If nobody’s guarding the backdoor at the house, you might as well head to the plate.
That’s the philosophy Bobby Wernes used to score the game-tying run Saturday afternoon in what turned into a Arkansas’ 5-2 series-clinching win over Ole Miss Saturday before 6, 036 fans at Baum Stadium.
Wernes’ theft of home was the middle run of a three-run, two-out rally for the Razorbacks in the fifth inning and occurred on a continuous play after pinch-hitter Chad Spanberger’s infield hit went off Colby Bortles' glove and plated a run and no one called timeout.
"It started off with Chad," Wernes said. "He came off the bench in a huge spot and gave us a great at bat and competed for us. A little dribbler to third, he got just enough of it where it kind of trickled off Bortles' glove. We got one run in there and then he threw it back to the pitcher and he kind of dropped his head and he walked pretty far back past the mound and I saw the catcher's head down, too and I asked (third base) Coach (Tony Vitello), "Is time out?'
"And he said, 'No,' and I just kind of rolled the dice a little bit and went. Luckily it paid off."
Joe Serrano then topped a go-ahead single to center to put the Razorbacks up 3-2 and Arkansas put the game away with a run in the seventh and Tyler Spoon’s homer in the eighth.
"First pitch Joe singles up the middle, we got the lead," Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. "I told our team that's better than a 3-run homer right there. With a 3-run homer, you know what hit ya. They didn't know what hit 'em.
"...Nice to see Tyler hit that solo home run. He hit it so hard. Kept it low, kept it under the wind and ball shot out of here. Big insurance run for us. Ended up being a good week. Played five games, lost two one-run games. We pitched so much better this week, played pretty good defense all week."
The win gave Arkansas (14-13, 3-6) the series - it first over Ole Miss since 2011. It featured the Razorbacks winning 10-3 on Thursday and the Rebels (14-14, 4-5) taking a 5-4 decision on Friday.
"Just really proud of the team," Van Horn said. "This whole week has been a big time grind for us. A lot of kids out on Spring Break and we're playing baseball. That's why they came here. We reminded them of that a couple of times. They played hard every day this week. "
It was also Arkansas' first SEC series win after dropping the opening two to Vanderbilt and LSU and it's first one over Ole Miss since 2011.
"Big confidence booster," Van Horn said. Almost a must-win situation for us today. We try not to lay all that on the players, not put that pressure on them, but I tell you what, behind closed doors, in that coach's office, we knew we needed to win.
"It wasn't like we had to win or it's over, but we needed a win in the worst way. We needed to win a series at home. You get to the end of the season and you're not at the top of the league and you're in the middle of the pack, or wherever you may be, it comes down to tiebreakers. it's always nice to have that."
Spoon, whose homer was his third of the season, agreed after a week that saw Arkansas go 3-2.
“It is good momentum,” Spoon said. “The last two or two-and-a-half weeks we have played some really good baseball as Coach said a second ago.
“We have lost two one-run games this week and we were right in every game. I think you see a team that is starting to figure it out offensively, pitching and defense so I feel really good about the way we are going and the way we are playing right now.”
His blast in the eighth was a key insurance run.
"It was a fastball just kind of middle in,” Spoon said. “I think the hit-and-run the at bat before really helped me. I told myself just try to hit a hard ground ball through the middle. I was able to take advantage of it. It was the hardest ball I have hit in a long time.”
Arkansas sent four pitchers to the mound - starter Keaton McKinney, Jackson Lowery, Josh Alberius and Zach Jackson - on Saturday to piece together enough innings.
"Today it wasn't looking great," Van Horn said. "When you look at the pitching we used all week and we can't even name a starter last night then we decided we scripted it out a little bit. The only thing we really did differently is we gave (McKinney) one more inning than we thought and we gave Lowery one more inning. We were going to go two each with those guys but they kept their pitch counts decent, throwing the ball really good.
"Then Alberius, we could tell he was really tired. And he won't tell us that. (Zach) Jackson, we wanted to maybe go two innings and he went 2 1/3. We needed him to get that out there in the seventh. Just really proud of them. It wasn't a pretty game but we found a way to win and that's the bottom line."
It was the 50th time that Van Horn and Ole Miss skipper Mike Bianco had faced each other - including 45 times at their current schools.
Bianco intially argued the call that allowed Wernes to cross the plate, but then believed the call was correct when given an explanation.
"The ball's not dead," Bianco said. "You know, it's just unusual and you don't see it that much, especially running home. There's no reason that there should be called time unless the catcher calls time. Obviously (catcher) Austin (Knight) thought there was time called, I guess, as to why he started walking to the mound."
Ole Miss got the scoring started in the second off Arkansas starter McKinney when Kyle Watson walked and eventually scored on Knight’s single to put the Rebels up 1-0.
That lead moved to 2-0 in the third when Connor Cloyd delivered an RBI single.
Lowery (2-0) hurled 2 2/3 scoreless innings to keep it that way until his teammates could rally and get both him and them a win.
The winning rally started with Rick Nomura getting hit with two outs and then Wernes and Michael Bernal walking to load the bases.
Spanberger pinch-hit for Tucker Pennell and his squib shot down the third base line went off the glove of Bortles.
Normua raced home and then Wernes saw no one was paying attention and took off for the plate to tie it.
"Spanberger, he just got jammed and I think off the bat Colby thought it was hit harder than it was, so he dove and it was almost like a change up," Bianco said. "Certainly if he had it to do over again he wouldn't have dove, he would have just fielded the ball and stepped on the base.
"It's one of those I think that was hard to read off the bat. It wasn't a line drive, but it was a jam shot, so it wasn't coming hard off the bat. He had dove and then he hit the ground and tried to put his glove up to stop it and just a weird play."
Jackson became the fourth Arkansas pitcher when he replaced Alberius and ended a two-on, two-out rally for Ole Miss in the seventh.
He did so by whiffing Bortles, the brother of NFL quarterback Blake Bortles.
Jackson then worked out of his own two-out, one-on jam in the eighth and a clean ninth as he picked up his second save.
"For us to hold that lead, get out of there in the eighth, they had two on, one out, get a strikeout, ground ball to second, I felt like we were going to win the game," Van Horn said.
Jackson is rounding into shape after a tough beginning, which could be said for the whole pitching staff.
"That's the best he's looked after coming off one day's rest," Van Horn said. "I think on Thursday night I think he threw 39 pitches, right at 40, just about exactly the same today. He won't pitch again probably until Friday if needed.
"I thought he did a tremendous job. He kind of learned how to be a bullpen guy a little bit, learned how to manage yourself, get yourself mentally ready. He did a good job with it. He had good stuff. He didn't have an overpowering fastball, but he had a good breaking ball and he was throwing strikes."
Jackson's curve proved to be his best pitch.
“I definitely feel good with my curve ball,” Jackson said. “I honestly don’t know fastball wise. I didn’t have quite the command that I needed to, but luckily I was able to get out of jams or pitch how I needed to to get them out. Definitely a good feeling to help my team out there.”
He could very well be a starter at some point this season per Van Horn, whose team matched Ole Miss' seven hits on the day.
"Every day I consider it, believe me," Van Horn said. "It could happen. It will happen if we don't use him before the third game, he probably will get the start.
"I did like what I saw out of Keaton McKinney today. That might be the best velocity he's had I think maybe he's the guy. We've gotta throw him. We get him back to where he was when he was 17 years old, when he was throwing 92 miles an hour, because we haven't seen it yet. I think maybe it's coming. That was good to see.
"On Zach Jackson, I think you'd probably see him start before this thing's over."
Arkansas will return to action Tuesday night when it hosts Missouri State before traveling to face Auburn next weekend.
James Teague may get the start on the mound for the Razorbacks.
"We'll probably see how Teague is," Van Horn said. "If he's feeling good we might let him go out a little bit. Probably anybody you didn't see today — not our starters - you won't see (Dominic) Taccolini, (Trey) Killian - possibly Teague will get a start. I'm not sure yet. Then anyone who did not throw today."
Rick Normura and Michael Bernal celebrate
Arkansas had 6,036 fans at Baum Stadium on Saturday.
It was Military Appreciation Day at Baum Stadium.
Arkansas Diamond Dolls pose with the veterans.
Arkansas 5, Ole Miss 2
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