Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Biletnikoff Award.
Diamond Hogs struggling to score
Arkansas base runner Michael Bernal is tagged out by South Alabama catcher Matt Wojciechowski as he tries to score a run in the third inning of the first game of Saturday's doubleheader against South Alabama at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE Entering conference play Arkansas looks like a similar team as this time a year ago.
Like last year, the Razorbacks are coming off a disappointing trip west where they dropped three of four games in California and dropped out of the national rankings. After beginning the season 7-0, the Razorbacks are now 8-5.
Most of Arkansas' problems have once again come at the plate. The Razorbacks scored only nine runs in their four games against San Francisco, Tulane and California last weekend, losing three one-run games.
"We've played some close games and we haven't won any of them," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said following Sunday's two losses to Cal. "(We've had) four one-run losses, a two-run loss - those are our five losses. It's about being tough, it's about making a play, making a pitch or grinding out an at-bat. Right now I feel we're not doing a real good job of that. We've got to turn that around."
Like many times last season, Arkansas' offense didn't produce enough despite solid pitching performances. The Razorbacks allowed only eight runs in California, including a shutout against Tulane.
Arkansas stranded 18 base runners in its two losses to Cal on Sunday, including 10 in the finale. It was one of three games this year Arkansas has lost by a final score of 2-1.
"We hung in there but didn't get the big hit," Van Horn said. "It's about hitting with runners in scoring position. The good pitchers are are going to make good pitches with runners in scoring position. That's how they're going to make their money, so to speak. We didn't do a good job. We had too many fly balls and struck out a couple of times."
Two-out hits had been a strength of the Razorbacks during their 7-game win streak to open the season. Arkansas scored a combined nine runs with two outs in the eighth inning of Saturday and Sunday wins against Eastern Illinois, and scored eight runs with two outs in the series opener against South Alabama.
The Razorbacks out-hit San Francisco on Friday and Cal in the weekend finale.
"When you out-hit people in two games and lose them, there's probably a reason," Van Horn said. "We've got to do a better job if we're going to win games."
The Razorbacks open Southeastern Conference play this week with a road trip to Florida, who like Arkansas has dropped from the top 25 after being ranked in the preseason. The Gators are 10-6 overall entering a midweek game against Illinois State.
"Florida is going to be tough," Van Horn said. "The experience we gained, I hope it helps us in Florida. When you get into the SEC nobody cares. They all want to beat you as bad as they can. It's all about staying at the top of the league standings. We've got our hands full every time we go out."