Baxendale’s blast a big lift for Hogs

Published: Monday, April 14, 2014
Arkansas' Blake Baxendale (24) connects on a grand slam home run in the first inning of a game against LSU Sunday, April 13, 2014 at Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge, La. Arkansas won 10-4.
Photo by Chris Daigle
Arkansas' Blake Baxendale (24) connects on a grand slam home run in the first inning of a game against LSU Sunday, April 13, 2014 at Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge, La. Arkansas won 10-4.

Correction: Blake Baxendale celebrates at home plate after hitting a grand slam in the first inning of Arkansas' 9-2 victory Sunday over LSU in Baton Rouge. A photo of Eric Fisher was misidentified as Baxendale on page 1C of Monday's editions.

BATON ROUGE, La. - Arkansas’ baseball team discovered the obvious Sunday in front of 5,734 at Alex Box Stadium.

The Razorbacks found it’s much easier to win after establishing an early four-run lead than it is trying to overcome an early four-run deficit.

Redshirt freshman designated hitter Blake Baxendale’s first-inning grand slam gave Arkansas the start it needed, and the Razorbacks coasted to a 10-4 victory over16th-ranked LSU, avoiding a three-game sweep.

Baxendale said the Razorbacks were determined to get off to a good start after falling behind LSU 4-0 in losses to the Tigers on Friday (5-3) and Saturday (5-4).

Dave Van Horn - LSU Postgame

Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn recaps the Razorbacks' 10-4 win over LSU on Sunday. (By Chris Daigle)
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WHEN 6:35 p.m. Tuesday

WHERE Baum Stadium, Fayetteville

RECORDS Arkansas 22-15, 7-8 SEC; Stephen F. Austin 15-20, 6-9 Southland

NOTABLE Razorbacks begin a nine-game homestand.

“We took punches on Friday and took punches on Saturday,” Baxendale said. “We wanted to come out today and give them a punch.”

Sunday starter Chris Oliver (4-3) picked up the victory despite walking 7 and striking out 1 in 7 innings of work.

Zach Johnson replaced Oliver in the eighth and retired all six batters he faced.

“This is the worst Chris Oliver has pitched in a month - maybe the whole year,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said.

“He struck out one and walked seven, and he gets a W?

“That’s rare, and that’s because finally, the hitting backed up the pitching. You’re not going to pitch great all the time.”

Oliver had room for error before he threw his first pitch thanks to Baxendale, who entered the day batting .189 with three RBI.

Batting with one out and the bases loaded in the first, Baxendale hit a change up from LSU starter Kyle Bouman inside the left-field foul pole for the 4-0 lead.

Tyler Spoon had led off with a double.

“I was just trying to hit a ball to the outfield since I don’t run that well,” said Baxendale, who played his senior season at Rogers Heritage High School after starring at Sylvan Hills in central Arkansas.

“I didn’t want to hit into an inning-ending double play.”

Baxendale finished 2 for 5 with 5 RBI, adding an RBI double in the four-run fifth inning that was highlighted by Eric Fisher’s third fifth-inning home run of the series - this one a two-run shot - helping Arkansas extend the early 4-0 lead to 9-2.

The Razorbacks (22-15, 7-8) scored 10, their season-high in an SEC game, against an LSU team (27-9-1, 8-6-1) that has struggled it identify a Sunday starter. LSU Coach Paul Mainieri used eight pitchers Sunday, including Bouman, who lasted one inning.

Arkansas, despite losing the series, scored 17 runs against LSU, surpassing their previous high of 12 runs in an SEC series, and the Razorbacks have hit seven home runs and scored 40 runs in their past six games.

“We want to come out and score as many runs as we possibly can for these pitchers,” Baxendale said. “They come out and give us all they’ve got. We just need a little confidence.”

Continued improvement by the offense bodes well for an Arkansas team that trails SEC West leader Alabama by three games and has 9 of its final 15 conference games at home.

Van Horn said he told his players to approach Sunday like it was the first game of a new season.

“It was a tough environment here, and losing those first two hurt,” Van Horn said. “But to get away with one will hopefully give us a little momentum for the week.”

Sports, Pages 13 on 04/14/2014