on their last legs.  To make matters worse, the tying run isn't at the plate, but on deck.  And that's when the second biggest "Easter Miracle" in history happened.  James McCann singles to put runners on the corners, and Coach van Horn brings Andy Wilkins on to pinch hit as the tying run.  He's walked to load the bases, and we're back to the start of the lineup for Collin Kuhn... who promptly sends a hit to the LF bullpen for a walk-off grandslam!  Hogs win, 17-16, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.  Mike Bolsinger gets the win, partial redemption for Friday's debacle.

All things considered, the Diamond Hogs had a nice week, winning 4 games and another SEC series.  They gave up far too many runs to UK, and they still have a problem with having to play catchup, but the middle relief progressed yet again.  Smyly's return from injury was welcomed, and Baxendale's struggles were likely more a result of Kentucky's overachieving.  If it continues, it's a cause for worry, but no reason to panic yet.  The loss of Wilkins will hurt some, but the team, as a whole, will won't suffer in the longterm.

This week:
The Razorbacks now sit at 22-6 (6-3) on the season, still firmly entrenched in the second place spot in the SEC West, with rankings pending until tomorrow.  I'll update them when they're in.  Don't expect much movement, but several of the highest ranked teams also lost, so the Hogs will definitely gain ground.  After a mid-week game with St. Louis on wednesday, the Hogs travel to Starkville for a series with the Mississippi st. Bulldogs.  The Bulldogs shouldn't pose much threat, but with the Hogs' biggest games of the remaining season (Ole Miss, Florida) also on the road, the Razorbacks have to prove they can handle winning on the road in the SEC.  It's been a great week for Razorback baseball, and there's still more to come.  Woo Pig Sooie!

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