Arkansas digs in, avoids rare sweep
Arkansas pitcher Chris Oliver pitches against Mississippi at Oxford-University Stadium in Oxford, Miss. on Sunday, May 4, 2014. Arkansas won 11-1. (AP Photo/Oxford Eagle, Bruce Newman)
OXFORD, Miss. - Arkansas showed fight on the mound and durability in the field when facing the prospect of being swept in a SEC series for the first time since 2012.
Chris Oliver didn’t need Blake Baxendale’s two-run single in the ninth, but it was a capsule shot of the toughness the Razorbacks displayed throughout the day with timely offense and plays in the field in an 11-1 victory before 7,121 fans at Swayze Field Sunday afternoon.
Baxendale fell to the ground behind first base after grounding out to shortstop in the sixth. He was seen by medical staff and remained in the game at catcher, but he limped noticeably while running to first after a strikeout-wild pitch that scored an Arkansas run in the eighth.
Arkansas had 16 hits, and Baxendale went 2 for 5 with 2 RBI. He was finally replaced by Jackson Lowery who caught the bottom of the ninth.
Razorbacks Coach Dave Van Horn had no other catcher on the trip with Jake Wise unavailable after taking a knee to the head during a home-plate collision on Saturday and was suffering from concussion-type symptoms. Arkansas was ahead 8-1 when Baxendale came up in the top of the ninth.
“I told him, ‘Hey, we can pull you out right here. We’ve got a good lead now. You’ve done all you need to do,’” Van Horn said. “He said, ‘Coach I want to hit. I’ve gone this far, I want to get a hit.’”
Van Horn said he believes Baxendale will be ready for the Razorbacks’ (30-20, 11-13 SEC) home series against Texas A&M this weekend. He’s hopeful Wise will be ready as well.
Arkansas has won at least one game in 25 consecutive SEC series.
Arkansas chased Ole Miss starter Sam Smith (5-4) after he allowed 6 hits and 5 runs in 3 innings.
Smith struggled for the second consecutive weekend - he lasted 2 2/3 innings last Sunday in a game Ole Miss eventually won at Kentucky.
Ole Miss (35-14, 15-9 SEC) bailed out Smith last week, as it did for Christian Trent on Saturday, when it overcame an early four-run deficit against Arkansas.
But unlike Trent, who recovered and pitched five innings Saturday, Smith didn’t settle in.
Oliver (6-4) held on tight and didn’t let go, scattering 5 hits and 3 walks over 7 innings. It took a few innings for him to gain command of his fastball, but when he did his velocity increased, and he induced three double-play balls from the Rebels.
“We swung the bats today, 16 hits, and defense was huge for us,” Oliver said. “It showed today when it’s all going our way and everything’s clicking, we’re pretty good.
The Hogs got consecutive two-out hits in the second inning from Baxendale, Bobby Wernes and Michael Bernal, the last two driving in runs.
Eric Fisher’s two-run single in the third was part of a three-run inning. He struck it well and got it to the right of Ole Miss second baseman Preston Overbey without a play. Fisher was 6 for 10 for the weekend. Arkansas added a third run on a ground ball by Clark Eagan and left the third with a 5-1 lead.
Ole Miss Coach Mike Bianco said he was more concerned about how the Rebels played at the finish as Arkansas put up six runs over the final two innings.
“It’s embarrassing. It’s one thing for them to play well and pitch well, but throwing the ball to wrong bases, not communicating and letting them run on you … ,” Bianco said. “That’s the frustrating part. We’re better than that.”
SUNDAY’S GAMES Arkansas 11, Ole Miss 1 Georgia 5, South Carolina 3 Texas A&M 4, LSU 3 Mississippi St. 12, Auburn 1 Vanderbilt 3, Missouri 1 Florida 13, Alabama 3
Sports, Pages 15 on 05/05/2014