Happy days are here again! After losing the previous two SEC series in disappointing fashion, the Diamond Hogs finally decided to take care of business in Oxford. Not that there wasn't some consternation, though. The Hogs won convincingly on Friday, only to let Saturday's game barely get away from them, which was right on script for these Razorbacks. For the first time in 3 weeks, the Hogs showed up on Sunday, anchored by Mike Bolsinger's return to the starting lineup. He had a career outing on Sunday, for which he earned SEC Pitcher of the Week honors. This weekend also signaled the end of Andy Wilkins' disasterous hitting slump and saw the Hogs give the best pitcher in the country (OM's Drew Pomeranz) his 1st loss of the season.Friday's have been kind to these Razorbacks, and Game 1 of the Ole Miss series was no exception. Even in the series the Hogs have lost, they've won Friday's matchup in convincing fashion. The Hogs strike first in the 2nd inning, as Monk Kreder get on base with a stand-up double and James McCann brings him home with an RBI single, but the Rebs would answer with a solo homer in the bottom of the inning. They'd also add an RBI single in the 4th to take a 2-1 lead, and that's where the score would stay until the late innings. At the time, Drew Pomeranz lead the SEC in ERA, and it showed. The Hogs had a respectable number of hits and runners in scoring position throughout the game, but the OM ace was really on in the "make-or-break" situations. That is, until the top of the 7th. Collin Kuhn gets on with a stand-up double, and Bo Bigham's flyout moves him to 3rd. With 2 outs, Zack Cox is intentionally walked to put runners in the corners, and Brett Eibner, the SEC leader in HRs, makes the Rebs pay with a 3-run shot to put the Hogs up 4-2. More than that, it also runs Pomeranz off the mound, and also puts him in an unfamiliar position: for the first time all season, he's removed from a game as the pitcher-of-record with Ole miss losing. Starting pitcher Drew Smyly performed admirably, and Mike Bolsinger comes in for the 7th to shut the game down. Smyly's day ends with 5 hits, 2 ERs, 6 Ks, and a walk through 6 innings. Tim Carver adds a 2-run homer in the 8th to put the Hogs up by 4, but the Rebs again take those runs back with their own 2-run shot, also in the 8th. After recording only 1 out in the 8th, Bolsinger takes a hit up the middle on the foot, and has to come out. He's replaced by Jordan Pratt after 2 hits, 2 ERs, and a strikeout in 1.1 innings. Ole Miss has done a good job of staying within reach this game, but the Hogs take care of insurance in the 9th. After a Cox HBP, and Eibner double, and a (frankly inexplicable) intentional walk for Andy Wilkins, pinch-hitter Travis Sample steps up and deposits a grand slam over the wall, putting the Hogs up 10-4. Three batters later, Kuhn hits an RBI single to score Carver. The Hogs put up 5 runs in that inning, their biggest single inning in a long time, while batting through the order completely, with Bigham recording both the first and last outs of the inning. Pratt strikes out the side in the bottom of the 9th, and the Hogs take a huge 11-4 victory in Oxford. Drew Smyly moves to 8-0 on the season, and Pratt gets his 1st save of the year. More than that, the Hogs gave the "invincible" Drew Pomeranz his 1st L.
Ole Miss takes an early advantage in Game 2, with a 2-run homer in the 1st. Starting pitcher DJ Baxendale gets into one jam too many in the 2nd, and he's replaced by TJ Forrest. Forrest responds by letting an RBI single through, helped somewhat by a throwing error, before finally getting out of the inning. Baxendale is charged with 4 hits, 3 ERs, and 2 walks in 2.1 innings. Zack Cox hits a solo home run in the 4th to bring the score to 3-1. That's as far as the Hogs would get until the 9th, as the Hogs blow a major opportunity in the 7th on some of the worst base running I've ever seen. With 1 out and runners at the corners, Tim Carver hits a dribbler down the 1B line. Travis Sample takes an ill-advised shot at taking home and gets caught in a rundown near 3rd. James McCann steals 2nd easily, but also makes the puzzling decision to try and take 3rd, despite the fact that the ball is in the 3rd base area. He actually kind of appears to beat the tag, but there was no reason for him to try and take that base, either. Geoffrey Davenport comes in for Forrest in the bottom of the 7th. Forrest's day ends with 3 hits, no runs, and 5 Ks in 4.1 innings. Pinch-hitter Tom Hauskey makes it interesting in the 9th, as hes puts a 2-out homer over the fence to bring the Hogs with 1. Sample then grounds out to end the game, giving the Rebels the 3-2 win.
Up to this point, the Hogs were right on script to drop their third straight SEC series. Fortunately, this Game 3 would be much nicer to the Hogs. After 3 scoreless innings and a few opportunities, the Razorbacks score the first run of the game in the 4th. Andy Wilkins begins the inning with a lead-off walk, and consecutive singles by Travis Sample and Tim Carver bring him home. The Hogs add on in the 5th, as Wilkins finally gets out of his slump and launches a 2-run bomb to put the Hogs up by 3. In the 6th, Carver takes 1st on a HBP and moves to 2nd when the Rebs throw the ball away attempting a pick-off. James McCann moves Carver to 3rd with a sac fly, and Collin Kuhn uses his own sacc fly to put the Hogs up 4-0. Wilkins breakout day continues in the 7th, as his groundout scores Zack Cox. Monk Kreder follows that up with an RBI single to score Brett Eibner. Two batters later, Tim Carver hits his own RBI single to score Kreder. After 8 innings of masterful pitching, starting pitcher Mike Bolsinger finally reaches his limit, and Jordan Pratt comes in to close. Bolsinger has his best outing in a long time, recording 2 hits, no runs, 3 walks, and striking out 11 in 8 innings. Pratt slams the door on the Rebel offense in the 9th, and the Hogs post a huge road shut-out, 7-0, as Mike Bolsinger gets the much-deserved win.
This weekend was a huge step forward for the Hogs, especially compared to steps back they had been taking. After near misses at Florida and LSU, they finally proved they can win on the road against an opponent with a pulse. More than that, though, the offense is beginning to look like it did in March and early April. The pitching was mostly spot-on, too, with the Arkansas pitching staff combining for 31 strikeouts over the weekend. No one will ever confuse OM's offense with Auburn's, but it's not Georgia's, either. Mike Bolsinger could have very well earned his starting spot back, which will go a long way towards solifying the Razorback pitching plan.
The Hogs are obviously still in good shape for the postseaon. In addition to a #6 ranking in Rivals and a #6 RPI, the Razorbacks currently have a 1 game lead in the SEC West and are only 1 game back from SEC co-leaders Florida and South Carolina. The Hogs will get a chance to overtake one of those teams this weekend, as South Carolina visits Baum for a pivotal series. Pivotal not just for the SEC race, but because the winner will probably lock-up one of those coveted top-8 seeds in the NCAA tournament. The Hogs also take on Louisiana Tech on Tuesday night in a special mid-week game at Dickey-Stephens Park in Little Rock. If anyone is interested in going last minute, I'm sorry to report that the game is sold out; I'd like to go myself. The Hogs have hit the home-stretch, and officially control their own destiny. It should be an intensely fun 2 weeks of baseball. Woo Pig Sooie!