With its back to the wall and clinging to its post-season life, the Arkansas baseball team shook off late-inning disappointment for a second straight night on Saturday and found themselves in the winner's circle once again.
Andrew Benintendi's RBI single drove home the game-winning run in the eighth inning, Brian Anderson plated an insurance tally and then Eric Fisher sent a ball way into the night for a two-run blast as Arkansas downed No. 20 Texas A&M 7-3 before 6,673 fans at Baum Stadium.
It was the second straight night that Arkansas (32-20, 13-13) did not reward a great pitching effort – this one from Chris Oliver – with an individual win, but did get the team victory.
"I thought Chris did a great job," Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said of his normal Sunday starter. "He battled through a couple of innings, had some quick innings, had very good stuff, good breaking ball, pretty good change up, fast ball was good."
Oliver pitched seven innings, giving up five hits, fanning three and allowing two runs while walking one.
Zach Jackson was charged with an unearned run in the eighth before Jacob Stone (4-0) got the final four outs for the win.
"He (Oliver) pitched really well and I hate he didn't get the win, but realistically this time of year we just need a win no matter who gets it on the stat sheet," Van Horn added. "It's about finding ways to win and that's what we have done the last three games."
Texas A&M head coach Rob Childress agreed that Oliver did a great job on the mound as did Trey Killian for Arkansas the night before.
"Another great pitcher that we saw," Childress said. "Every mistake we made, Arkansas made us pay dearly for it, in the second and again there in the eighth inning.
"That's what it's all about," Childress said. "We've been really good at covering up those, the few that we've made here the last month. The two we made, along with the free base there in the second inning, Arkansas made us pay for them."
Combined with Friday night's thrilling 3-2 win on a walk off, ninth-inning single by Joe Serrano, Saturday night's win gives the Razorbacks an opportunity to sweep the Aggies (32-21, 12-14) on Sunday at 1:05 p.m.
"It was big," Van Horn said. "Obviously our number one goal was to win game one and after winning last night we talked about winning the series," Van Horn said. "I don't know if we have been in this position this year in conference play. Maybe once."
Van Horn, whose team is 6-2 on Sundays in the SEC this season, was then informed it was the first time this season that Arkansas had a chance to sweep.
It would be the first three-game sweep for the Razorbacks since taking a trio at South Carolina last season.
"It's been a long season," Van Horn said. "Maybe our guys will not get too hyped up about it. They usually stay pretty even keeled. Quick turnaround. Going to be warm tomorrow."
Since Jalen Beeks – Arkansas' normal Saturday starter – is resting a sore elbow, Van Horn said he will start freshman Dominic Taccolini on Sunday against A&M's Parker Ray.
"We are going to start Dominic Taccolini," Van Horn said. "We will let him go out there and start it and just do what we need to do."
What does Van Horn expect out of his true freshman?
"He's a good pitcher," Van Horn said. "I mean, he's been pitching real well lately. I think if he just goes out and attacks the zone, who knows? What do I expect? I just want him to compete. And if he gives us 2, 3, 4, whatever, that's fine. We'll go to the next guy."
Arkansas jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the second inning on Saturday night against Grayson Long when Anderson reached on an error, moved up and eventually scored on two wild pitches and Bobby Wernes added an RBI single that plated Fisher.
That lead grew to 3-0 in the third when Michael Bernal singled and eventually scored on Benintendi's RBI single.
The Aggies got a run in the fourth on Nick Banks' run-scoring' single that made it 3-1.
The Razorbacks' lead was cut to 3-2 in the seventh when Banks and Jonathan Mulroney hit back-to-back doubles.
That run came after Arkansas missed a great chance to go up 4-1 when Anderson was thrown out at second after tagging at first.
He was called out before Benintendi scored on what at first looked like it would be a sacrifice fly for Fisher.
"Just real proud of our guys for not panicking," Van Horn said. "We had a chance to build up a 4-1 lead and we had a base running mistake, a coaching mistake or whatever. We didn't get the run and sure enough they come out and pop two doubles in a row and there they are.
"But we did a great job of keeping them from putting up a crooked number," Van Horn added. "Back-to-back doubles and they just score one run. That was a tremendous job."
Anderson was asked about the play after the game.
"That was unfortunate we had the sac fly and I got thrown out at second, but it was one of those kind of just freak plays that happened," Anderson said. "We were both doing the right thing, tagging first and third with one out. But they were able to get me at second before Beni touched home. Stuff like that is going to happen in baseball.
"It's a tough play," Anderson added. "Beni didn't know if he should be going hard all the way through home. that's going to happen. We just kind of took it for what it was worth and just kept getting after it the next inning."
Van Horn sized it up this way.
"The way it works is that you want to tag on that if you are at first because it was obvious he was going to catch it," Van Horn said. "The key is to keep your head up and watch where he throws the ball. If he throws it toward home, you walk into second. If he throws it to your base, you can put on the breaks and go back. Or if you see the ball going one way or the other just off the base and you are running and you are a good runner you can go on in.
"I think what Brian did was just put his head down and run full force," Van Horn added. "I am not blaming him, but as far as the coaching part on it, the coach has got to say ‘you are not tagging here' or ‘you are not going here.' Realistically, it should have happened and it did. I can never remember that happening to one of my teams, maybe it has…but it is very rare.
"It was a great throw, but in this type of game, runs are gold," Van Horn added. "That hurt. It took a lot of momentum away and a lot of air out of dugout and put it over there and bang, bang, two doubles in a row. That's why I said I was real proud of our team. They bend a little bit, but they didn't break. They didn't panic."
Texas A&M tied it 3-3 in the eighth when Ryne Birk doubled, moved up on passed ball and scored on an 0-2, two-out wild pitch.
"Then in the eighth we held them to one run, they tied it up, but we didn't panic," Van Horn said.
Bernal led off the game-winning rally for the second straight night with a single off reliever Matt Kent.
He moved up to second on Clark Eagan's bunt and eventually scored on Benintendi's single that was fielded in short right field and thrown over the first baseman's head – which allowed Benintendi to get to second.
"I hit it right off the end," Benintendi said. "I think he was playing far to his right. So I hit it in a good spot. But I think I knew that I was going to be safe, but I was surprised when he threw it away."
Bernal was happy to score the game winner for a second straight night.
"A little déjà vu, huh?" Bernal said. "Yeah, they were pretty much similar at-bats. Yesterday probably was a little cooler getting to walk them off. that was exciting. Today was pretty much a repeat. I got a chance to lead off the inning, just tried to do the same thing I did last night. Just slowed the game down and just look for something I could take a good swing on and find my way on base. I got lucky enough to do that and everybody behind me did their job as well."
Anderson then drove home an insurance run with a single off Corey Ray and then launched his team-leading eighth homer of the season to end any doubt.
"We just did a good job of putting the bat on the ball, taking the lead and obviously Brian's at bat was huge," Van Horn said. "He laid off some borderline pitches and did a great job with an inside fast ball, staying inside of it and hit a line drive up the middle.
"Fisher's at bat was just outstanding," Van Horn added. "Fouled off pitches, took some pitches and then got a fast ball out over the plate, elevated it and just crushed it. Momentum was ours and it was a good win for our team."
It was two rallies in two nights for Arkansas, who out-hit the visitors 8-7 on Saturday night.
"Really it was kind of really similar to yesterday," Anderson said. "We had Bernal leading off the inning in the eighth there, gets a single, kind of gets us rolling. Clark lays down a good sac and then we just kind of got good pitches to hit and we were able to square them up and hit them where nobody was playing.
"That's something you want to really do well as a team in front of your home crowd," Anderson added. "The fans were spectacular tonight. It was good for us and I hope it was good for them to get that win late in the game and kind of make it interesting. It was a good job by our offense of getting guys on and executing."
Photos by Jason Ivester
Andrew Benintendi had two hits and two RBIs on Saturday.
Eric Fisher launched his team-leading eighth homer.
Chris Oliver pitched seven innings of five-hit baseball.
Jake Wise returned to the line up on Saturday night after having a concussion last weekend.
Brian Anderson had a pair of hits and an interesting night on the base paths.
Arkansas 7, Texas A&M 3
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