State of the Hogs: Double Scoop

The setting was Blue Bell Park, so it seems appropriate that the Arkansas baseball team had two scoops and a sweet Sunday at the expense of the No. 1 Aggies. The Razorbacks climbed into the Baseball America poll at No. 25.

Do you like ice cream? How about a double dip? How about a special Sunday?

All of that was appropriate at Blue Bell Park for the Arkansas baseball team as they took two from then No. 1-ranked Texas A&M on Sunday. Coach Dave Van Horn's Razorbacks had the Aggies for desert, that's for sure.

There was more sweet stuff Monday when the Razorbacks were rewarded by Baseball America with the No. 25 spot in their poll. (The Hogs have three victories against the top two teams in the poll, No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Texas A&M.)

I'm sorry, but I couldn't stay away from the ice cream references after the Razorbacks rallied from an 8-3 deficit in a game suspended Saturday night, to score six runs in the final three innings finished Sunday. Then, they used that momentum to rout the Aggies, 8-2, Sunday night in the rain-delayed finale.

Van Horn was still excited Monday afternoon after the trip home.

"I told our coaches Sunday morning if we could pull this off, it would be an incredible day," Van Horn told Bo Mattingly's radio show on Sports Talk. "After we won the first one, our team was really fired up. I told them they could enjoy it for 15 minutes and then they'd have to come back and be a mature team because we had another one."

The momentum continued to complete one of Van Horn's most memorable weekends as a coach.

"What's it been 27 years, but to win a doubleheader like that, I just don't remember another one like it. We go into play the No. 1 team with only three losses and then get crushed -- down 11-0 -- to come back to win those two.

"It was a great weekend, but it didn't start out that way. But this gives us hope to keep playing in postseason."

Van Horn recalls the opening weekend when the Hogs let two get away at Vanderbilt.

"I told the guys not to lose hope," he said. "Because if you don't have hope, you don't have anything."

Momentum is exactly what A&M coach Rob Childress was talking about to the local reporter from the Bryan Eagle after the Sunday that got away.

“We show up, got a five-run lead, nine outs to go and all the momentum is on our side and Arkansas did a great job of taking it away from us in the eighth inning, scoring five runs with two outs,” Childress said. “Similar in the second game, they grab the momentum right away, immediately with the big first inning and we weren’t able to respond.”

It lifted the Hogs to 9-9 in the SEC, amazing since they started the league season by losing five out of six to Vanderbilt and LSU. They have won the last four SEC series ahead of this weekend's home series with Mississippi State. Without question, they enter the series at Baum as the SEC's hottest team. Arkansas is 24-17 overall, including 6-5 away from home, including four SEC road wins.

The last piece to the puzzle is Saturday. The Hogs have not been very good on Saturday. They lost the rain-delayed opener, 13-6, on Saturday afternoon before falling behind 8-3 in the nightcap. The best thing that happened to the Hogs was to stop playing and wait on Sunday, their best day.

So what's going on with these Hogs? For starters, the pitching has settled down. Backed by standout defense, the Hogs have rallied behind the likes of Keaton McKinney, James Teague, Josh Alberius, Zach Jackson, Jackson Lowery, Trey Killian and Dominic Taccolini. There's been a shaky outing now and then from each, but they have been good as a collective unit.

And, the defense has been spectacular. The Hogs have turned 46 double plays, second in the SEC and among the nation's leaders. Third baseman Bobby Wernes has been unbelievable at third, sometimes making several highlight reel plays in the same game. The Hogs are fielding .979 and anything over .970 is considered championship level in college baseball.

But the real improvement has come at shortstop where Michael Bernal and Brett McAfee have made almost every play look routine. Bernal has only five errors against 100 assists, McAfee three against 56 assists. Bernal has been the main guy at short, but as McAfee has recovered from the flu, they've been out there together with Bernal shifting to second base. Rick Nomura has also been solid defensively at second.

The bats have been solid, especially of late. Centerfielder Andrew Benintendi paces a solid lineup with a nation-leading 14 home runs. He is hitting .370 with 42 RBI, 30 walks and 43 runs. He's 19 of 22 in stolen bases. He was a terror on the bases against the Aggies.

Tyler Spoon would be turning heads if it was not for Benintendi. He's hitting .353 with 15 doubles and 36 RBI. He has the luxury of always having someone on base since he follows Benintendi. It's proven a lethal spot in the order.

The batting order has proven just what Van Horn predicted in preseason when he said he didn't see a lot of easy outs anywhere. The team batting average is .297. Catcher Tucker Pennell has struggled, but his defense and solid work with a rebuilt pitching staff keeps him in the lineup. Alex Gosser and Carson Shaddy have hit well in spot play.

Joe Serrano along with Bernal and McAfee have provided big hits of late. Serrano came up big on Sunday against the Aggies with two key extra base hits. He might be seeing a few more fast balls with Benintendi red hot hitting behind him.

I wouldn't want to face this Arkansas baseball team right now. It's all going right. They had two sacrifice bunts placed so perfectly that the Aggies elected to leave them alone, hoping they would go foul. They did not.

It reminds of last football season when Bret Bielema's team got hot, with shutouts of LSU and Ole Miss in November, then the beat down of Texas in the bowl game. Do you think anyone wanted a piece of the Hogs at season's end?

The Hogs jumped about 30 spots in the national RPI and now sit in 51. They were in triple digits four weeks ago when even a midweek game was a challenge because of a shaky bullpen.

They left College Station with the college baseball world impressed. They now look like a solid contender to make postseason play. Some were talking about Van Horn's perfect streak of NCAA tournament berths at Arkansas. Now, it looks like the string is going to extend to 13, the same as his number of years at Arkansas.

There are no midweek games for the Hogs this week. They don't play until Friday night against Mississippi State, losers of three straight to Florida last weekend.

The Razorbacks, now flowing with confidence, have yet to sweep an SEC series. They may be ready to try for three scoops and sprinkles as the Bulldogs come to town.

Diamond Hog Notes

The Razorbacks have opened the month of April with a 10-3 record, including a pair of road SEC series wins....

Arkansas has three wins in SEC play when trailing after seven innings, picking two comeback victories at Auburn and one at Texas A&M....

The Razorbacks are currently alone in third place in the SEC West standings, sitting behind top-ranked Texas A&M and No. 2 LSU....

Arkansas is 21-1 when leading after six innings and 13-2 when holding opponents to two runs or less....

The Razorbacks have only committed one error in the last six games, fielding at a .995 clip over the last 51.0 innings and 225 chances in the field....

Arkansas had four position players hit over .400 last week, as Brett McAfee, Tyler Spoon, Andrew Benintendi and joe Serrano combined to record 33 hits, 24 runs, 22 RBI and 12 walks....

Andrew Benintendi finished the weekend series at Texas A&M with a .545 batting and .636 on base percentage. He has reached base in each of his last nine plate appearances and has seven stolen bases in the last five games....

Benintendi currently leads the country with 14 home runs on the year and paces the SEC in slugging percentage and total bases. He ranks seventh in the league in batting average, third in on base percentage, second in triples, third in walks and third in stolen bases....

Tyler Spoon hit .474 in five games last week, recording nine hits, six runs batted in and four runs scored, while extending his hitting streak to six games....

Brett McAfee recorded a .500 batting average last week, going 8-for-16 with two doubles, six runs batted in and three runs scored....

Keaton McKinney earned his second straight SEC series clinching victory Sunday against Texas A&M, tossing 5.1 innings and giving up two runs, while striking out three....

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