Dave Van Horn likes to tell his team that the eighth inning is big for the home team. It was in the second weekend for the Arkansas baseball team.
Winning 8-3 for the second straight day, the Razorbacks fought back from a 3-2 deficit with two runs in the seventh and four more in the eighth to pull away from Eastern Illinois for a sweep of the three-game series and a 6-0 start to the season.
The Hogs open the season at 6-0. Eastern Illinois is 1-6. Attendance was 6,968 on a day that started with temperatures below 40. The sun popped out in the fifth inning, warming the diamond to 50 by the time the Hogs cranked up their offense in the seventh inning.
Freshman Andrew Benintendi stroked a two-run homer in the third and scored three times. Brian Anderson stroked a single to pull the Hogs even in the seventh, Brett McAfee gave the Hogs the lead with a sacrfice fly. Then, after Anderson was intentionally walked to load the bases in the eighth, Tyler Spoon drove a line drive through the gap in left center for a three-run double.
As he promised might be the case with a young pitching staff, Van Horn "staffed" the Sunday game, with six hurlers. Zach Johnson, first out of the bullpen, got the longest stint with three innings.
Jacob Stone got the final two outs in the seventh after giving up a two-run single, but would get the win with a perfect eighth, one of the few times Eastern Illinois went quietly the entire weekend. Michael Gunn got out of a jam in the ninth when McAfee and Anderson turned a double play to end the game.
"We pitched out of the stretch the entire weekend and survived," Van Horn said. "We are still trying to figure out who to pitch. We brought back some guys a second time. We've got some more guys who are going to get to pitch."
One of those is sophomore Trey Killian, suspended for the first six games because of an NCAA violation dating back to his sophomore season in high school. Van Horn said Killian will get an extended bullpen Tuesday and is a likely Sunday starter next weekend against South Alabama.
Alex Phillips, the Sunday starter the first two weekends, will go to the bullpen. Van Horn said his first two outings don't reflect his ability or the way he's thrown in scrimmages.
"You guys haven't seen what he can do," Van Horn said. "I don't think that's him, the way he's pitched. He'll show it eventually."
Benintendi had five hits on the weekend. He was waiting on a fast ball to open his second at bat Sunday.
"I think they had thrown him six or seven fast balls in his first at bat," Van Horn said. "He hit that one hard."
Benintendi said, "I finally relaxed this weekend. I was nervous, too anxious the first weekend."
Anderson said he got the pitch he was looking for when he went to the plate in the seventh.
"I knew the scouting report them was that they throw breaking balls coming in from the bullpen in a tight spot," Anderson said. "I saw they had a righthander up in the bullpen and figured they were going to start me with a breaking ball with runners on. I was able to get the pitch I was looking for."
Van Horn said, "That was a great at bat. He didn't try to do too much with it. Just hammered it right back up the middle. Some guys might be trying to hit it out of the park in that situation. He didn't."
Van Horn figured on Anderson getting a free pass with first base open in the eighth. He came to the plate with a .458 average.
"When they had first base open, that's the right move," Van Horn said. "Tyler embraced that moment. He layed off the first pitch, a fast ball that was up. The next one was about six inches lower and he hung it into the gap.
"Tyler wanted that situation. He knew they were going to intentionally walk Brian. They are thinking they can get you out easier than the other guy. It was a good move."
Spoon said, "Brian had been hammering it all weekend. I just didn't want to try to do too much with it and I got a ball middle in."
Van Horn said he's still learning about the 2014 Razorbacks, but he likes the ability to come from behind or fight through tough spots late like Saturday and Sunday.
"When they got down, they didn't panic," Van Horn said. "They can come back. Last year's team didn't do that too many times."
Hard throwing freshman Dominic Toccolini got in trouble in the seventh when he hit two batters, one perhaps a missed call. He didn't get much help when Anderson dropped a throw at first on a nice play by third baseman Bobby Wernes on a sacrifice bunt for an error. Reliever Landon Simpson walked in a run before Stone gave up a ground single through the right side.
Van Horn knows he'll get some innings out of Killian next weekend and perhaps a few more from lefty Colin Poche, battling back from a sore arm in preseason. Poche pitched effectively on Saturday.
"We wanted 35 pitches out of Poche and got 31 and he had one really good inning," Van Horn said. "His pitch count was 45 and we'll try to stretch him out a little more and maybe he can get a start when we go to California. When Killian and Poche start, that gives us a lot more experience."
Van Horn was pleased with redshirt freshman Blake Baxendale's first start at catcher. He walked twice and hit the ball hard twice in four at bats before giving way to Jake Wise in the eighth.
"I told Blake in front of the team, that's good for his first ball game at this level," Van Horn said. "That's not an easy position to play at this level."
Van Horn said Krisjohn Wilkerson, in the lineup in the first weekend, was sidelined with a minor hamstring injury. He was available for pinch hitting duty on the weekend, but Van Horn said it was better to rest him for all three games.
The Hogs play host to South Alabama at 3:05 p.m. Friday to open the next series.
Arkansas Sweeps Eastern Illinois, 8-3
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