Arkansas Powers Its Way To Doubleheader Sweep

Arkansas' Bobby Wernes and Michael Bernal both homer and Tyler Spoon adds a two-run homer as the Razorbacks complete a doubleheader sweep of Eastern Illinois with an 8-1 win in the nightcap Monday at Baum Stadium.

After getting pitching to take care of the opener on a chilly Monday, Arkansas unpacked the bats for the nightcap.

Bobby Wernes and Michael Bernal both homered and Tyler Spoon delivered a two-run double as the Razorbacks hammered Eastern Illinois 8-1 to finish off a doubleheader sweep of the Panthers before an announced crowd of 442 at Baum Stadium.

The sweep - which opened with Arkansas winning 4-1 in the day’s first seven-inning game - happened after a Sunday in which the players, coaches and some administrators spent four hours clearing the field of snow and ice.

Razorback head coach Dave Van Horn’s team - whose team outhit its foe 5-2 in the second game - was down 1-0 entering the bottom of the fifth inning of the nightcap.

“I was starting to worry there in the second game, pitcher’s getting after it a little bit, we weren't scoring runs,” Van Horn said. “Just weren't swinging the bats real well. Was wondering if they were getting a little bit tired.

“I thought they did a great job yesterday,” Van Horn said. “It was incredible the way they went out there. There were 35 plus the coaches and administrators and grounds crew. Worked about four hours straight getting that snow off. They really wanted to play. They didn't complain. It was a little team outing. A little team bonding. It was a good thing.”

Arkansas (6-2) has now won 17 straight games against Eastern Illinois and is 23-1 against the school all-time.

Bernal’s round-tripper on an 0-2 count was a grand slam in the sixth - the team’s since May 15, 2014 - to put the game away after Wernes’ game-tying blast had started a four-run fifth.

“It was a hanging slider or curve - one of the two,” Wernes said. “He had been carving us up first time through the order. I was leading off an inning and just trying to get on base. He hung one up and I just ‘yeah.’”

It seemed to break the ice as Arkansas had entered the bottom of the fifth of game two down 1-0 after winning the opener 4-1.

“I think that made everyone just relax a little bit because once that happened we knew we had the game for sure,” Wernes said.

Wernes - pictured above and now batting .522 this season - was 3 of 4 on the day with a homer, triple and a single and 3 RBIs on a day that began with the Razorbacks winning the opener 4-1.

He did not have a triple or homer last season when he had 37 singles and one double among his 38 hits while batting a light-hitting .217.

“When he left last year, we told him what he needed to do, and A No. 1 (was) he needed to get stronger,” Van Horn said. “He had to change his stance a little bit, which we did.

“He had to learn how to pull the ball, because he never pulled the ball last year,” Van Horn added. “He just tried to go the other way, up the middle, slapped it around. He just made himself a better athlete in the weight room.

“He's actually even faster than he was last year, and he's obviously still a really good defender,” Van Horn continued. “He's just elevated his game. I saw him pulling the ball and hitting it in the gaps in the fall a little bit more, especially near the end. You could kind of see it coming.”

Wernes knew it needed to happen.

“To start with, I just had that one extra base hot last year and I wasn’t okay with that,” Wernes said. “I don’t really care about my personal stats at all, but I knew that was something that I needed to be - more physical for sure.

“When I hurt my back in Virginia, we decided I wasn’t going to go play summer ball so I stayed the whole off-season with Coach (Mike) Strouhall and just got a lot bigger and more physical,” Wernes added.

“It is the same swing, it is just carrying a lot more,” Wernes continued.

After Dominic Taccolini pitched six innings of one-run ball for Arkansas in the opener, Zach Jackson got the start for the Razorbacks in the second game but was not around long.

Van Horn gave him the hook after he walked the bases loaded in the second while throwing 41 pitches - 19 of which were strikes.

“His pitch count had gotten up - no, I didn't like what what we saw,” Van Horn said of Jackson. “We saw way too many balls. We have a lot of guys, short game, 7-inning game, so really I took him out in the second with a couple outs. To us that was really like taking him out in the fourth, fifth inning.

“We have guys that we were ready to go and we didn't want that game to slip away from us,” Van Horn added. “Bullpen did a pretty good job for us.

Jackson was 2-3 as a freshman with a bullpen-high 42 strikeouts, a 2.53 ERA and a pair of saves.

“Sometimes when you're a freshman and you're just a freshman it's easy,” Van Horn said. “They don't expect a whole lot. Now a little more's expected. He's been outstanding in the bullpen. He's got to take it to the game.

“He's got a little bit of mechanical issues he's got to work out when he gets out there on that mound,” Van Horn added. “He'll get it done. He's a great kid. he works hard. We got to have him. If becomes that it's not getting better, we'll put him in the bullpen. And he'll be good out of the bullpen."

Jackson Lowery entered the game and got out of the jam in the second and and pitched two innings of two hit baseball.

Eastern Illinois did grab a 1-0 lead when Lowery’s two-base throwing error opening the fourth inning set up Frankie Perrone’s RBI single.

James Teague entered the game to get the final two outs of the fourth and then turned it over to winner Josh Alberius (1-0), who retired all nine men he faced in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings.

Eastern Illinois starter Garrison Stenger had pitched one-hit and scoreless baseball the first four innings, but Wernes tied it leading off the bottom of the fifth.

“It was a hanging slider or curve - one of the two,” Wernes said. “He had been carving us up first time through the order. I was leading off an inning and just trying to get on base. He hung one up and I just ‘yeah.’”

Wernes thought it broke the ice and the Razorbacks took a 4-1 lead on Andrew Benintendi’s sacrifice fly and Spoon’s double later in the fifth.

“I think that made everyone just relax a little bit because once that happened we knew we had the game for sure,” Wernes said.

Bernal’s grand slam came in the sixth came after relievers Isaac Sampen and Jake Johansmeier loaded the bases.

?“Another hanging breaking ball,” Bernal said. “Just another pitch up in the zone. It felt great. I am just trying to get up there and get reps. It has been awhile since I have been out there on the field. I got to get in a game our first series - the last game of that series - and I am just trying to have fun out there.

“It has been a long time - this injury put me out for a long time - and before this injury, I had another one,” Bernal said. “It felt really good to just get out there and be on the field.”

Arkansas and Eastern Illinois will finish their three-game with a noon game on Tuesday at noon with freshman Keaton McKinney slated to start on the mound for the Razorbacks.

Van Horn noted that injured ace Trey Killian should be ready to pitch this weekend during a three-game series that begins with Loyola-Marymount on Friday.

“Trey, right now, he actually threw a bullpen today,” Van Horn said. “And we're either going to give him the ball for maybe 30, 40 pitches this weekend. Unless something changes, that's the plan.

“It could be Friday,” Van Horn added. “It could be Saturday. Might start him, might bring him in at the end. Don't know yet. He'll definitely be on a pitch-count.”

Photos by Jason Ivester

There was an announced crowd of 442 fans that showed up to watch the doubleheader on a day when the temperature at the start of the twinbill was 34 degrees.

Tyler Spoon

Hawgs Daily Top Stories