There was a fight at the bat rack Wednesday afternoon at Baum Stadium – not a literal one, but guys who couldn't wait to get up to the plate and take their hacks.
Eric Fisher swatted his team-leading seventh homer, Brian Anderson lashed a three-run line drive over the fence and the two combined for seven RBIs as Arkansas lashed out 13 hits while rolling up Northwestern State 15-3 before 1,979 fans.
It was the third straight win for the Razorbacks (27-16), who will take an 9-9 SEC mark into Friday night's 6:35 p.m. opener of a three-game home set against Auburn after beating the Demons (22-19) twice in two days.
"I thought we played pretty well the last couple of days," said Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn, whose team won 8-1 on Tuesday. "Obviously you can tell the team is having fun and they are confident. I feel like we are getting better. The pitching did a great job both days and offensively we did a tremendous job run of driving in runs and creating some innings even late with two outs. That was good to see.
"I guess that was the last nonconference game at home," Van Horn added. "We just have one left so really it's all about SEC play."
Every Arkansas starter reached base in a game that saw the Razorbacks' offense go over 10 runs for the fifth time this season despite struggling out the gate with their bats for the first part of the campaign.
It was also the second straight game that Arkansas had pounded out 13 hits with Spoon, Wise, Anderson and Fisher all having two each on Wednesday.
"It's been big," Fisher said. "Any time you can string a bunch of hits together, you're going to get runs and runs. Everybody's having fun. Any time you see smiles on guys' faces, the life in the dugout is up. Guys that aren't even playing are having fun. Going out there and getting a bunch of hits, it's been good for everyone."
Arkansas has hit 10 home runs in its last 11 games after homering only 9 times in the first 32 games of the season.
"Guys are hitting balls hard, and whenever you're not getting the hits, it sucks," Fisher said. "So whenever you can hit the ball well and you're getting outcomes that you want, it's good for your confidence and for everybody else on the team."
Northwestern State's Nathan Lyons actually got the scoring underway when he crushed a second-inning pitch from Arkansas starter Alex Phillips over the left field fence for a 1-0 lead.
But the tone for the day was likely set in the first when shortstop Michael Bernal dove for a shot up the middle, flipped the ball while still in his glove to second baseman Anderson, who bare handed the ball and fired it on to first for an inning-ending double play.
"First off it was a great double play," Van Horn said. " He made a great play up the middle. It was a 3-1 count and the runner was off on the pitch. That's why he was so close to the bag when he fielded it. He did a tremendous job and flipped it from his glove to Brian who barehanded it and turned the pivot.
"Obviously it changed the whole inning," Van Horn added. "Phillips wasn't having a good inning and wasn't looking real confident. It was big for him to get through that inning because that ball gets through obviously we are going to get somebody hot and it's not going to take very long. So it was definitely an early-game changer. Defense will do that for you."
Fisher's RBI single tied it in the second and Jake Wise gave the hosts a 3-1 lead later in the inning when he ripped a two-run double into the right center field gap.
"It's a great sign when you have guys like Jake Wise at the bottom of the order that are squaring the ball up, getting multi-hit games down at the bottom of the order," Anderson said. "It seems like there's not really a top and a bottom to our lineup when those guys are seeing the ball and putting the ball in play. Everyone on the team seems to be getting on base. So that's a good sign for us that hopefully our offense is starting to click a little bit. We're starting to mesh together and kind of realize our identity and know that we can score runs."
Tyler Spoon's RBI single later in the inning made it a four-run frame for the Razorbacks and gave them a 4-1 lead.
Fisher then launched his fifth homer in nine games – this one a two-run homer in the third that made it 6-1.
"Brian was joking with me, he was like, 'yeah, he was all worried about me at first base so he threw a good pitch," Fisher said. "I just kind of saw it and put a good swing on it and, saw it at first, and then I really saw it take off and knew it was going to get out."
He credits his power surge to his legs and his confidence.
"Just kind of staying in my legs and really trying to drive the ball and just kind of getting good pitches to swing at and putting a good swing on them," Fisher said. "Hitting the bottom half of the ball and it's getting out.
"I feel good," Fisher added. "Obviously I still have bad at bats here and there, but overall every time up at the plate I feel good and feel confident about myself. I think it's taking me a long way."
Anderson made it three straight innings the Razorbacks scored when he drilled a frozen rope down the left field line that was barely fair and barely over the fence but nevertheless surged Arkansas ahead 9-1 in the fourth.
The ball ended up in the home team's bullpen.
"I was worried it was going to end up going foul," Anderson said. "But I had a couple guys on, two outs. I was just looking for something up in the zone I could handle. A guy hung a slider and I was able to put a decent swing on it. the wind almost pushed it foul, but it snuck in there and I was able to get a few RBIs out of it."
Van Horn had his argument ready if the ball had been ruled foul.
"It was an incredible shot," Van Horn said. "When it left the bat I was thinking it was a double off the wall. It just screamed out of here. I didn't know if the umpires knew what to call, but the ball landed in the bullpen and it's got to be fair. That would have been my argument if they called it foul. It disappeared. The ball got out of here in about a second."
Bernal's RBI single and Clark Eagan's fielder's choice in the fifth pushed the Razorbacks ahead 11-1.
Northwestern State did manage to end the Razorback bullpen's scoreless streak of 22 2/3 innings in the sixth when Nick Heath's sacrifice fly scored Lyons and cut it to 11-2.
Arkansas then scored four runs in the bottom of the eighth as Krisjon Wilkerson had an RBI single, another run scored via wild pitch and both Fisher and Bobby Wernes had RBI ground outs to make it 15-2.
Phillip's older brother Lance came on to pitch the ninth inning for Arkansas as the Razorbacks sent five pitchers to the mound on the day with winner Dominic Taccolini (1-0), Landon Simpson and James Teague also going to the hill.
"We try to mix and match and bring them in certain situations," Van Horn said. "Some guys are one-inning guys and Gunn basically is our closer. (Zach) Jackson can be a set up man.
"(Jacob) Stone can be the set up guy or he can go earlier," Van Horn added. "If we need to get out of a jam in the fifth, we can go to him. If we go in the seventh, we might go to Jackson and he can give us the seventh and eighth and we can give it to Gunn.
"They have done a good job and there are some other guys that I think are starting to figure in a little bit," Van Horn continued. "It was good to see (Dominic) Taccolini throw two days in a row. He had good stuff. He struck out the side in his first inning and that was after pitching an inning last night. That was good to see."
Arkansas 15, NW State 3
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