COLLEGE BASEBALL:

Bottled-up batters do just enough for Hogs

By: Troy Schulte
Published: Thursday, March 27, 2014
Arkansas' Joe Serrano (10) steals second base as Mississippi Valley's Xzavier Franklin awaits the throw in their game at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock Wednesday.
Photo by Rick McFarland
Arkansas' Joe Serrano (10) steals second base as Mississippi Valley's Xzavier Franklin awaits the throw in their game at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock Wednesday.

Dave Van Horn was well aware of the unforgiving ways of Dickey-Stephens Park even before his Arkansas baseball team arrived Wednesday in North Little Rock.

It didn’t take long for the rest of the Razorbacks to figure out during batting practice that things would be even tougher than usual during their game.

With a steady wind blowing in, Mississippi Valley State held Arkansas to just six hits, but the Razorbacks still managed to cobble together enough offense to defeat the Delta Devils 3-0 in front of an announced crowd of 8,867 in North Little Rock.

Joe Serrano stole home on the back end of a double steal in the third inning, Bobby Wernes scored on an error in a two-run seventh inning, and freshman Alex Phillips turned in his best start of the season as Arkansas improved to 5-0 in its annual appearance in central Arkansas.

“It’s definitely a pitcher’s ballpark,” Van Horn said. “It’s big with no wind. Then you have the wind blowing straight in from left or center, and it really played big.”

The Razorbacks combined to score 18 runs in a doubleheader sweep of the Delta Devils on Tuesday in Fayetteville, but they knew before the first pitch Wednesday that runs were going to be harder to come by in the final game of the series.

“We were smoking balls in batting practice and we realized they weren’t going anywhere,” Serrano said. “So we realized we had to hit the ball on the ground.”

That approach produced all the runs the Razorbacks needed. Arkansas (16-8) stranded a runner on third in the first and second innings before Serrano started things in the third inning with a one-out single up the middle. He stole second base and advanced to third on a wild pitch before Van Horn manufactured a run after Tyler Spoon drew a two-out walk.

With Eric Fisher at the plate, Spoon took off for second. When Delta Devils catcher Alex Bravo threw to second, Serrano raced home to give Arkansas a 1-0 lead.

“We were having a little trouble driving in runners,” Van Horn said. “It’s a play we work on a little bit, and it worked.”

Serrano’s run would have been enough by itself considering the performances of Phillips and relievers Jackson Lowery and Michael Gunn.

Phillips hadn’t lasted more than three innings in any of his previous starts, but he held Mississippi Valley State to 3 hits over 6 innings and didn’t walk a batter while striking out a season-high 7.

Mississippi Valley State (1-23) got singles from Xzavier Franklin and Terrance Steele in the second, but Phillips struck out Chase Dicharry looking to end the threat and allowed only one other runner to advance to second base while helping Arkansas earn its third shutout in its past four games.

Phillips said Van Horn told him that if he could continue pitching well that he would keep him in the ballgame.

“I just kept it one pitch at a time and didn’t really think about how long I would go or anything like that,” Phillips said.

Mississippi Valley State held Arkansas to two unearned runs last season in their meeting at Dickey-Stephens Park, and the Razorbacks had to work out of a bases-loaded jam in the ninth to nail down a 2-1 victory, and it looked like Wednesday’s game was heading down a similar path.

Mississippi Valley State starter Jonathan Parker didn’t allow another run after Serrano’s in the third, but Arkansas avoided any late-inning drama by adding two runs in the seventh off reliever Ryan Goddard.

Wernes led off the seventh with a walk and Michael Bernal laid down a bunt that was fielded by Goddard, but his throw to first base was low and Bernal reached on the error. Andrew Benintendi followed with another bunt that rolled down the third-base line to load the bases with no outs.

Serrano hit a grounder to third base that was fielded by Arrington Smith, whose throw home got away from Bravo and allowed Wernes to score. Brian Anderson drove in Bernal with a sacrifice fly.

“You find out really quick that [the park] is really unforgiving,” Wernes said. “ It’sa little frustrating. Brian’s last at-bat, when he had that sac fly, he did a nice job of just going with it.”

SUN BELT MISSOURI STATE 5, ARKANSAS STATE 4

Arkansas State (14-11) scored a run in the top of the ninth inning, but fell short in a loss to Missouri State (10-13) on Wednesday at Hammons Field in Springfield, Mo.

Trailing 5-3, Tyler Hardie led off the top of the ninth inning with a single to right field and Dustin Jones doubled down the left-field line to put runners on second and third with one out. Austin Baker drove in Kaleb Brown, who had come on to pinch-run for Hardie, with a ground out to first and moved the tying run to third base.

Lucas Feddersen followed and turned on the first pitch he saw but grounded out to end the game.

The Red Wolves (14-11) led 3-0 in the first inning on Tanner Ring’s RBI single, Feddersen coming home on a wild pitch and Joe Schrimpf’s sacrifice fly.

Missouri State scored four runs in the second inning to take a 4-3 lead. The Bears added a run in the third inning for a 5-3 advantage.

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Up next ARKANSAS AT MISSISSIPPI STATE WHEN 6:30 p.m. Friday WHERE Dudy-Noble Field, Starkville, Miss.

RADIO RSP statewide radio network. Not all games will be carried by affiliates. Check local listings INTERNET razorbacks.com.

Sports, Pages 17 on 03/27/2014

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