The Razorbacks fought off elimination Saturday, using a brilliant pitching performance by DJ Baxendale to shut out New Mexico 3-0 in the NCAA Tempe Regional. The win was the school's first in six attempts at Packard Stadium on the campus of Arizona State University.
Baxendale improved to 10-2 this season by throwing eight scoreless innings. The sophomore struck out seven New Mexico batters and allowed just four hits while tossing 131 pitches with a scorching temperature of greater than 100 degrees.
"The difference was our pitching with DJ," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "He gutted it out in the 100-plus degrees. He'll probably tell you he's been better, but he pitched extremely well and got us out of a couple of jams."
For his career, Baxendale has thrown 14 1/3 innings at the venue, allowing just one run on eight hits.
"I was real comfortable," Baxendale said. "After throwing here last year and playing in the heat, even though it was a night game (last year), it was big for me. I knew what it was going to take energy-wise and preparing for the game drinking lots of fluids.
"As the game went on I started trusting myself and trusting the defense behind me. In the later innings, they really made some great plays."
Baxendale has an equally impressive resume against New Mexico. He made his first career start against the Lobos last April at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville. In 13 career innings against New Mexico, Baxendale has given up no runs on six hits and struck out 12 batters.
"The guy for Arkansas on the mound was extremely good," New Mexico coach Ray Birmingham said. "We've probably seen some of the best arms in the country and his pitching performance today was outstanding. I tip my hat to him because he did a great job."
Arkansas (39-21) backed up its pitcher with enough run support one day after falling 3-2 to Charlotte in the first game of the regional.
After Baxendale struck out the side in the bottom of the first, the Razorbacks bats gave the team the lead for good. Collin Kuhn, who led off the inning with a double, scored on a Jarrod McKinney RBI double, and McKinney scored later in the frame on a well-executed squeeze bunt by Matt Reynolds.
McKinney, who had two hits in the opener against Charlotte, finished Saturday's game 3-for-4 at the plate with two doubles and two runs scored.
"Jarrod did a good job," Van Horn said. "One of his doubles was on a change-up and I think he hit it over the third baseman's head…He scored later on a safety bunt with a bang-bang call. McKinney did a good job of getting his foot underneath the tag.
"We were trying to manufacture runs and get a lead, and be aggressive. It seemed like yesterday we couldn't get anything going and were being passive, and not running the bases as hard as we could. It worked out."
The game turned into a pitchers' duel from the second inning-on as Baxendale and New Mexico starter Richard Olson seemingly matched pitch-for-pitch.
Olson, who entered the game with a 3-7 record and 6.45 earned run average, was impressive in the final game of his career. The Australia-native pitched 7 1/3 innings, scattering seven hits and striking out five batters.
At one point, Olson retired 11 consecutive batters in the middle innings. It was the second straight quality start for New Mexico as Rudy Jaramillo took a no-hitter into the sixth inning of Friday's game against top seed Arizona State.
"I thought Olson did a great job of recovering," Van Horn said. "It looked like we were going to knock him out of the game in maybe the second or third inning, and he got it going."
New Mexico (20-41) had chances to get to Baxendale early, but couldn't capitalize with runners on base. The Lobos stranded a pair of runners in the second and fourth innings, and another runner in the fifth and eighth.
Arkansas, which stranded eight runners of its own, extended its lead to 3-0 in the top of the ninth on Bo Bigham's RBI single to score McKinney, who had led off the inning with a single.
Trent Daniel struck out all three batters he faced in the ninth inning, earning his fourth career save. Arkansas' pitchers struck out 10 batters for the game.
"We weren't able to put together a big inning, but our pitching held it there for us," Van Horn said.
The Razorbacks now await the loser of tonight's game between Charlotte and Arizona State in another elimination game Sunday at 3 p.m., Central. If Arkansas wins that game, it will play another Sunday at approximately 8 p.m., Central.
Freshman Ryne Stanek, who gave up just two hits in 7 2/3 innings in his last start against Alabama at the Southeastern Conference Tournament, will get the starting nod in the first game for Arkansas.
"Stanek pitched an outstanding game against Alabama in the SEC Tournament; kind of what we were hoping we'd get from him throughout the year," Van Horn said. "Hopefully it's a sign of what we have to look forward to tomorrow and in the future.
"We have a lot of pitching left, but it's young like our whole staff. If we can somehow survive tomorrow's first game, we feel like we've got a shot in the night game. We've got enough arms to do it."