Arkansas made the most of its mid-week snack on Tuesday – a momentum builder that was needed with No. 18 Vanderbilt rolling into Fayetteville this weekend.
Michael Bernal had three hits and three RBIs and Blake Baxendale continued to swing a hot bat as the Razorbacks downed Stephen F. Austin 7-2 Tuesday night before 2,036 fans at Baum Stadium.
The Razorbacks (23-15) rapped out 12 hits in putting this win on top of a 10-4 victory Sunday at LSU.
"I thought we came out and swung the bats pretty well tonight," Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. "I feel like offensively up and down the lineup it's starting to get a little bit better, a little more consistent. I know that we're not facing SEC weekend pitching, but he still had a good arm, a pretty good breaking ball.
"I thought we did a good job when pitches were in the zone that were hittable," Van Horn added. "It seems like to us, the staff, that we are getting better offensively. I know we've got some big arms that we'll be challenged again this weekend. But today's game, it was just good to see after the weekend."
Every Arkansas hitter except star Brian Anderson had a hit in the game against the Lumberjacks (15-21), who lost their sixth straight, and it thus ended Anderson's 13-game hit streak.
"This weekend everybody got it rolling pretty well and going into today's game that is something that we wanted to keep going and we did that," Bernal said. "Everybody is having some pretty good ABs, taking some good swings. I feel like we have got it rolling a little bit."
Baxendale got the Razorbacks' offense going for the second straight game with a two-out RBI single that chased home Tyler Spoon for a 1-0 lead in the first.
Baxendale – who crushed a grand slam homer against LSU and had a career-high 5 RBIs – has recorded a pair of multi-hit games with three extra base hits in the last two games.
"He's a guy if we can just keep him in the middle of the lineup with this team it definitely helps," Van Horn said. "We've had some guys at that DH spot. (Krisjon) Wilkerson started out really hot this season and kind of faded a little bit.
"Gave Blake an opportunity against some left-handed pitching and he got the job done," Van Horn added. "Decided, hey, let's give him an opportunity to swing the bat a little bit. Right or left. Came through with the big RBI single in the first and then the double in the eighth. Has been hitting the ball pretty good."
Bernal pushed that advantage to 3-0 in the second when he ripped a double to left field that scored Bobby Wernes and Eric Fisher.
Bernal credited his older brother – who watched the series with LSU on TV - with a hitting tip that helped him on Tuesday night.
"I felt really good at the plate," Bernal said. "I was real calm and relaxed in my swing and I felt like that was helping me see the ball better. That's something that me and the coaches have been working on. I think I did a pretty good job of using those tips from the coaches and even called my brother back home who played some ball. We talk a lot and I think that helped me out today.
"...He was watching my swing on TV in the LSU series and he had some tips on my bat path," Bernal said. "He said my bat path was off on a couple of swings and a couple of games so I made that adjustment in here today with some coaches and hit off the tee early before BP."
The Lumberjacks cut it to 3-2 in the third off of Arkansas starting pitcher Alex Phillips when MacKenzie Handle's double sent Matthew Dickey to the plate and Ricardo Sanchez scored on Connor Fikes' fielder's choice.
But Arkansas took control with a trio of runs in the fifth when Bernal led off with a single and eventually scored on Andrew Benintendi's single, Joe Serrano lofted a sacrifice fly and Tyler Spoon scored on a throwing error on the same play for a 6-2 advantage.
Baxendale doubled and Bernal brought him home with an RBI single in the eighth to cap the scoring.
"That is a big deal in the line up when you can have somebody DHing with some pop in their bat," Bernal said. "It is always a plus. Obviously Blake has been putting some extra juice on the baseball. He had a grand slam at LSU and today had a double in the gap. He is seeing the ball well and having some good swings."
Phillips was masterful last week in six shutout innings, but was pulled after the two batters in the third on Wednesday.
He was followed to the mound by Jacob Stone for a pair of innings, winner Colin Poche (3-0) for three and Michael Gunn hurled a pair of scoreless frames to end it.
The trio of relievers fanned 10 while giving up six of the Lumberjacks' eight hits.
"Alex just didn't throw strikes," Van Horn said. "Last week he couldn't hardly throw the ball out of the strike zone. And tonight, I think he was a little nervous. Stephen F. Austin is basically from his hometown. I'm sure that had a little bit to do with it. But he just didn't command the zone.
"Stone came in and did a nice job for us," Van Horn added. "Poche, I thought he had pretty good stuff. Just missed a few calls there that could've really helped him. But it might have been an inch or two out of the zone. But it was just good to see him pitch better. And then Michael, was trying to get him some work. He threw to four hitters on Saturday. I thought he threw the ball extremely well."
Bernal has filled in admirably for Brett McAfee, whose injured back has not allowed him to play in a single SEC contest.
"He's not out for the year," Van Horn said. "I mean, he's still rehabbing and working.
"I met with him yesterday. He's really frustrated. He wants to play. I told him, just keep working. Maybe you play the last 10 games of the year, last five, get a chance to play after that. Maybe you're the guy that helps us get where we want to go. You just never know. He's seeing, I think, another specialist. A spine specialist here in the next few days. We'll see how that goes."
Arkansas hosts Vanderbilt for a three-game set this weekend with the games scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Sunday – although rain may force the teams into a Saturday twinbill.
"After this weekend, I would like to think we are all pretty excited," Bernal said. "We went out there to Baton Rouge and we battled and we had some close games. We fell twice, but I think Sunday was us sorta getting back at them for the whole weekend. We were out there hitting the ball and playing good defense. I felt like we rolled that over today and got all that going.
"So we are pretty excited for this weekend, especially with it being an SEC series and we've got a TV game on Sunday on ESPN," Bernal added. "It is really exciting for us. We are pretty excited for this weekend."
Dave Van Horn
Arkansas 7, SFA 2
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