Youth will be served, but experience counts big time, too. That's the message Saturday as Arkiansas rallied twice to thump Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 13-9, at chilly Baum Stadium.
Sophomore DJ Baxendale, perhaps the most experienced UA hurler, allowed just one hit and no runs over the last 4 2/3 innings to steady a shaky ship as the Hogs came back from 4-0, 8-5 deficits for their second straight victory over the Panthers.
True freshman Dominic Ficociello had three hits and five RBI to lead the Hogs' offense. James McCann added three hits and Matt Reynolds scored four times. Reynolds had two hits, including his first home run of the season. It was the only homer of the day.
All of that was just enough to overcome six errors -- all by different Hogs -- on a day that the temperature was 35 degrees at game time and the wind chill estimated at 28.
"I don't think it was too cold," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said, wiping out that excuse in the first few seconds of his post-game interview. "We just didn't thorw and catch. Hopefully, that's the worst we'll play defense this year and we still won the game. I guess that's the good part of today.
"I will say it was sloppy on the part of both teams. I sure feel that way about the way we played and I expect they are thinking the same thing in their dugout."
UWM starter Jordan Guth gave up eight hits, walked three, saw his team commit three errors and he also was called for three balks, cricital mistakes in the Hogs' five-run third.
Baxendale earned the victory to improve to 3-0 with two saves in the Hogs' 9-1 start. He knew from the time he came to the park -- on a day with the wind blowing out -- that he would be in the game early. It was part of the plan to get him more pitches ahead of next week's trip to San Diego State where the Hogs will play four times starting Thursday night. Baxendale is penciled in as the starter in the opener Thursday.
"The coaches told me that they were going to try to stretch me out a little and that I'd start Thursday night at San Diego State," said Baxendale. "It doesn't really matter how I pitch. I'll do what they ask me to do."
Baxendale started the season opener, but has gone to the bullpen as the closer since then.
"We've seen some of our younger pitchers step up and we think we've got a closer with some of those," Van Horn said. "We want DJ to go back into the rotation now that we've seen that. Nolan Sanburn, a freshman, looks like he can close."
McCann, the junior catcher, knows what he's got when Baxendale is on the mound.
"He's solid and he may have some extra pitches this year over last," McCann said. "He's working both sides of the plate and that slider is really good. He got better late in the year last year, really improved over the summer in the Cape Cod League. And he's been right there so far this year."
Baxendale said it all started to fall into place when he changed his arm slot about two/thirds of the way through last season.
"I didn't have that slider early and it came on at the end," he said. "Then when I got to the Cape, playing against wood bats gave me some confidence to throw inside. But it started with changing the arm slot. Everything is more natural now."
The Hogs have survived despite shaky starting pitching to open the first two games against the Panthers. Ryne Stanek gave up six runs in 4 2/3 innings Friday. Brandon Moore allowed eight runs (six earned) in three innings Saturday. Both are freshmen.
"I think what you saw is what usually happens with freshmen," Van Horn said. "They might come out of the gates good, but somewhere in those first two or three outings, they struggle. It always happens. For some it happens in the first two games, but for these two it took the third game. They'll be alright."
The Hogs have seen their offense take off with 28 runs on 27 hits in the first two games of the series.
"It's a matter of getting more aggressive at the plate," McCann said. "We were sitting back and not attacking pitches early in the count earlier this season. That's what we worked on doing this week and you see it pay off now.
"I think it's just a matter of finally getting adjusted to live pitching. We'd been in the cage so long and now we've played a few games. You have some nervous at bats early on and it takes a little while for hitting to settle in. We were taking too many pitches in the first few games. We are finally swinging the bats more."
Arkansas 13, Wisconsin-Milwaukee 9
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