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.
Arkansas holds off Grambling
Arkansas starting pitcher Colin Poche pitches during first inning play Tuesday night March 18, 2014 at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville against visiting Grambling State.
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas beat Grambling State on Tuesday at Baum Stadium, but the 4-3 victory did not come without some tense moments.
Razorbacks pitchers gave up one hit through the first seven innings but allowed six runners over the final two innings, and Arkansas didn’t secure the victory until Grambling’s Edwin Drexler lined out to Arkansas first baseman Eric Fisher with the tying run on third base.
“We cruised along for the first seven innings, but you could kind of see it turning,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. “We had some young players out there. Hopefully they learned from the experience.
“[Grambling] is a Division-I team and they have played some good competition. They’re kind of like us. They’ve lost some close games — just like tonight, a one-run game. I felt they didn’t feel they were out of the game.”
Arkansas (10-7) allowed two Grambling runners in the first when left-hander Colin Poche committed a throwing error and allowed a single in consecutive first-inning at-bats.
Razorbacks pitchers were nearly perfect after that, recording 22 consecutive outs without allowing a hit or issuing a walk until reliever Chris Falwell ran into trouble with one out in the top of the eighth inning.
Falwell gave up a bloop single to Dion Holbrook and walked Drexler in the next at-bat. Holbrook scored on Kris Minter’s single that chased the freshman reliever, bringing in Landon Simpson, and Drexler scored on a double steal.
The Tigers stranded runners at third base in the eighth and ninth innings. Simpson left the game with one out in the ninth, and Zach Jackson recorded the final two outs to earn the save.
The near-collapse overshadowed the performance from Poche, who continues to round into form after elbow soreness limited him early in the season. Poche pitched four scoreless innings and retired 11 consecutive batters after his first-inning struggles.
Poche, restricted by a pitch count, struck out three batters and threw 44 pitches to earn the victory.
“I babied that throw a little,” Poche said of the throwing error. “After that, I settled down and started getting my fastball over the plate.”
James Teague retired all six batters he faced in the fifth and sixth innings, and Falwell worked around a fielding error to lead off the seventh inning by retiring three consecutive batters.
Arkansas left 11 runners on base, including seven in scoring position. The Razorbacks had eight hits against the Tigers (3-16).
“What was frustrating was stranding 11 runners on base,” Van Horn said. “We got people on but didn’t do a very good job scoring runs.”
Arkansas left a runner in scoring position in each of the first two innings, but the Razorbacks sent 10 batters to the plate in the third inning to take a 4-0 lead.
Clark Eagan singled and scored on a single by Fisher. Bobby Wernes had a two-out single to score two runs later in the inning, and Arkansas scored another run when Michael Bernal was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
Eagan flied out to left field to end the inning, leaving the bases loaded. Arkansas also stranded runners at third base in the fourth and seventh innings.
“When we didn’t punch in some more runs after we scored four in the third, you could kind of see it coming a little bit,” Van Horn said. “That was the disappointing part for us coaches was that we didn’t put the game away.”
The two teams will play again Wednesday at 3:05 p.m.