Matt Jones has been the online sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette since 2010. He is also a feature writer for Hawgs Illustrated magazine and is currently pursuing a Master's degree in documentary film.
Arkansas holds off App State rally
Arkansas shortstop Brett McAfee fields a ground ball during game two of the series against Appalachian State on Saturday February 15, 2014 at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE After building a sizable lead, Arkansas had to sweat out the late innings of Saturday's game at Baum Stadium.
After walking the potential tying run with one out in the ninth, Michael Gunn recorded a strikeout and a groundout as the Razorbacks held on for a 7-6 win over Appalachian State. Arkansas (2-0) won the three-game series after beating the Mountaineers in the season opener Friday.
Gunn recorded a 2 1/3 inning save for the Razorbacks, but it wasn't easy. With Arkansas leading 7-4 in the seventh inning, Gunn gave up a RBI triple to Dillon Dobson. Dobson scored on the play when Razorbacks second baseman Brian Anderson threw the ball over the head of third baseman Michael Bernal, pulling Appalachian State within 7-6.
"He did a good job and didn't panic," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "They had a runner on first base and the nine-hole hitter up, who's almost like their leadoff man. He fouled off two or three pitches, but Gunn just kept throwing strikes and finally got him looking on a perfect fastball. Obviously that was a huge out.
"They were one pitch away from having two on with one out there. Mike did a great job of finishing the game off for us."
Arkansas had taken the lead in the bottom of the fourth inning on a Joe Serrano RBI single and a three-run home run by Tyler Spoon. The Razorbacks chased Appalachian State starter Tyler Moore in the inning and Spoon's home run was the second pitch by reliever Taylor Thurber, giving Arkansas a 6-2 lead.
The Mountaineers (0-2) pulled within 6-3 on a Bradley Morton RBI single in the top of the sixth inning, but the Razorbacks added a run in the bottom of the inning with a RBI single by Eric Fisher to score Anderson. Fisher finished the game 2-for-4, including a solo home run in the bottom of the second to put Arkansas on the board.
"So far the 3-4-5 hitters (Anderson, Spoon and Fisher) have done a good job for us," Van Horn said. "Amongst those three hitters there are already 10 or more hits with a few home runs mixed in. So far, so good."
Chris Oliver worked a pair of quick innings to start the game, striking out four of the first seven batters he faced. The Razorbacks' junior right-hander ran into trouble in the third inning, hitting William Head, who scored on a play that had errors by both Arkansas shortstop Brett McAfee and center fielder Andrew Benintendi to pull Appalachian State within 2-1.
The Mountaineers tied the game later in the inning on Dobson's RBI double. Arkansas committed four errors Saturday, aiding three App State runs.
“A couple of (the errors) are ones that shouldn’t happen,” Van Horn said. “We’re going to hit people. It’s early and we’re trying to pitch inside. Hopefully we can smooth some of that stuff out.”
Oliver earned the win by throwing five innings on a pitch count. He struck out five batters and hit two.
"I had a little bit of the jitters, just the first time out," Oliver said.
“Early in the year like this, it’s good to get the young guys to see and feel what a close game comes down to."
Landon Simpson replaced Oliver in the sixth, allowing three runs in 1 2/3 innings on the mound. Head's RBI single scored Tyler Zupcic to pull Appalachian State within 7-4.
Arkansas recorded double-digit hits for the second consecutive game, finishing Saturday's contest with 11 hits. Anderson had three of those hits, while Spoon, Fisher and Krisjon Wilkerson each had multi-hit games.
The two teams will play the final of their three-game series Sunday with a first pitch scheduled for 1:05 p.m.