FAYETTEVILLE - It was a pitching duel from start to finish as No. 20 Arkansas outlasted Utah 3-2 on Friday at Baum Stadium. DJ Baxendale earned his second win in as many Fridays in relief of Arkansas starter Ryne Stanek, who carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning.
"We had to earn this one," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "That was a baseball game right there, a classic. There was some good pitching and timely hitting. I thought both teams pitched extremely well.
"We were down for the first time this season, and we came back and found a way to win it. But I thought both our pitchers, Stanek and Baxendale, did an outstanding job."
The Hogs were unable to cash in on base-runners early, managing only one run through the first five frames against Utah's starter Rick Anton.
"You've got to give their guy credit," Van Horn said. "He just kept mowing us down, throwing that cutter that was running in on our right handed hitters. We knew he was tough, we had the report on him, but I think he was a little better than we thought."
The Razorbacks countered by sending the freshman Stanek to the mound for his first career start after he threw four scoreless innings of relief last weekend against Delaware State.
This time, Stanek threw 5 2/3 innings, giving up two earned runs on three hits, while striking out two.
"I thought Stanek did a great job of throwing strikes," Van Horn said. "He got behind on a couple of hitters, but showed that he can come back."
Stanek caught the eye of more than just his coach.
"Stanek was lights out today," Arkansas outfielder Kyle Robinson said. "He really impressed me."
All three of Utah's hits off Stanek came in the sixth inning, which saw the Utes take a 2-1 lead. It was the first deficit the Hogs had faced all year.
Baxendale, who started last Friday, came on in relief to close the door on Utah's sixth inning rally.
The Razorbacks responded in the bottom of the sixth when Robinson tripled off the wall in right center. With the infield playing back, second baseman Bo Bigham hit a weak ground ball past the pitcher to score Robinson easily from third and tie the game at 2-2.
"Early in the game their pitcher was spot on," Robinson said. "He was spotting that two-strike cutter on the inner half of the plate to righties.
"We just got on the plate a little bit and as the game went on he got a little tired and left that fastball over the plate, and I was able to fortunately put a good swing on it to center."
Arkansas third baseman Matt Reynolds led off the eighth inning with a walk, and was advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by the clean-up hitter Robinson.
"Anyway possible with these new bats," said Robinson, who is batting .600 through four games.
Bigham, who struggled at the plate early, hit a 1-2 curveball just over a leaping second baseman to plate Reynolds and reclaim the lead.
"I was just trying to get them in anyway possible," said Bigham, who extended his team-leading hit streak to 10 games with the go-ahead RBI. "I just tried to put the bat on the ball. I was looking curveball, and I went down and got it, luckily got enough of it to get it over the second baseman's head."
That gave the Razorbacks the lead for good. Baxendale closed the door on the Utes in the ninth by striking out the first two hitters he faced. After hitting the next batter with a pitch, Baxendale got Utah's Austin Shackelford to ground out to Bigham to end the game, giving Baxendale his second win of the season.
"It was great to see our team compete and see how we really battled with some adversity," Baxendale said. "It was great that we came back after dropping down 2-1. I thought our hitters did a great job fighting back, getting the pitch count up and getting in the bullpen."
Robinson added, "It was good. It definitely showed some people what the team's made of; a little resilience coming back after they took the lead later on in the game. Utah is a very good team, I give them a lot of credit."
"It was a great job by our team, we saw a little bit of everything," Van Horn said. "We laid down a couple of bunts, we got a triple.
The win improved the Hogs 4-0 to start the season as they try to build up momentum before conference play begins March 18 at Auburn.
The Razorbacks continue their three-game series against Utah tomorrow at 1:05 with Geoffrey Davenport slated to start for the second time this season.