You couldn’t draw up a better start to SEC play for Arkansas baseball, as it swept Auburn over the weekend at Baum-Walker Stadium.
The Razorbacks won each game by at least five runs and were never really in danger of losing, taking the opener 7-2 on Friday, clinching the series with a 9-3 win Saturday and capping the weekend in shutout fashion, 5-0, on Sunday.
In addition to giving it a 3-0 conference record, the sweep extended Arkansas’ winning streak to 13 games — its longest in a single season since 2010. It trailed for just one inning despite facing a Tigers team that was ranked as high as No. 18 by Perfect Game.
“After you win the first couple of games (and) you’ve got a chance to sweep, then mentally you’ve gotta flip it to ‘Hey, this is a one-game series, we need to win this game,’” Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said. “That’s how important the games are. You’ve got to get them when you can because this league’s tough and you can run into somebody that’s hot or you’re not playing good or whatever the case may be.”
Now with an 18-2 overall record, the Razorbacks are off to their best 20-game start since 2019, when they also lost only two of their first 20 games. That season ended in Omaha.
Before we flip the page to Tuesday’s midweek matchup with Southeast Missouri State, here are a few key takeaways from Arkansas baseball’s sweep of Auburn…
Van Horn’s Gamble Pays Off
With injuries piling up, Dave Van Horn floated the idea of making extreme changes to his starting rotation a couple of weeks ago. He implemented those changes this weekend.
By moving left-hander Hunter Hollan from Sunday to Friday, keeping right-hander Will McEntire on Saturday and leaving Sunday as a TBA with left-hander Hagen Smith — the former Friday guy — as a “wildcard” available to come out of the bullpen any day, the veteran Arkansas baseball coach put all of his proverbial eggs into one basket — or two, really.
Van Horn wanted to give his team the best chance he could to win the first two games of the series. If the Razorbacks slipped up and lost one of those games while burning Smith out of the bullpen, they could have been left with a bullpen day in a decisive rubber match. Not an ideal situation against a dangerous Auburn lineup.
Now with the benefit of hindsight, not only did Van Horn’s gamble pay off, but it worked flawlessly.
Pitching on two fewer days of rest, Hollan gave the Razorbacks six solid innings in which he gave up just two runs on six hits and three walks before turning it over to Smith, who notched a save with three hitless innings.
He wasn’t quite as dominant as he was his last time out, but McEntire also went six innings for Arkansas. He allowed three runs on five hits — who of which were solo home runs to Bryson Ware — and two walks. This time, right-hander Dylan Carter relieved the starter and he earned his second save of the year by throwing three scoreless innings of one-hit ball.
At that point, Van Horn’s reshuffling of his rotation was a success because the Razorbacks clinched the series, which is always the goal, especially in SEC play.
Emergence of a New Starter
Because he didn’t have to pitch in either of the first two games out of the bullpen, right-hander Cody Adcock was a logical choice to start Game 3. After all, he is the pitcher Van Horn singled out as just missing out on a spot in the rotation before the season.
However, this season hasn’t gone great for the JUCO transfer. Adcock entered the weekend with a 7.82 ERA in 12 2/3 innings and opponents were hitting .315 with a .997 OPS against him.
There had been flashes of brilliance, but Adcock had a tendency to look great against the first few batters he faced before giving up a lot of hard contact. That’s not exactly a great recipe for a starting pitcher.
Given his first start with the Razorbacks, though, Adcock was fantastic. He retired 17 of the 19 batters he faced, with a double play wiping out the lone hit he allowed. The other base runner reached on a full-count walk. Six of those Tigers went down on strikes.
Much like freshman Ben Bybee in the midweek, Adcock exceeded what Van Horn was hoping for. Instead of four innings, he gave the Razorbacks six shutout frames.
“I felt like he didn’t have nearly as many bad misses,” Van Horn said. “He had a lot of close pitches. Maybe in the first inning or second inning he hung a pitch when he was ahead in the count. Other than that, he got it together and he pitched like he was in command.”
Shutting Down Auburn’s Potent Lineup
Every time he brought up his team’s first SEC series, Dave Van Horn mentioned how good Auburn was offensively. He was clearly concerned with a Tigers lineup that entered the weekend averaging 8.1 runs and slashing .318/.428/.515 as a team.
With the help of his new-look rotation described above, as well as two scoreless innings from Austin Ledbetter and a brief appearance by Gage Wood following Adcock, the Razorbacks almost completely shut down the Tigers.
Auburn scored only five total runs and managed just 15 hits in the series. As a team, it slashed .163/.271/.272 and struck out 24 times compared to 14 free passes (9 walks, 5 HBP).
Perhaps most impressively, the Razorbacks handled three of the four Tigers who entered the weekend with a batting average over .400.
Bryson Ware caused problems, going 4 for 10 with two home runs, a walk and a HBP, but Ike Irish, Cole Foster and Chris Stanfield had just one hit apiece. That trio was hitting .449, but went a combined 3 for 31 (.097) against Arkansas.
It was the kind of performance expected out of this pitching staff before it was riddled with injuries and underwhelming starts to the season by key veterans. Things have started to settle down lately, though.
Including the second game of a midweek sweep of UNLV, a dangerous offensive team in its own right, the Razorbacks have allowed only five earned runs in their last 36 innings — which comes out to a 1.25 ERA — while limiting opposing hitters to a .179 batting average.
That four-game stretch has lowered Arkansas’ team ERA from 5.04 to 4.27. Once dead last in that statistic, it now ranks ninth out of 14 teams in the SEC.
3 Runs. 1 Hit. 3 Times.
As good as the pitching was this weekend, it’s easy to overlook what Arkansas did offensively against the Tigers.
The Razorbacks posted a team slash of .283/.393/.446, which was an expected dip from their .310/.425/.566 slash in non-conference play, but the bats delivered when needed. In fact, a different player supplied a go-ahead three-run hit in all three games.
On Friday, Auburn actually scored the first two runs of the series and took a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the fourth. Tommy vail was cruising through three innings, but walked Peyton Stovall and Jared Wegner to start his fourth inning of work.
Then, after fouling off back-to-back pitches in a 2-0 count, Brady Slavens launched a towering, 399-foot home run that had a launch angle of 40.9 degrees and may or may not have cleared the scoreboard. That put Arkansas on top 3-2 and, a couple of batters later, Vail was out of the game.
“Right when it left the bat, I said it’s gone because it was hit high,” Dave Van Horn said. “I don’t know how far it went out. All I know is when that guy turned his back around, I knew we scored three runs. I didn’t even watch the ball.”
The Razorbacks didn’t waste any time Saturday, using an error and a pair of free passes to load the bases in the first inning. Their two hottest hitters — Jace Bohrofen and Jared Wegner — struck out in RBI opportunities, but Kendall Diggs made sure Arkansas capitalized.
He ripped the first pitch he saw into left-center for a bases-clearing double that made it 3-0.
“That was the biggest swing of the game by far,” Van Horn said. “We load the bases with one, two and three, and then they get four and five out, and Kendall, he didn’t mess around. He got a fastball, and he stayed through it, split the gap in left-center, we’re off and rolling. That was big.”
In the finale, Arkansas wasted a leadoff base runner in each of the first two innings, only to wait until there were two outs to do damage in the third.
The first two Razorbacks went down in order, but Parker Rowland and John Bolton each worked the count full and saw 15 total pitches. On the 16th pitch of the inning, Tavian Josenberger hit a double. After Stovall was hit by a pitch, Wegner stepped to the plate and absolutely annihilated a 2-1 pitch.
The ball left his bat with an exit velocity of 111 mph and traveled an astounding 470 feet, making it 3-0.
“I definitely think I got every piece of that baseball right there,” Wegner said.
Arkansas vs Auburn Highlights
Dave Van Horn Postgame Interview (Game 3)
Arkansas vs Auburn Box Scores
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