Dave Van Horn called his Arkansas baseball team "average" on Wednesday night in a 12-11 loss to Southeast Missouri. The Razorbacks responded with sterling play to pop No. 1 LSU, 5-1, on Thursday night in the opener of an SEC series.
The Hogs (11-9, 1-3) had never started conference play (In the SEC or the SWC) with four straight losses, but they hammered LSU ace Jared Poche' just like they did Vandy's Carson Fulmer last weekend. But, this time, they only needed reliever Zach Jackson for the final three innings and the sophomore had plenty in the tank.
Starter Dominic Taccolini gave up only a Alex Bregman solo homer in the sixth and Jackson allowed just one hit with four strikeouts. Van Horn was so pleased with Jackson's efficient work, just 40 pitches, there may be another outing for him on the weekend.
“We've played some really good games this year,” Van Horn said. “Our record doesn't show it, but we've played some really good games. That's one of the best, one of the better games, one of the second or third best. We played solid when you look at everything, the defense, the offense and obviously the pitching.”
LSU (19-3, 2-2) coach Paul Mainieri was impressed with the Razorbacks. He said they made every critical play. And of Jackson, Mainieri said, "Jackson was really focused. You could see his stuff … when he’s in the strike zone with the fastball and breaking ball, it’s almost unfair."
Poche gave up 10 hits and didn't make it out of the fourth inning as the Hogs jumped to a 5-0 lead. It was Poche's shortest outing at LSU and the most hits and runs allowed. He had given up just 25 hits in his first six outings on the year.
"They were on him," Mainier said. "He wasn’t fooling anybody tonight. Just had a tough night. Kid is such a competitor. Obviously, I left him in too long. You stick with a kid like that because of history. He’s had rough starts before and settled in and battled through five, six innings for you and saved your bullpen.
"Problem is it’S Friday night. If this was Sunday, I’d have a quicker hook. You’re trying to save your bullpen."
Clark Eagan led the way with three hits and two runs. Freshman designated hitter Luke Bonfield drove in a run with a ground out and scored after a double. Bonfield entered the game hitting just .130, but Van Horn put him in the clean-up spot against the lefty Poche.
"I was trying to wait deep on him," Eagan said, "then put it in play on the ground. That's what I did."
As far as the UA defense, right fielder Tyler Spoon tracked down a warning track blast, first baseman Clark Eagan dove for a line drive out, third baseman Bobby Wernes went to his knee to throw out a runner at first and then turned a slick double play with Rick Nomura.
"I was just trying to pound the zone and let our defense make the plays," Taccolini said. "We played such a long game last night, I just wanted to throw strikes. I was getting ground balls."
Jackson said, "I had my breaking ball working and that was my advantage tonight. Dom did such a good job, I just wanted to come in and do what he was doing."
Van Horn was pleased with everything he saw, including the flawless play on a rainy night.
"Just great to get a SEC win against a great team," Van Horn said. "Just really proud of the pitchers.
"Taccolini battled them early. They took some good swings in the first inning and then he settled down a little bit and made some good pitches and got some ground balls. He had a couple of quick innings and I thought offensively we did a tremendous job.
"We put a lot of pressure on Poche, took some border line pitches and got a couple of big 2-out hits and built up a pretty good lead. Just proud of our team bouncing back. We played a 4 and a half hour game in the rain last night and lost and we got over it and came out and played a really good ballgame tonight against a great team."
The 5-0 lead looked big, but Van Horn said things are different this year than it may have been the last several seasons with a dead baseball.
“It was huge,” Van Horn said. “We jumped out after two innings to get a 2-0 lead. We made a couple of nice plays and turned a double play. We come in, I guess in the fourth, punched in a couple of runs with two outs and all of a sudden we are up 5-0.
“A five-run sounds good, maybe with the old baseball, but with the new baseball, it's back to baseball. You got to make pitches and you got to make plays and you got to throw strikes because they can hit it out of the park at any time. It was good to build up a big play, but we knew it was never over and there was no relaxing in that dugout.”
Van Horn plans to start James Teague in the second game, at 8 p.m. Friday night. Ace Trey Killian will go in the 2 p.m. Saturday game.
"Jackson didn't throw many pitches and can go again, maybe again tomorrow," Van Horn said. "He didn't have to use much."
Arkansas 5, LSU 1
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