SEC Baseball :

Hogs clear field, pile on Panthers

By: Bob Holt
Published: Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Arkansas' Chad Spanberger beats the throw to Eastern Illinois third baseman Brant Valach Monday, March 2, 2015.
Photo by J.T. Wampler
Arkansas' Chad Spanberger beats the throw to Eastern Illinois third baseman Brant Valach Monday, March 2, 2015.

FAYETTEVILLE -- First the Arkansas Razorbacks cleaned. Then they swept.

The Razorbacks enjoyed a doubleheader sweep in seven-inning games over Eastern Illinois Monday at Baum Stadium, winning 4-1 and 8-1, after cleaning snow off the field Sunday.

"It was incredible the way they went out there," Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said of the cleanup. "There were 35-plus players, coaches and administrators and grounds crew.

"We worked about four hours straight getting that snow off. They really wanted to play. They didn't complain. It was a little team bonding."

Arkansas hadn't played in eight days because of snow and ice, which canceled their four-game series against California that was supposed to open last Thursday. Arkansas scheduled Eastern Illinois as a replacement in a series that was delayed from Saturday until Monday.

It was 34 degrees when the doubleheader started at 1 p.m. and got up to 37 degrees for the second game, but the Razorbacks didn't mind the cold.

"To me, it was like an extra opening day, kind of that same feeling," said junior third baseman Bobby Wernes, who had 2 walks, 3 hits, 3 RBI and 1 run scored in the doubleheader. "We were for sure excited to get out there."

One surprise was the display of power by Wernes, who hit his first home run and first triple in two seasons with the Razorbacks. He had one extra base hit last season -- a double -- in 175 at-bats.

"I wasn't OK with that," Wernes said. "I don't really care about my personal stats at all, but I knew I needed to be more physical for sure."

Wernes stayed in Fayetteville last summer to work with strength and conditioning coach Mike Strouhal.

""It's the same swing," Wernes said. "It's just carrying a lot more."

Van Horn said Wernes has adjusted his stance and is pulling the ball.

"He's actually even faster than he was last year, and he's still a really good defender," Van Horn said. "He's just elevated his game."

Wernes led off the bottom of the fifth inning in Monday's second game with a home run off Eastern Illinois starter Garrison Stenger to tie game at 1-1.

"I think that made everyone just relax a little bit, because once that happened we knew we had the game for sure," Wernes said.

Stenger held Arkansas (6-2) to one hit through four innings.

"He had been carving us up," Wernes said. "I was leading off an inning and just trying to get on base. He hung one up and I just, 'Yeah.' "

Bernal followed with a home run on a 0-2 breaking ball, and the Razorbacks scored three more runs in the fifth to knock Stenger out of the game.

Arkansas junior shortstop Michael Bernal hit a grand slam in the sixth inning off reliever Jake Johansmeirer -- Bernal said it was another hanging breaking ball on a 2-2 count -- to make it 8-1.

"I'm just trying to get up there and get reps," said Bernal, who was sidelined by a knee injury earlier this season. "It's been a while since I've been out there on the field."

Arkansas relievers Jackson Lowery, James Teague and Josh Alberius (1-0) held Eastern Illinois to 2 hits and 1 unearned run in 5 1/3 innings after Van Horn took out starter Zach Jackson with two runners on base and two outs in the second inning. Jackson didn't allow a hit, but walked four. Of his 41 pitches, 22 were balls.

Van Horn said with a seven-inning game and the bullpen rested he wasn't going to wait to see if Jackson could find his control.

"We have guys that were ready to go, and we didn't want that game to slip away from us," Van Horn said.

Dominic Taccolini pitched six innings while earning the victory in the opener.

Taccolini held the Panthers (0-5) to 2 hits and 1 run with 4 strikeouts, but had 2 walks and 2 wild pitches.

"His stuff was very good," Van Horn said. "The jams he got in were self-inflicted for the most part. That was the bad part. The good part was he worked his way out of it.

"They don't square him up real good. That ball's sinking and diving all over the place."

Closer Jacob Stone allowed a single and walk in the seventh inning, but got the save when Matt Dunavant lined into a double play to end the game.

That Arkansas got to play at all had a lot to do with the team's willingness to work in the field on Sunday.

Wernes said shoveling snow off the field reminded him of his days at Nesho County (Mo.) Community College and how well the Razorbacks are treated.

"That was a kind of a 'Get out there and start shoveling ,because we're going to play tomorrow," Wernes said. "I don't think a lot of other teams would have done that."

Sports on 03/03/2015


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