State of the Hogs: Confidence Builder

Arkansas did about what it wanted in a three-game sweep against Villanova. The pressure points were few and far between for the Razorbacks.

Things couldn't have gone much better for No. 4 Arkansas in the opening baseball series. The Razorbacks swept Villanova by 11-5, 13-1 and 17-1 scores over the weekend at Baum Stadium.

The biggest margin came Sunday when Jake Wise hit a walk-off two-run homer in the eighth inning as umpires watched for the 4:15 p.m. curfew to allow the Wildcats to catch their airplane back to Philadelphia, Pa. The games were so easy that UA head coach Dave Van Horn warned his team afterwards that things wouldn't stay that way forever.

Van Horn said there was only one stress point Sunday, perhaps the only one of the weekend. That came in the third inning when Arkansas starter Barrett Astin walked the bases loaded before striking out cleanup man Connor Jones to end the inning.

"It's like I told the guys after the game, we haven't been behind yet or seen any stressful situations," Van Horn said. "That third inning when we were up 5-0 when Barrett got their four-hole guy, that was the only time there was any pressure. They were probably one swing from being back in the game. But Barrett got out of it.

"Those stressful times are coming. We know that. But we just needed to go play a game. We had a good weekend. We didn't miss any signs and we ran the bases all right. We stole some bases. I'm real pleased. It couldn't have gone much better."

The starting pitching -- DJ Baxendale, Ryne Stanek and Astin -- held up for three games to post the victories while on pitch counts. There was only one real mistake on the weekend, an 0-2 breaking pitch that Colby Suggs left up in the zone on Friday that left the ball park.

Some of the question marks seemed to be answered, too. Sam Bates, the big junior college transfer who battled mono last year, drove in nine runs on the weekend to claim the cleanup spot in the order for now. He hit two home runs, including a 2-run shot to center in the first Sunday.

The catching was a tag team affair as the battle to take over for James McCann will continue for a few weeks. It was solid all weekend. Both Jake Wise, who started twice, and John Clay Reeves looked smooth blocking sliders in the dirt with runners on base. Both got RBI hits. Wise hit the homer in the eighth to end the game, a shot far over the wall in straight away left. Wise also got a gimme double on a popup on the infield that the third baseman lost.

"Both guys did a great job," Van Horn said. "Wise blocked three or four sliders in the dirt. So did John Clay when he played Saturday. Wise showed what he can do with that last at bat. It was a no doubter. We've seen that in batting practice. He wasn't great at the plate until then, but that last at bat was good for him."

Reeves had a two-RBI double on a two-strike count on Saturday in one of the many big innings for the Hogs on the weekend. He flashed his arm on a couple of steal attempts, too.

The team offense was impressive.

"Real nice," Van Horn said. "You never know what is going to happen early. We felt we could swing the bats. We have options. We had 17 guys hit on the weekend. We think it's like our pitching, real competitive."

And the Hogs may have found at least one member of the roster who can pitch and hit. Lefty Michael Gunn, freshman from Wilson, Ark., came on as a pinch hitter, then got the final five outs on the mound.

"I like him at the plate," Van Horn said. "And he can pitch. He's got a plus fast ball, maybe in the 90s. He'll bust it in on you. He got the double play ball."

But Van Horn knows there are tough outings waiting on the Hogs. Villanova's hitters looked over matched all weekend.

"Our pitching is probably ahead of their hitters right now," Van Horn said. "They'll get better."

It's hard to imagine the Razorbacks playing much better for an opening weekend.

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