Target on Hogs after big series

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Monday, March 19, 2018
Arkansas Kentucky Saturday, March 17, 2018, during the inning at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas Kentucky Saturday, March 17, 2018, during the inning at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- The target on the backs of the No. 10 Arkansas Razorbacks will grow after two days of dominating performances in a three-game sweep of No. 4 Kentucky.

The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville (16-4) seems destined to move up in the national rankings after outscoring the heavy-hitting Wildcats 39-15 to set up a second consecutive matchup of top 10 teams this weekend at defending national champion Florida.

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ARKANSAS BASEBALL VS. CHARLOTTE

WHEN 6:05 p.m., Tuesday

WHERE BB&T Park, Charlotte, N.C.

RECORDS No. 10 Arkansas 16-4; Charlotte 11-8

RADIO Razorback Sports Network. Not all games will be carried by all affiliates. Check local listings.

TV beIN Sports (check local listings)

SHORT HOPS

The Razorbacks were involved in an SEC opening sweep for the fourth consecutive season, joining losses at Vanderbilt (2015) and South Carolina (2016) and a victories over Mississippi State (2017). … The teams will play the first of a two-game set in Charlotte, the first at BB&T Ballpark in downtown Charlotte on Tuesday and the second at Charlotte’s Hayes Stadium on Wednesday. … Arkansas has eight regulars hitting .300 or better, led by Casey Martin (.393), Eric Cole (.388), Luke Bonfield (.386) and Jax Biggers (.368), as well as Evan Lee (.385), Jordan McFarland (.368) and Hunter Wilson (.333), who do not have enough at-bats to qualify. … The 49ers were swept by Georgia by the scores of 12-2, 6-4 and 10-7 in Athens, Ga., from Feb. 23-25 in their only previous games against an SEC opponent this year.

UPCOMING SCHEDULE

TODAY Off

TUESDAY vs. Charlotte#, 6:05 p.m.

WEDNESDAY at Charlotte (CST), 3 p.m.

THURSDAY Off

FRIDAY at Florida*, 5:30 p.m.

SATURDAY at Florida*, 11 a.m. (ESPN2)

SUNDAY at Florida*, 11 a.m. (SECN)

  • SEC game

BB&T Park, Charlotte, N.C.

But first the Razorbacks will face Charlotte (11-8) for a two-game series starting at 6:05 p.m. Central on Tuesday at BB&T Ballpark in downtown Charlotte, N.C., home of the AAA Charlotte Knights.

The Razorbacks unloaded on a veteran Kentucky pitching staff, slamming 13 home runs and hitting .419 in the series.

"That's kind of the craziest thing I've been a part of here at the university, and probably throughout my whole baseball career," said senior Luke Bonfield, who provided two of the home runs on the weekend.

"I think you just credit that to the team toughness," senior Carson Shaddy said of the team's offensive approach after winning 14-2 and 16-9 in Saturday's doubleheader. "I think that everybody smelled blood today. We didn't let go and we didn't step off. We wanted to really make a statement."

Catcher Grant Koch had games with two home runs to open and close the series, respectively. Bonfield and shortstop Jax Biggers homered in each game Saturday, while right fielder Eric Cole hit home runs on Friday night and in Saturday's first game.

"Offensively, what can you say," Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. "We hit a lot of balls hard. We just kept pouring it on. ... Just proud of the team. We knew we were in for a fight with Kentucky. It's a team that was pretty much leading the league in everything offensively.

The 39 runs were the most in an SEC series under Van Horn and the most for the Razorbacks in a conference series since 1997.

"Well, I've seen it before," Van Horn said. "I can't tell you when. I haven't seen it in SEC play a lot to be honest with you."

Arkansas dealt losses to all three Kentucky starters -- preseason SEC pitcher of the year Sean Hjelle (4-1), strikeout artist right-hander Justin Lewis (3-2) and freshman right-hander Daniel Harper (1-1), largely due to the Hogs' 12 first-inning runs.

"We hit some pretty good arms," Van Horn said. "I think some of it comes, obviously, because we're swinging the bats well right now, but also our players knew we needed to score runs. No lead was safe. For us to come out and do that two back-to-back games today, that was pretty special."

The 13 home runs -- launched with the wind blowing out in all three games at Baum Stadium, a rare occurrence -- represent 33 percent of Arkansas' total of 39 for the season and vaulted the Hogs into first in the SEC.

The Razorbacks also added 19 percentage points to their team batting average, improving to .327.

Biggers, the team's leadoff hitter, hit his first two home runs of the season, both pulled over the right-field wall.

"I just tried to get my barrel out and tried to barrel up a ball and whatever happened from there, happened from there," said Biggers, who improved his batting average to .368. "It's kind of contagious. Once one person gets going, another one gets going. You see two or three hits in a row and keep barreling balls up and they start falling."

Van Horn did not announce his starters for the Charlotte series, but hinted that left-hander Weston Rogers, who has been sidelined with an injury so far this season, would likely get a shot. Freshman right-handers Bryce Bonnin (1-0, 2.45 ERA) and Caleb Bolden (2-0, 2.13) would also be starting candidates.

Arkansas ace Blaine Knight (3-0, 1.30), who took a batted ball off his left ankle in the opener, is expected to be ready for the big series against the Gators.

"It's black and blue, bruised pretty good," Van Horn said. "It's right above his ankle. It seems just as long as he can put his weight on it he says he feels fine."

Sports on 03/19/2018

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