Clay Henry is the publisher and executive editor of Hawgs Illustrated. He is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and its All-America committee, voter for the Heisman Trophy and has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
Diamond Hogs win 6-1, sweep Mississippi State
Arkansas pitcher Josh Alberius throws against Mississippi State in SEC baseball on Sunday, March 19.
FAYETTEVILLE Josh Alberius, Kacey Murphy and Dominic Taccolini gave Arkansas superb pitching to highlight a 6-1 victory Sunday for a three-game sweep of Mississippi State in the opening SEC baseball series.
After smashing four home runs for all of their runs to win the first two games by 3-1 and 5-4 counts, the Hogs turned to small ball on Sunday at Baum Stadium. They manufactured five runs on eight singles through six innings.
Mississippi State (12-9, 0-3) won the SEC regular-season title last year. The Bulldogs ended the Arkansas season last year with a three-game sweep in Starkville.
"We played a lot of good baseball today," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "We didn't play home run derby. It was a well played game. We did the little things right, moved runners, bunted and got in runs a lot of different ways."
Van Horn was also pleased with the high intensity on Sunday. They had lost their last two Sunday games.
"I'm glad we played well on Sunday," he said. "It wasn't too good the last two weekends.
"It was a great feeling to win the series. The challenge was to play well on Sunday because we hadn't done it.""
The Hogs (17-4, 3-0) jumped to a 3-0 lead in the third. Eric Cole snapped an 0-for-24 slump with a single to center. Jax Biggers singled to right and Jake Arledge walked to load the bases. Chad Spanberger plated Cole with a sacrifice fly to right. After a ground out, Biggers scored on a wild pitch. Carson Shaddy added an RBI single.
Arkansas jumped the lead to 4-0 in the fourth. McFarland beat out an infield single. Cole bunted him to second. Arledge stroked an RBI single to left.
Taccolini gave up Brent Rooker's solo homer in the sixth, but the Hogs answered to make it 5-1 with a run in the bottom of the inning. Jordan McFarland singled, Cole bunted him to second and Biggers pulled a liner through a drawn-in infield for an RBI single.
Carson Shaddy gave the Hogs their final run with a solo homer in the seventh, his fifth of the season and second on the weekend. Shaddy missed two mid-week games with a sprained ankle, but went 4 for 9 in the series against MSU.
"I thought when Carson went down on Sunday, that it might be something that knocked him out for the year," Van Horn said. "It looked bad. But he came back and had a big impact in this series, did a lot of things for us, hit it to all fields."
Alberius (1-3) pitched 4 2/3 innings, leaving after a single in the fifth. Murphy got Jake Mangum, State's terrific lead-off hitter, with a pop-up to end that inning. It was the only batter Murphy faced. Taccolini, who didn't give up a hit other than the homer, pitched the final four innings for his first save.
Van Horn said Mangum, a switch-hitter, is tougher from the left side.
"We wanted to bring the lefty in and turn him around," Van Horn said. "That was the plan for the weekend."
The sweep was a major topic in the post-game interviews.
"This was awesome," Taccolini said. "It's my first time to sweep the opening series since I've been here."
The senior righthander credited pitching coach Wes Johnson, who was at MSU last year, for providing a little more detail in the scouting report.
"Coach Johnson knew them and had a lot of input, just knowing their makeup. These guys can hit and they like the fast ball. So I was spinning stuff away and they couldn't touch it."
Alberius found out about 30 minutes after Saturday night's game that he would start.
"Blaine (Knight) and Trevor (Stephan) set the tone the first two games," Alberius said. "I just followed the map they set up. Coach Johnson told us to keep it down to Mangum and Rooker, make them hit it on the ground."
Shaddy said the veterans on the team tried to bring intensity to the stadium on Sunday.
"We wanted to show the young guys that the intensity goes up on Sunday," he said. "We took the losses the last two weekends hard. We wanted to empty the tank today."
Van Horn was pleased with the defense all weekend. There were only two errors by the Hogs in three games, none on Sunday. Biggers made a dazzling play in the sixth on a grounder in the deep hole at shortstop.
"That was the lead-off man," Van Horn said, noting the play saved a run since Rooker followed with a homer. "It's a big play in the game."
Taccolini said it might be worth something to Biggers, his roommate.
"I probably owe him dinner," Taccolini said. "It was a great play. I was so happy."
Attendance was 5,202. Arkansas plays host to New Orleans at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the week's only non-conference game. The Hogs go to Missouri on the weekend.
Van Horn said he's not sure on a mid-week starting pitcher.
"It might be staff, the bullpen," Van Horn said. "I do know that New Orleans can hit. They beat LSU twice in midweek games."
Van Horn expects infielder Jared Gates to be in the lineup Wednesday for the first time this season after breaking a bone in his hand in preseason.
"He was on the roster this weekend," Van Horn said. "He's been taking hitting in the indoor against live pitching. He's ready to roll. He'll probably be at third base."
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