FAYETTEVILLE — John Bolton’s struggles at the plate this season reached a point where a segment of the Arkansas baseball fanbase turned on him.
Having dipped below the Mendoza Line during the Ole Miss series three weeks ago, the shortstop had a radical idea to improve his mental wellbeing.
“You block out the outside noise by deleting Twitter,” Bolton told reporters Saturday. “That’s what you do.”
It’s hard to say exactly how much that has helped Bolton, but he capped his best weekend in an Arkansas uniform with his best offensive performance of the year in the Razorbacks’ 8-7 win that completed a sweep of Texas A&M at Baum-Walker Stadium.
The Austin Peay transfer went 3 for 3 with two RBIs and a sacrifice bunt to get him back over .200 for the season. It was a surprising day at the plate because he came into this weekend’s series hitting just .175 — a number that has since crept back up to .202.
“You’ve got to show up to the field every day with the confidence that today’s the day you bounce back,” Bolton said. “Baseball’s a tough game, and when you struggle for that long it gets tough, but today was the day I bounced back, so hopefully we can keep it going, get that confidence up.”
Even before Saturday, Bolton made his presence felt in the 9-hole. He had an RBI infield single and three walks in Game 1 and had a pair of sacrifice bunts that led to runs in Game 2.
In the finale, he led off the third inning with a bunt single toward first base and came around to score the game’s first run with the help of an error on a failed pickoff attempt and wild pitch. Bolton added yet another sacrifice bunt his next time up, setting up another run on the sacrifice fly by Kendall Diggs. That has become a staple of his game, as he also had one last week at Georgia.
“I work on it all the time,” Bolton said. “That’s kind of my role in the lineup, get those bunts down so I’m never nervous to bunt, even with two strikes. It’s my role so It’s what I do.
At that point, it was already a really solid weekend for Bolton. He made it even better when he lined a single into right-center with the bases loaded, driving in two runs in what proved to be the decisive fifth inning. For good measure, he added another single in his final at bat of the weekend.
Prior to those two hits, Bolton had gone more than three weeks between hits that got into the outfield, as his last three were of the infield variety. He finished the weekend 4 for 7 with three walks, three sacrifice bunts
“Today was his day,” Van Horn said. “You never know when it’s going to be your day to really help the team on the offensive side. He always helps the team on the defensive side. If he can get his confidence going, I think he’s going to continue to hit and start being a force and a threat down at the end. It’d be great.”
Adcock Turns the Corner
For the first time in a month, Cody Adcock got a starting nod in SEC play. He responded by giving the Razorbacks four scoreless innings.
He actually cruised through the first three, allowing only a couple of walks, but ran into trouble in the fourth. It started when Brett Minnich broke up the no-hitter with one-out single and then Adcock hit Austin Bost with a pitch and walked Jace LaViolette to load the bases.
With a 2-0 lead on the line, Adcock induced a 6-4-3 double play by Jordan Thompson to escape the jam unscathed.
“Every time somebody hits a ground ball to my right, I know (John Bolton) has got me,” Adcock said. “So him and Stovall making that play today, that was huge. I think that was a big zero there, and in a must-win game, that got me fired up.”
It wasn’t a perfect outing, but a very solid start for Game 3 of an SEC series, as he gave up just one hit and three walks while striking out four. That continues what has been better pitching of late by Adcock.
Since giving up three runs in a one-inning relief appearance against Ole Miss on April 7, the right-hander has allowed five earned runs in 17 innings — which works out to a solid 2.64 ERA. That includes just one run in seven innings across his outings against Georgia and Texas A&M.
“I think what’s helped me a lot is throwing off speed pitches for strikes — keeping guys off balance more, getting my slider to my glove side,” Adcock said. “I feel in the past I’ve gotten myself in trouble leaving sliders and things down the middle, so just making that correction going to my glove side has helped me a lot.”
Resurgence of Small Ball
Dave Van Horn has certainly evolved over the years, but longtime Arkansas baseball fans likely remember a time when his teams weren’t among the nation’s best at hitting the ball out of the park.
Although the home run is now a vital part of the game — as seen with six of the Razorbacks’ seven runs Thursday night coming on a Peyton Stovall grand slam and Jace Bohrofen two-run shot — the veteran coach isn’t afraid to bring back a blast from the past to manufacture runs.
He did just that for the final two games of the Texas A&M series, as Arkansas racked up five sacrifice bunts, a couple of bunt singles and four sacrifice flies.
“We work on it, we just haven’t done it a whole lot,” Van Horn said. “We’ve got to have it in there when we need it. Sometimes you’re going to play in a big ballpark and the wind’s blowing in or whatever the case may be. Or just nasty pitcher on the mound, tough to hit, you’ve just got to try to get somebody to third with less than two outs and punch in a run and that’s kind of what we were trying to do.”
The sheer number of bunts was the most surprising aspect of the small ball because Arkansas had just four total sacrifice bunts through the first 42 games of the season. That was tied for the seventh-fewest in all of Division I entering Friday.
A safety squeeze that resulted in an RBI single for Parker Rowland was a key part of the Razorbacks’ big fourth inning in Game 2 and Saturday’s scoring started when John Bolton laid down a perfect bunt toward first and reached for a leadoff single.
“I figured I was going to get another fastball and they’ve been throwing me away all weekend,” Bolton said. “I saw the first baseman was back and I thought, ‘Might as well try it.’ So I got it down.”
Bolton came around to score with the help of a failed pickoff attempt that got away from the first baseman, a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly by Kendall Diggs — who had another sacrifice fly the next inning after a sacrifice bunt by Bolton set up the opportunity.
Hunter Grimes and Peyton Stovall each had a sacrifice fly on Friday, so it was the first time Arkansas had multiple such plays in back-to-back games since the third and fourth games of the season (3 vs. Oklahoma State, 4 vs. Grambling).
“The sac flies weren’t putting us in the lead, so to speak, but it was building on our lead,” Van Horn said. “It was giving us an opportunity to put more pressure on their offense. … It’s kind of like a football team. They’re up six and they kick a field goal, now they’re up nine (and) now you’ve got to score twice.”
Sandwiched between the two Diggs sacrifice flies was another run made possible by another form of small ball. After he reached with a two-out single in the third, Caleb Cali stole second to put himself in scoring position and Bohrofen delivered with an RBI single.
Freshman Arms Finish the Game
Dave Van Horn is always counting outs as games wind down, but that was especially true Saturday because Arkansas was at the bottom of the barrel with its pitching. Much like the disastrous Game 3 loss at Georgia, the Razorbacks had to finish things off with a trio of freshmen.
Senior Zack Morris followed Adcock and looked good for 1 2/3 innings, but a single and hit by pitch loaded the bases for Texas A&M with two outs in the sixth and that’s when the Razorbacks turned it over to the youngsters.
Needing just one out to get out of the jam, Christian Foutch game in and promptly gave up a two-run single to Ryan Targac. He then issued a walk to load the bases again and hit a batter with a pitch to bring in another run — and that was it for the right-hander.
It was Foutch’s second appearance in as many days with similar results. In fact, dating back to the ninth inning of that aforementioned game against Georgia, he has faced nine straight batters without recording at out.
“We just thought Foutch would come in and really pitch well after what happened the other day and it didn’t go that well,” Van Horn said. “If he could’ve just given us four outs — that out and a couple more, three more — I think we would’ve felt a lot better about where we are. When that didn’t work out, then we were scrambling.”
Much like that Georgia game, Ben Bybee inherited a bases-loaded situation. He gave up back-to-back home runs that outing, but a week later, struck out Jack Moss to strand the runners.
Texas A&M scratched out a couple of runs against him in the seventh and used an error on Peyton Stovall to score another in the eighth before the Razorbacks gave the ball to left-hander Parker Coil for his first career SEC appearance.
He put the tying run on base by giving up a single to the first batter he faced, but then induced a double play ball to end the inning. In the ninth, Coil allowed a leadoff home run to Jace LaViolette to cut Arkansas’ lead to one with three outs to go.
“Parker Coil came in and said, ‘Hey, give me the ball. I’m good,’” Van Horn said. “In the ninth inning he gave up a leadoff home run with two strikes, but it really wasn’t a bad pitch. It was down and the big lefty just got it. That’s the way the game works sometimes.”
The home run didn’t seem to bother him. Coil — who said his slider was really working for him — responded by getting a fly out and ground out before striking out Max Kaufer to end the game and earn his first career save.
“That was something, 1-2 count, left a fastball over the middle and then the dude hammers it,” Coil said. “I never felt like I was out of it, just staying in there making pitches. Just trying to give us a chance to win and really just be big for this team.”
Although it was his first outing in SEC play, Coil has pitched some in non-conference play and threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings against Missouri State earlier in the week.
That gave him — and the coaching staff — confidence to pitch in such a big spot, but Van Horn also said that his only other options were designated hitter Ben McLaughlin and freshman left-hander Sean Fitzpatrick (2 1/3 career innings).
“I knew I was probably going to get a shot today no matter the situation, if it was second inning, fifth inning, ninth, whenever it was,” Coil said. “I just want to come out and kind of show that I’m able to do this thing. I’ve struggled a little bit in the beginning and have been trying to get it going, and I think today was a big stepping stone in that.”
Up Next for Arkansas Baseball
The Razorbacks will play their final midweek game of the season Tuesday when they head down to North Little Rock for their annual game at Dickey-Stephens Park. This year’s opponent is Lipscomb and first pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT.
After back-to-back extra-innings wins over Eastern Kentucky, the Bisons are 23-20 overall, but are near the top of the ASUN standings with a 15-5 conference mark. They will finish their series at Eastern Kentucky on Sunday before heading to the Natural State.
As a reminder, this will be the only game of the season that has no television or streaming options, as the infrastructure necessary to stream a game on SEC Network-Plus is based in Fayetteville and can’t be transported. The game will be broadcast on the radio, though, with Phil Elson on the call.
Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits
- This is the fourth straight year Arkansas baseball has started 14-7 or better in SEC play. That’s the longest such streak in the conference since LSU did it from 1989-92.
- The Razorbacks lead the SEC with 14 saves as a team, but no single player has more than four. Freshman Parker Coil because the eighth different player with at least one Saturday afternoon.
- With a two-out single in the third inning, Caleb Cali extended his hitting streak to 13 games. He finished the day 2 for 4 with a walk, so he is now 21 for 44 (.477) over that stretch. His season batting average is now up to .317, which is a whopping 117 points higher than what he was hitting when the streak started.
- Although he had a couple of sacrifice flies, Kendall Diggs officially went 0 for 3. That means his 34-game on-base streak came to an end. It’s the first time he failed to reach since going 0 for 5 against Eastern Illinois on Feb. 25.
- Jace Bohrofen was hit by a pitch once again Saturday — his 14th of the season. That is two shy of cracking the UA single-season top-10 list. He also collected multiple hits in all three games of the series, going 8 for 12 with two doubles, a home run and five RBIs against the Aggies.
Arkansas vs Texas A&M Highlights
Arkansas vs Texas A&M Postgame Interviews
Arkansas vs Texas A&M Box Score (Game 3)
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