Louisiana Tech coach Lane Burroughs said he was concerned as he drove home Friday night that his team might come out flat Saturday against Arkansas.
The Bulldogs led the Razorbacks 7-4 going into the eighth inning of Friday’s series opener, but lost 9-7 in 10 innings.
On Saturday, Arkansas was in command from the start. The Razorbacks took the lead with two runs in the first inning and cruised to an 8-1 series-clinching victory.
“You play your heart out, you leave it all out on the field and you lose a heartbreaker to a really good team,” Burroughs said. “I’ve coached in that league. Those guys (Arkansas) are used to this — used to these environments, used to playing in really close, nail-biting games every weekend.
“The key to today was coming out with the same energy, the same focus, and I thought we did have a little less energy, a little less focus.”
In the first seven innings of the series, Louisiana Tech recorded 11 hits and outscored Arkansas 7-4, but in the last 12 innings the Razorbacks have held the Bulldogs to 6 hits and outscored them 13-1.
“They pretty much dominated the game (Saturday),” Burroughs said. “It was 8-1, but it felt like it was 15-1, to be honest with you. I just felt like we were never in the ballgame.”
Following Friday’s game when he hit the go-ahead home run in the top of the 10th inning, Arkansas shortstop Jalen Battles said comeback wins can have an effect on the rest of the series. The Razorbacks came back from late deficits to beat Southeast Missouri State and Murray State in series openers the previous two weeks, then swept both teams.
“The first games they’re always coming out trying to beat us with their vets, and we just suck the life out of them,” Battles said on the Razorback Sports Network. “It just affects the way they play, the way we play the rest of the series.”
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn sat right fielder Cayden Wallace last Sunday for the Razorbacks’ series finale against Murray State.
At the time, Van Horn said he wanted to give Wallace a day off and let him watch the game because he had been frustrated at the plate. It was a similar strategy to when Van Horn sat Casey Martin last season at the Shriners College Classic in Houston, a move that paid off as Martin responded with a strong stretch before the season was suspended 10 days later.
It appears Wallace might be responding in a similar manner. Though two games this weekend at Louisiana Tech, Wallace is 5 for 7, has reached base in 8 of 10 plate appearances and scored 5 runs batting cleanup.
Wallace hit solo home runs during the sixth inning Friday and fourth inning Saturday, and also hit an RBI single during the eighth inning Saturday. He walked once each game and was hit by a pitch in the series opener.
“It’s been great watching him swing the bat this weekend,” Van Horn said. “He had a great week of practice. He didn’t play last Sunday, maybe just to take a little pressure off of him, let him relax and watch off to the side. Sometimes you’ve got to realize it’s just baseball. Sometimes you can try too hard and it can snowball on you.
“I don’t know if sitting him last Sunday is why he’s doing so well this weekend. I think it’s just he got a couple of hits, he got his confidence going.”
Van Horn said Wallace has made some adjustments to shorten his swing.
“I think it’s really helped him,” Van Horn said. “He’s just trying to stay through the middle and good things are happening for him.”
Wallace has raised his batting average to .268. He is slugging .659 with 4 home runs and 4 doubles.
Nothing from Zebulon Vermillion’s first two starts could have suggested his great outing Saturday at Louisiana Tech.
Vermillion allowed 1 run on 3 hits and 3 walks in 8 innings. He allowed 4 runs on 5 hits and 6 walks in 7 innings combined in starts against Texas Tech and SEMO last month.
“I was kind of surprised with how much tilt and angle he had over the top,” Burroughs said. “That makes it tough on a hitter to lay off a pitch that’s up around your hands. That was a little surprise to me. I wasn’t expecting that.
“I was expecting more of a sink, slider-type guy. He worked fast, he was in the strike zone for the most part and he’s just one of those guys that it’s hard to get gauged up with because it is over the top and it’s tilting. Those guys, when they’re on, it’s tough to get the rhythm of them.”
On the Razorback Sports Network postgame show, Vermillion indicated that a gusty wind blowing into the ballpark gave him confidence to pitch to contact.
“I was like, ‘I’m just going to throw it, execute some pitches. If they hit it, it’s probably not going anywhere,’” Vermillion said.
Arkansas is No. 1 in all major college baseball polls, and through Saturday the Razorbacks also lead the sport in the Ratings Performance Index, better known as RPI.
The Razorbacks’ RPI improved from No. 3 entering the series. Arkansas’ strength of schedule has also improved 10 spots this weekend to No. 9.
Excluding their games against the Razorbacks, Arkansas’ opponents have a combined record of 54-21 this season for a win percentage of .720.
Louisiana Tech (42) has the second-highest RPI for an Arkansas opponent this year. SEMO has the No. 29 RPI and has won five of seven games since its series loss to the Razorbacks last month.
Other RPI rankings for Arkansas' opponents so far are: Texas (43), TCU (49), Texas Tech (64) and Murray State (79).
Smith bounces back
Arkansas infielder Cullen Smith was solid at the plate Saturday after a tough outing Friday.
Smith finished Saturday’s game 1 for 2 and walked twice. He scored a run in the eighth inning when he made a good dirt-ball read and advanced from third base on a wild pitch.
Smith also stole a base, but was thrown out at first base on a pickoff throw from Ryan Jennings.
On Friday, Smith went 0 for 4 with four strikeouts and was lifted from the game in the 10th inning for pinch hitter Charlie Welch, who doubled.