Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
Razorbacks catch wind at right time
Arkansas third baseman Michael Bernal celebrates after scoring a run during the game against Eastern Illinois at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014.
FAYETTEVILLE - The pesky Baum Stadium winds played to Arkansas’ favor Saturday.
Michael Bernal’s windblown triple drove in the go ahead run and ignited a five run eighth inning that included Brian Anderson’s three-run home run as the Razorbacks defeated Eastern Illinois 8-3 before a season-high crowd of 5,286.
Arkansas (5-0) blew a 3-0 lead in the top of the eighth, costing starter Chris Oliver a victory, as the Panthers (1-5) rallied to tie it on Frankie Perrone’s two-out, two-run single off Jackson Lowery.
Eastern Illinois reliever Joe Greenfield (0-1) retired the first two batters in the Arkansas eighth, then got ahead of Jake Wise on an 0-2 count. Wise reached on an infield single to deep short to bring up Bernal, who went 3 for 3 with 3 runs scored in the ninth spot in the batting order.
Bernal lofted a flare down the right-field line that bounced just in front of diving outfielder Trey Russell, who had to charge in to make the play, and skirted past him to allow Wise to score.
“Playing at this stadium,you know that wind’s going to blow,” Bernal said. “Pretty much the whole game I could see the whole outfield was playing far to the left … partially because of the wind. Anything hit to that side of the field was going to be hard for them to get to.”
Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said the wind takes away hits but gives some back.
“It got up there with some backspin on it and … we were screaming from the dugout that we thought he was really going to struggle with it and that he was going to end up having to dive for it, and, sure enough, that thing just got blown back 30 feet.”
“It’s gut wrenching, and that’s good,” Eastern Illinois Coach Jim Schmitz said. “That means we put everything into it.”
Bernal scored on a wild pitch to make it 5-3, and the Hogs’ two-out rally continued with Andrew Benintendi being hit by a pitch and Joe Serrano walking before Anderson crushed a 1-0 pitch from Andrew Grahn far over the left-field wall.
“Jake Wise came up, got down on an 0-2 count, two outs, and really battled to get on base,” Anderson said. “That got stuff rolling. That kind of set the tone, and I was able to get the pitch I was looking for and put a good swing on it.”
Anderson went 2 for 4 to raise his average to .429, the same as Bernal’s. Serrano also went 2 for 4 with 2 RBI singles.
Oliver and Eastern Illinois’ 6-7 right-hander, Matt Borens, matched zeros for four innings. Oliver gave up leadoff walks in the first two innings and a single to open the third, but he picked off Mitch Gasbarro in the first, got a double-play grounder to end the second and did not allow a run while throwing 80 pitches through six innings.
“I wasn’t being as aggressive as I usually am with the fastball,” Oliver said. “I was a little scattered to begin with,then after the third or fourth inning I got hold of it.”
A one-out error in the fifth by Panthers third baseman Brant Valach, followed by a single by Bernal and a wild pitch, put two runners in scoring position. Benintendi brought in Wise with a ground out to short, then Serrano poked a pitch to right field to bring in Bernal for a 2-0 lead.
Bernal and Benintendi had consecutive one-out singles in the seventh off Garrison Stenger, then Serrano greeted Greenfield with a single up the middle to make it 3-0. The Razorbacks had a chance to blow it open when Anderson was hit by a pitch to load the bases, but Tyler Spoon struck out and Eric Fisher popped up.
Michael Gunn (1-0) worked out of a two-out jam with a runner on second to escape the eighth and needed just nine pitches to record the last four outs.
Today’s game ARKANSAS VS. E. ILLINOIS WHEN 1:05 p.m.
WHERE Baum Stadium, Fayetteville RECORDS Eastern Illinois 1-5; Arkansas 5-0 RANKINGS Arkansas is No. 25 in the Baseball America poll RADIO RSP statewide radio network. Not all games will be carried by affiliates.
Check local listings.
INTERNET www.arkansasrazorbacks.com and ESPN3 PITCHING MATCHUP Eastern Illinois: Christian Slazinik (LHP, 0-1, 9.00 ERA);
Arkansas: Alex Phillips (RHP, 0-0, 6.00) SHORT HOPS The Razorbacks have been hit by 18 pitches in five games and are halfway to their total of 36 in 61 games last season. … Arkansas’ starters have allowed 3 earned runs in 25 2/3 innings for an ERA of 1.05. … Both starters departed with ERAs of less than 1.00, with Arkansas’ Chris Oliver at 0.82 and EIU’s Matt Borens at 0.75. … Arkansas lead off batter Andrew Benintendi had productive outs - a sacrifice and RBI ground out - before his seventh-inning single and eighth-inning hit-by-pitch. … The eight and nine spots in Arkansas’ order accounted for five runs.
THE WEEK AHEAD TODAY vs. E. Illinois, 1:05 p.m.
MONDAY Off TUESDAY Off WEDNESDAY Off THURSDAY Off FRIDAY vs. S. Alabama, 3:05 p.m.
SATURDAY vs. S. Alabama, 12:05 p.m.
SUNDAY vs. S. Alabama, 1:05 p.m.
Sports, Pages 21 on 02/23/2014