If you felt bad after last week's edition of Diamond Hog Update, I'd suggest you stop reading now. After getting veritably hosed down in Gainesville, the Hogs were in a prime position to take some momentum back: back at Baum, with a soft non-conference game as warmup and an unranked SEC team coming in for the weekend. No problem for these Hogs, right? Wrong. After taking the weekend opener from Auburn on Friday in convincing fashion, the Hogs let Game 2 get away from them by virtue of one big innings (a familiar theme) and were then utterly uncompetitive in the rubber match. The Diamond Hogs have a well-documented history of late-season slides, and this season looks to be no exception. Granted, this season's schedule was majorly back-loaded, and the Hogs could have easily won all 3 SEC series they've lost, but there's no such thing as a "moral victory" in baseball.
The Razorbacks start things off right in the Missouri St. Game, as they score a run off Brett Eibner's sac fly following singles by Bo Bigham and Zack Cox. Coach Van Horn goes with a staff pitching night this game, as starting pitcher Geoffrey Davenport is replaced in the 3rd by TJ Forrest, despite not struggling against the Missouri St. offense. Davenport gives up 1 hit and strikes out 3 through 2 innings. The Bears tie the game at 1 with an RBI double in the 3rd. The bottom of the inning, though, is eerily similar to the bottom of the 1st. Bigham and Box both get on with walks, and after bother pull the double-steal to get into scoring position, Eibner scores Bigham again on a sac fly. Forrest gets into a bit of trouble in the 4th, and he's pulled for Jason Fuqua. However, Fuqua doesn't fare any better, as he immediately gives up a 3-run homer to put the Bears up 4-2. Forrest has 2 hits, 3 ERs, and 1 K in 1.1 innings. Matt Vinson hits into a bases-loaded fielder's choice to plate an RBI in the 4th. A little bit of history is made on the next play, as Collin Kuhn takes a school-record-tying 22nd HBP to load the bases again. The Hogs squander an opportunity to take the lead, though, as Bigham hits into an inning-ending DP. Jordan Pratt comes in for Fuqua midway through the 5th. Fuqua's day ends with 4 hits, 1 ER, and 1 K in 1.1 innings. The Diamond Hogs retake the lead in the bottom of the 5th off Eibner's 2-run homer that scores cox to go up 5-4. Christian Kowalchuk comes in to pitch the 8th. Pratt has a nice day, giving up no hits or runs while striking out 4 in 2.1 innings. Kowalchuk doesn't last long, and he's replaced by Jeremy Heatley after giving up 2 hits and a walk while recording only 1 out. Heatley holds tight for the rest of the game, and the Hogs with a tight one, 5-4. Pratt picks up the W, and Heatley gets his 2nd save of the season.
Game 1 of the Auburn series was classic Arkansas baseball (in both good and bad ways). Auburn plates a pair of runners on a 2-RBI single in the 3rd, after loading the bases with the assistance of a couple of Razorback errors. The Hogs do themselves no favors this day, as they accumulate 3 errors through the 4th inning, and an unusual mistake to end the bottom of the 4th: Monk Kreder slips rounding 3rd base and slides into the 3B coaching box. Coach Curry (filling in for usual 3B coach Butler, who's suspended) makes contact with Kreder, and he's called out on interference to end the inning. The Tigers add a 2-run homer to put the lead at 4-0 in the 5th. Brett Eibner finally gets the offense rolling in the 5th, putting a 3-run blast over the wall to cut the Tigers' lead to 1. The offense keeps rolling in the 6th, as Matt Reynolds plates Kreder with an RBI double to tie the game. Collin Kuhn follows that up with a 2-RBI single to put the Hogs in front, 6-4. The Hogs add 3 more runs in the 8th, as James McCann scores on a wild pitch, Reynolds scores when Bo Bigham reaches on a fielding error while trying for a sac bunt, and Zack Cox knocks Bigham in on an RBI single. Starting pitcher Drew Smyly retires the side in order in the 9th, preserving a 9-4 victory with his 2nd complete game of the season. Smyly gives up 8 hits, 4 runs (2 unearned), no walks, and strikes out 9.
The Hgos waste no time in Game 2, as Brett Eibner lauches a 3-run homer in the bottom of the 1st. Starting pitcher Randall Fant has a nice first 4 innings, but it falls apart in the 5th, as he allows 4 runs on 3 homers to put the Tigers up by 1. Jeremy Heatley comes in to try and hold off the damage. Fant's nice outting is rendered moot, as he's credited with 5 hits, 4 ERs, and no Ks through 4.1 innings. Heatly does little to hold off the damage, as he lets a 2-run double through to put Auburn up by 3. The next batter then lauches a 2-run homer, bring the score to 8-3. That's enough from Heatley, as DJ Baxendale takes over. Heatley gives up 3 hits, 4 ERs, and no strikeouts in 0.1 innings. James McCann does his part to decrease the Tigers' lead in the 6th, as he plates Andy Wilkins from 2nd with an RBI single. Wilkins comes through with his own RBI single in the 7th, cutting the lead to 3. A wild pitch on the following at-bat then scores Eibner. After Can records 1 out in the 9th, Mike Bolsinger comes in to shut it down. Baxendale records 2 hits and 4 Ks in 3.2 innings. Wilkins comes through with yet another RBI single in the bottom of the 9th, cutting the deficit to 1. Thomas Hauskey comes on to pinch hit with the tying and go-ahead run on 2nd and 3rd, but he strikes out to end the game. The Tigers even the series with the 8-7 win, on the merits of an 8-run 5th inning.
First, a disclaimed: Auburn boasts the best batting average in the SEC and lead the SEC in home runs. Good lord, did that ever show in Game 3. It starts slowly, with starting pitcher Brett Eibner giving up a homer and a 2-RBI single, and reliever Jordan Pratt allowing another run to score in the 6th. Zack Cox and Andy Wilkins each add a solo homer in the bottom of the 6th to bring the score to 4-2, but that's as close as the Hogs would get. Mike Bolsinger comes in for the 7th and gets absolutely rocked for 7 hits, 6 ERs, and 2 Ks in only 1 inning. Geoffrey Davenport contributed to that line, though, as he gives up a 3-run shot that contributed 2 ERs to Bolsinger's stats and put the Tigers up by 10. The Tigers add yet another solo homer in the 9th off Jason Fuqua, bringing the score to 13-2. The Hogs go quietly in the bottom of the 9th, and the Tigers take the series.
There's really very little to feel good about this week, but it's not like the sky is falling. After the bats went cold for the final 2 games in Gainesville, seeing the Hogs squeak out a 1-run win over an inferior mid-week opponent was less than encouraging. There also seems to be a pattern emerging in the SEC series we lose: we win one game going away, lose a close one that we could have just as easily won, and lose another where it's not even close. The Hogs' pitching woes and problem with errors seemed to return, which is disheartening; it'll be interesting to see if/what changes will be made to the lineup to fix this. Coach Van Horn has already sent Eibner to the bullpen, as it's too difficult to defensively accomodate losing him in the outfield for an entire game. There's no need to worry about the Razorbacks' post-season future for now, though. The Hogs are still projected to be one of the 8 National Seeds (meaning an automatics host for a super regional) for now, and it would take a complete collapse to lose the opportunity to be a regional host. Even if they lose a regional host, they'll still get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
As a testament to just how impressive the Hogs' record is, even after losing 2 consecutive SEC series, their record is still as impressive as 35-10. The only SEC member to have fewer losses is South Carolina (at 9). The Hogs currently sit at #9 in the nation, per Rivals, and are also in the Top 15 of the rest of the college baseball polls. They also currently have the #6 RPI. With finals going on this week, there's no mid-week game, but the Hogs travel to Oxford this weekend for a suddenly much-bigger-than-expected series with Ole Miss, who are unfortunately hitting their stride just as Arkansas slumps. Arkansas' recent slide, coupled with Ole Miss' consecutive sweeps of LSU and MSU, has resulted in a tie between the Razorbacks and the Rebs for 1st place in the SEC West. For those who don't remember, Ole Miss swept the Razorbacks in Fayetteville last season, and it'd be nice to return the favor. For those with ESPNU, the Friday and Saturday games will be broadcast at 7 PM, so be sure to tune in. Woo Pig Sooie!