There was the sacrifice fly (Brian Anderson) and the squeeze bunt (Jake Wise) for the obligatory small ball runs for Arkansas on Wednesday night. But a rare event took place, the three-run homer by leadoff man Tyler Spoon.
Spoon was moved to the top spot in the batting order after the first game of the South Carolina series. He'd batted leadoff in one game at Florida. It's clicked the second time around as the Razorbacks have scored 27 runs in their last four games, three victories.
The Hogs rolled past No. 17 Nevada-Las Vegas, 9-2, behind freshman Alex Phillips' best start of the year, one-hit ball over six innings.
"It was a good bounce back game for us," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "We are getting ready to get on the road (at LSU) and it was good to have Alex pitch the way he did, use the fast ball on both sides of the plate, throw the curve for a strike and hold down a good hitting team."
UNLV whipped Arkansas, 10-7, on Tuesday, but the Hogs scored in each of the first four innings and answered a two-spot by the Rebels in the seventh with two of their own in the bottom of the frame.
The Hogs (21-13) came up with 12 hits, including three extra base knocks. Clark Eagan tripled and Andrew Benintendi doubled. UNLV (23-10) managed just four hits against four UA pitchers.
"Their starter was throwing a lot of fast balls and was up in the zone, belt high and sometimes higher," Van Horn said. "He was trying to get ahead and we said, 'Let's go up there and hit it.'"
The batting order seems to have meshed with Spoon at the top.
"He's a good leadoff hitter," Van Horn said. "He can be an RBI man if the bottom of the order gets on. He's hit leadoff before. We are scoring more runs. We just decided to leave him there."
The sac fly came in the first. The three-run homer by Spoon followed an RBI single by Michael Bernal. Up 5-0 in the third, Wise put down a perfect suicide bunt to plate Anderson. It was similar to what Dave Van Horn did Saturday night up 5-0 against South Carolina when Wise produced the squeeze for a 6-0 lead.
Unlike Tuesday night when UNLV won a hitting duel with the wind blowing out, Baum Stadium was back to its usual self with a strong south breeze blowing in from right. It didn't bother Spoon's liner into the seats behind the bullpen in straightaway left. It didn't get high enough for the wind to grab it.
Phillips acted like he knew the wind was his friend.
"I was just working the fast ball on both sides, commanding the fast ball at the knees," he said. "After a little bit, I just decided to let my defense work. Fastball command was the big difference tonight."
The Hogs made it 7-0 in the fourth when Spoon beat out an infield hit, stole second, moved to third on a Anderson's warning tack fly in left and trotted home on a wild pitch.
After UNLV broke through against reliever Jacob Stone for a solo homer in the seventh, and an unearned run after Anderson's error on a hard shot.
The Hogs answered with two in the bottom of the seventh when Wise and Michael Bernal singled and both scored on Andrew Benintendi's double into the corner in right.
Van Horn announced his pitching rotation for the LSU series. He'll send Trey Killian (1-5) to the mound against LSU ace Aaron Nola (6-1) on Friday night. That moves Jalen Beeks to Saturday and Chris Oliver in his usual Sunday spot.
The tough-luck Killian smiled when someone suggested he might like to have some of those 27 runs when he pitches. It's unlikely against Nola.
"That would be awesome," Killian said. "It's going to be exciting. I've never been to that park. I hear it gets rowdy. That's always fun."
Spoon caled Nola "a great pitcher. He can put it where he wants to. He commands his fastball, his slider and his change. It will be a great challenge, but we love challenges."
Spoon said the Hogs have taken a more aggressive approach at the plate in the last four games.
"I got a fastball right down the middle (on the homer)," he said. "I was just trying to stay short and simple and keep it up the middle."
Spoon likes the leadoff spot.
"He put me there because he wants me to just be me," Spoon said. "We've got Joe (Serrano) and Brian (Anderson) hitting like they are and mainly I just want to get on base. Andrew (Benintendi) is hitting, too."
Van Horn figures some of the good hitting luck is just the time of year.
"The offense, to me, it is getting better," Van Horn said. "(The weather) is starting to warm up and it's going to blow out in a lot of parks and guys are getting confidence. It's a great time to score runs."
Hogs "bounce back" against UNLV, 9-2
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