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Diamond Hog Update: March 25, 2012

Since the last Diamond Hog Update over 3 weeks ago, the Razorbacks have continued rolling along on the diamond. After finishing 2-1 at the Houston College Classic, the Hogs have won 13 of their last 15 games, including a sweep of Alabama during the SEC opener.

I actually had this post finished on Friday, but a browser glitch seemed to erase all my work after I tried to publish it. Luckily, today, I managed to find where the draft had been saved, so I not only can publish it, but I can also update you on the outcome of the Mississippi State series.

The Houston College Classic began with a solid win over Texas Tech, which featured a dominant pitching performance by Sophmore Ryne Stanek. The bats went cold the next day against the Houston Cougars, though, as the Hogs fell 4-1. The cherry on top of this trip (which has already been mentioned here) was the 7-3 win over the Texas Longhorns on the final day of the round-robin event. To date, the win over the Longhorns is their best of the season. Due to the format, there was no "winner" of the College Classic; the Hogs did leave Houston tied for the best record with Houston and Rice.

After returning from Houston, the Hogs finished out a 5-game non-conference homestand before SEC play started. In a weekend series with Binghamton, the Hogs "brought the wood" (as DMac would say), recording 7 home runs in route to a series sweep by a combined score of 15-3. The midweek series with Gonzaga started out as a much closer affair, with the Hogs winning the opening game by a 1-0 margin on the virtue of Dominic Ficociello's solo HR, before finishing off the Bulldogs 5-3 the next day.

The SEC portion of the schedule began with a visit from the Alabama Crimson Tide. The Tide are predicted to finish near the bottom of the conference this season (and, for the most part, are playing like it). They gave the Diamond Hogs all the wanted in Game 1, though. With the game tied in the bottom of the 9th, Alabama plated the go-ahead run with a 2-out double off closer Barrett Astin. In the bottom of the inning, Jacob Morris would hit his own double to score Matt Vinson and send the game to extra innings. With 2 outs in the bottom of the 12th inning, Matt Reynolds hits a single to keep the inning alive. Three walks later, Reynolds crosses the plate to allow the Hogs to escape with a 4-3 victory. As an aside, the only reason the Hogs were in a position to take the game to extras is due to Matt Vinson's defensive heroics in the first inning. Vinson robbed the Tide of a 2-run homer when he climbed the bullpen wall and snatched the ball at the last moment. For that play, Vinson was #1 on SportCenter's Top Plays the next night. If you haven't seen the catch, you should check it out here.

Game 2 went a lot more smoothly, with the Hogs notching a series win with a 8-4 victory, highlighted by a 5-run 3rd inning. The Hogs finished the sweep on Sunday, en route to a 7-4 victory that featured 11 hits.

Following the sweep of Alabama, the Hogs were scheduled for a 2-game mid-week series with Nevada. The opening game got rained out (it's rained in Fayetteville for about 5 straight days at this point). Plans for a double-header on Wednesday fell through, but the Hogs tallied a 10-2 win during the regularly-scheduled Wednesday game.

For their first real road test of the season, the Hogs traveled to Starkville to take on the Bulldogs of Mississippi State. When most of your non-conference games are at home, or at least a neutral site, there's always a question of how the team will perform in a hostile environment. This is especially true when there hasn't been much stiff competition early in the season. To be blunt, it looked like it was going to be an issue during Game 1. Starting pitcher DJ Baxendale (who, by most accounts, it the staff ace) for shelled for 9 hits and 8 runs (7 earned). The Hog bats gave him no help, either, as they combined for 2 runs on 7 hits on their way to a 2-11 loss - the most lopsided of the season. Game 2 was almost the polar opposite, with the Razorback offense exploding for 8 runs. Meanwhile, pitchers Ryne Stanek and Cade Lynch combined to throw a 3-hit shutout gem to force a Sunday rubbermatch. With the series on the line, both the Razorbacks and Bulldogs pulled out all the stops in Game 3. All together, the Hogs and Dogs combined for 12 pitchers (7 Ark, 5 MSU) and nearly 400 total pitches. Starting pitcher Randall Fant didn't even record an out in the 2nd inning before giving up 2 runs and was pulled. Arkansas rebounded to take a 3-2 lead in the top of the 7th, and from there, it looked like an opportunity for the bullpen to shut the door. But, with two outs in the bottom of the 9th, closer Barrett Astin allowed the tying run to score on 2 consecutive singles and a blown put-out (not an error, though) on a fielder's choice by Tim Carver. After a quiet 10th by both teams, the Hogs took advantage of MSU's exhausted bullpen and put up 5 runs in the top of the 11th to take an 8-3 lead. Trent Daniel comes on to close, but only records 1 out before walking a run home. With the tying run at-bat, Cade Lynch finally secures the 3rd out 3 batters (and 1 run) later, as the Hogs take the series victory in Starkville.

Up next, the Razorbacks have the mid-week off before traveling to Baton Rouge to face the LSU Tigers. As of now, the Razorbacks sit with a record of 22-3 (5-1 SEC) and a ranked either #3 or #4 in every major poll (new polls come out tomorrow, so this could change - but hopefully for the better). The team with the best record in the county is a little bit of a surprise - the Kentucky Wildcats, with a 24-1 record. They've played a fair week SoS, but they've also fresh off a sweep of defending 2-time NC winners South Carolina and a solid road-series win over Tennessee. I still think that Kentucky comes back down to Earth before the season is over, because their record isn't sustainable, but they're looking good now. The current RPI is in the top 10, which is largely due the relatively weak SoS (it's around 50 or so). That SoS will skyrocket in the coming weeks, and if the Hogs continue to perform at the level they have, there should be some upward movement in both the RPI and the rankings.