Redshirt freshman first baseman Eric Fisher homered to lead off a five-run third inning and drove in a trio of runs while Razorback ace Ryne Stanek and a pair of relievers combined on a three-hitter as Arkansas downed Western Illinois 9-1 before 4,734 opening-day fans at Baum Stadium.
"Obviously I think we played really well the first day out with temperatures the way they were," Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. "We hit the ball extremely well and I thought our offense did a great job a couple of three innings there by fouling off a lot of pitches and making their guy (Nick Smith) work.
"He (Smith) had pretty good stuff, but we got his pitch count up," Van Horn added. "We knew he was going to be pretty good because he beat Georgia last year and pitched pretty well - especially early in the season - and was a tough pitcher down the stretch. After three innings we already had him at 60 to 70 pitches and then we put him away with that big five-run inning."
He was slated to hit clean up, but re-injured his oblique in pre-game warm-ups and will likely sit out the entire three-game series this weekend with the Leathernecks.
"He kind of re-aggravated it, actually fielding a ground ball is what he told me," Van Horn said. "He has kind of a little pull in his rib area that he hurt swinging the bat about 10 days ago. He thought he was healed, but obviously he wasn't."
After Stanek retired the side in order to start the game, Arkansas got the season rolling right away as Matt Vinson and Jacob Morris walked, Tyler Spoon sacrificed them up and Fisher plated both for a 2-0 lead.
"We had three right-handed hitters to start off with and I thought I would put Fisher in the four hole so we would have a left-handed bat there," Van Horn said. "And then I just kind of went left, right, left, right. Fisher came up after two walks and a sac bunt and he did what you are supposed to do – hit a ground ball and drive in a run. He just found a hole and got too RBIs. That was really good to see."
Lefty-swinging Fisher then led off the third by launching a pitch deep over the right field fence, his first career homer.
"It was a fast ball and he kind of left it over the plate," Fisher said. "I took advantage of the missed pitch. It felt good. I hit it and ran out of the box and started to look at it and realized that it definitely had a chance. When it went over it was a good feeling."
Van Horn was happy to see Fisher have success in his first Razorback game.
"I think that was great for his confidence number one and on the defensive side you got to see how he moves around the bag real easy and is just a solid player," Van Hor said. "I felt like that was one reason that we could move Ficociello to second base."
Fisher both started and ended a frame in which the Razorbacks sent 10 men to the plate and got four more runs on Jacob Mahan's RBI single, Brett McAfee's sacrifice fly, Matt Vinson's run-scoring single and Jacob Morris' run-scoring groundout for a 7-0 advantage.
Dan Dispensa broke up Stanek's shutout and cut it 7-1 in the fourth with blast that got up into the wind and just carried over the left field fence.
Arkansas got that run back in the bottom of the fifth when Jacob Morris walked, moved up on Tyler Spoon's walk, stole third and then raced home from third to make it 8-1 when Spoon was picked off first and got in a run down.
Brian Anderson then tripled home Spoon in the seventh to cap the scoring.
Anderson and Mahan – Ficociello's replacement at second - joined Fisher with a pair of hits each while Morris walked three times and joined that trio in scoring two runs each.
Stanek got the win while pitching the first four innings – throwing 66 pitches while fanning four, giving up two hits and the one run and walking one Leatherneck.?
"I think Stanek would probably be the first one to tell you that he didn't have very good stuff today," Van Horn said. "He didn't command his fast ball very much. He had his moments, but really we were just throwing the fast ball early. I think in the first inning we threw one off-speed pitch...He has got to conserve some pitches and he has to go after some hitters early. He has got to get them to make contact early. He was behInd in the count a lot. He threw good enough.
"We saw this a little bit last year and in his freshman year," Van Horn added. "He gets off to a bit of a slow start."
Stanek (1-0), picked as the SEC's Preseason Pitcher of the Year after going 8-4 last season with a 2.82 ERA, echoed that sentiment.
"My stuff was just okay," Stanek said. "My command wasn't as good as it should have been. I wasted a lot of fast balls and left a lot of pitches up. Stuff was just okay, but I just didn't locate where I was supposed to as often as I should have." He was followed to the mound by freshman Trey Killian of Mountain Home. Killian retired all nine batters he faced before giving way to Tyler Wright for the final two innings.
"It was great to see Killian come in and just fill up that zone with that fastball," Van Horn said. "He also three a couple of nice breaking balls. It was good to get some guys some experience."
Killian fanned one during his sparkling three-inning stint.
"I was extremely nervous," Killian said. "I was extremely jittery the whole game. Standing in the dugout, I just couldn't stop moving around. They sent me to the bullpen and my adrenaline just started pumping out there getting loose. Coming out in front of all those fans is pretty unreal."
Arkansas and Western Illinois will play Saturday at noon and Sunday at 1 p.m to finish out the series.
Barrett Astin – 3-5 last season with a 1.99 ERA - will take the mound for the Razorbacks on Saturday.
All photos by Marc F. Henning
Third baseman Brian Anderson was 2 for 2 on the day with a triple and a pair of runs scored
Freshman relief pitcher Trey Killian of Mountain Home sit down all nine hitters he faced.
New Arkansas shortstop Brett McAfee handled four chances on the day and was part of a Razorback defense that had no errors.
Tyler Spoon had an hit and an RBI in the season opener while playing right field.
A bundled up Dave Van Horn saw his top-ranked team opened the season with a win in a game that started with the temperature at 40 degrees.