Don't look now, but those one-run losses that plagued the Arkansas baseball team early in March have turned into one-run victories. Chris Oliver and Michael Gunn combined to blank Alabama, 1-0, to pull the Hogs even with a 3-3 record.
Krisjohn Wilkerson tripled off the wall in left center, scored on a Bobby Wernes ground out up the middle for the game's only run in the second inning.
Oliver and Gunn combined to face just two batters over the minimum. Oliver (2-2) threw 103 pitches, allowing four hits in seven innings. Gunn mowed down all six Tide batters in the eighth and ninth with three strikeouts. Michael Bernal got the third out in the eighth with a nifty play in the hole.
Arkansas (13-8, 3-3) won the series with spectacular pitching after losing a 17-9 slugfest Friday night, a game in which Oliver said the Tide picked up the signs from catcher Jake Wise.
"Today, we didn't let anyone to second base, so it's hard to pick up the signs," Oliver said. "We figured out they had our signs Friday night. Krisjohn (Wilkerson) played with one of their guys in junior college and we use the same sign sequence they did in JC. It's easier to square it up when you know what's coming. That didn't happen the last two days."
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said it was clear that the tight game didn't bother the Hogs.
"It doesn't seem to faze our guys," Van Horn said. "No one panics. They know this is the way it is. We've lost our share of one-run games. But we made the routine plays the last two days and won two one-run games."
Van Horn praised his pitching. Trey Killian got a complete-game, 1-0 victory Saturday. That made a difference to keep the bullpen fresh for Sunday.
"That was the best Chris has pitched here, far and away," Van Horn said. "He changed speeds with his fast ball and he spotted his change and had a good breaker. He kept Alabama off balance the first two times through. He got tired when his count got up in the 90s and we knew Gunn was fresh. He made us look like we made the right move."
Oliver was pulled early in the Sunday game last week at Florida with Arkansas up 4-1.
"Anytime you get pulled up 4-1, you might say, 'What?'" Van Horn said. "But we were down in the series two to zero and his fast ball was up and we had a fresh bullpen and couldn't wait. We talked to him about it a couple of times during the week.
"He fed off Killian's performance yesterday and pretty much did the same thing as Trey."
Van Horn said Gunn had "everything." The bullish lefty was bringing his fast ball in the mid 90s.
"He spotted up a couple on the inside corner, then he had a great breaker, with sharp downward movement," Van Horn said. "It helps that they hadn't seen him. He had it all."
Wilkerson's triple, one of only two extra base hits on the day, turned out to be the big blow. Wilkerson had gone 0-for-10 at Florida, but bounced back this week.
"He might have been putting too much pressure on himself in SEC play, but he relaxed," Van Horn said. "When he came in after scoring on the ground out, he had a big smile on his face."
The Hogs were dead serious for the most part. Van Horn said there was no talk from the Hogs after Alabama did all of the mouthing Friday night. Killian and Oliver both showed emotion in their pitching performances.
"When you are pitching in college, you only are out there once a week as a starter," Van Horn said. "You can be a little more emotional. And, our guys were a little more emotional after Friday night. There was a lot of chirping (from Alabama) and our guys didn't like it. They kept their mouths shut and let their play on the field talk."
The Hogs didn't commit an error on Sunday. Oliver noticed. Asked what he had working for him on the mound, he said, "First, our defense. They made all the plays behind us. I did have my fast ball and all three pitches. That was a huge difference. I didn't have anything at Florida and my fast ball was up. I learned last year that you can't go out there in the SEC with just one pitch."
As far as the bullpen availability, Oliver said it made a difference in how he pitched.
"I knew they were all out there," he said. "So I was just going to compete and battle. I was frustrated last week when I was up in the zone. You can't pitch like that in this league. I was flat last weekend."
The Hogs will play a doubleheader against Mississippi Valley State beginning at 3:05 p.m. Tuesday. They'll travel to North Little Rock for a single game against MVSU beginning at 6:35 p.m. Wednesday. Van Horn said he'll start Collin Poche and Alex Phillips on Tuesday and the Hogs will "staff" it on Wednesday.
Oliver, Gunn blank Alabama
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