Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
Middle stepping up for Arkansas
Arkansas shortstop Brett McAfee (center) watches as second baseman Jordan Farris dives to make a force out at second on LSU's Sean McMullen in the top of the third inning on Sunday, April 14, 2013, at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - After shortstop Tim Carver and second baseman Bo Bigham started a combined 392 games for Arkansas the previous four seasons, it appears the Razorbacks may have found their replacements in Brett McAfee and Jordan Farris.
McAfee, a sophomore shortstop from Longview, Texas, and Farris, a freshman second baseman from Ventura, Calif., have solidified the middle of Arkansas’ infield heading into a three-game series at Georgia, which opens at 6 tonight at Foley Field in Athens, Ga.
Last weekend against Texas A&M marked the first SEC series in which McAfee and Farris started all three games, and they responded by combining to hit .500 (10 of 20) and play well defensively to help the 14th-ranked Razorbacks take 2 of 3 from the Aggies.
McAfee was 6 of 9 in the series, while Farris finished 4 of 11, including a home run, and drove in six runs.
“It’s good to have them rolling,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. “They’re settling in a little bit, I feel like.
“If we’re winning and they’re playing well, why change?”
Starting Farris and McAfee has allowed Van Horn to move Dominic Ficociello from second to first base - his primary position the previous two years - and move Brian Anderson from shortstop to the outfield, where he’s more comfortably defensively.
“They’re really solid defensively, and they’re coming around with the bats now,” Arkansas closer Colby Suggs said of Farris and McAfee. “They’re getting hot at the right time. We really love them up the middle.”
McAfee started 18 of the first 20 games at shortstop, but hit .250 and struggled with his fielding. He then started just two of the next 14 games.
McAfee, batting .434 (10 for 23) while starting the past seven games, said it took him some time to overcome injuries from the past two seasons and adjust to playing at Arkansas after transferring from Panola (Texas) Junior College.
“The fall was kind of a big learning experience for me to get back into the game and also adjust to this caliber of baseball. So starting out, I was a little shaky, a little rusty,” he said. “As the season went on, I was able to get real comfortable … get back into a routine of playing.”
Farris has started five of the past six games. In his first SEC start two weeks ago, he went 2 for 4 with a home run to help Arkansas beat LSU.
“I’m loving it,” Farris said.“I didn’t see myself becoming a starter this early.”
McAfee said he and Farris have become close friends.
“We have real good chemistry,” McAfee said. ‘We have a lot of communication up the middle, and that’s huge for us.”
Today’s game ARKANSAS AT GEORGIA WHEN 6 p.m.
WHERE Foley Field, Athens, Ga.
RECORDS Arkansas 27-15, 11-7 SEC;
Georgia 16-26, 4-14 RADIO Razorbacks Sports Network. Not all games will be carried by affiliates.
Check local listings.
Sports, Pages 17 on 04/26/2013