Baum Stadium was all dressed up with new pain, a new scoreboard for the season opener Friday. Dominic Taccolini is like brand new, too, minus his floating rib after summer surgery.
It all added up to a sparkling day for the season opener as Arkansas beat Central Michigan, 6-1, before a crowd of 9,620, a record for the first day at Baum.
Taccolini allowed only one hit -- a nubber just off the line at third -- in seven quality innings. The junior righthander was effective, throwing just 79 pitches. He made his exit with the Hogs clinging to a 2-1 lead, but the Hogs were so good in the eighth that Zach Jackson, the SEC's top closer, just pitched one inning.
The Hogs put it away with four runs in the eighth, including a two-run triple by Jake Arledge. When the Chippawas botched the play at third on Arledge's hit to the wall in center, Arledge scored on what amounted to a Litlte League home run.
The Hogs did not make an error on the bluebird 75-degree aftertnoon. Head coach Dave Van Horn could only find fault with the way they handled CMSU's double steal in the second for the only run allowed by Tacolini. He also thought maybe Taccolini could have been a little quicker on what could have been a double play bouncer back to the mound that resulted in only one out.
"It was a really good baseball game," Van Horn said. "To come out of the chute like that, against a good team, that was really good."
Van Horn praised Central Michigan starter Sean Renzi for controlling the Hogs in his six innings of work. The big righthander allowed five hits and walked just one while throwing 96 pitches.
"We'd heard he was good and it was tough to square him up," Van Horn said. "But we played really well. We made all of the routine plays."
As for Taccolini, Van Horn said, "He was everything we had hoped he could be. He's coming off that surgery to remove the rib and he was 89, 91, 86 and all his pitches had movement. He kept the ball down and got a lot of ground balls. He got quick innings."
Taccolini had missed the end of the season because of a blod clot in the back of his shoulder, eventually requiring surgery to remove the rib. He'd just started throwing after Christmas. He struggled in his first two scrimmages.
"He was just OK, really not so good," Van Horn said. "But he was pretty good his last two outings and was really good today."
Taccolini said there were nerves for the opener, especially when he was warming up in the bullpen. He stopped for the National Anthem and noticed that Baum had filled up for the 3 p.m. game.
"I didn't realize how many we were going to have until then," he said. "Then, it was clear we were going to have a lot of people. There's a lot of great history here at Arkansas, but to have the most ever on an opening day, this was pretty special."
Willey seemed to understand. He pitched at Division II Franklin Pierce last year and came to Arkansas as a graduate transfer.
Willey scooped up the baseball as a keepsake after recording the final two outs in the ninth.
"I didn't see that," Taccolini said. "I will kid him about it later. I know they had a good Division II program, but I don't know that he ever pitched in front of a crowd like this."
Just about everything went right. Baum was electric with the new high definition scoreboard dazzling in right field. Taccolini said he was interested to watch the radar gun light up as Jackson pitched in the eighth, sometimes hitting 96.
"I got to look at it some after I was done pitching," Taccolini said. "It was pretty good."
Van Horn said he got lost on the score a couple of times when the replays wiped out the line score at times.
"I would like to see the score some times," Van Horn said. "Did anyone notice that the net stayed up over the scoreboard?"
The net was added in the last few weeks after power hitter Chad Spanberger busted some lights with long home runs.
"It's supposed to come down for games," Van Horn said. "So it will look even better for games when they do that. I don't guess they noticed Spanberger wasn't in the lineup. The scoreboard is a great addition to the park."
No, that was Eric Cole in right field. The true freshman from Southlake, Texas, dazzled with two hits and two hard-hit outs. He slapped a clean single the other way to open the game as the new UA leadoff man.
"That was a great first at bat," Van Horn said. "He had two strikes before he knew what happened, then went the other way. He did that again later, but it was a hard out. He put down a bunt on his own. I didn't even call that. He's mature for his age."
Cole said he saw the third baseman creep in on his first two pitches in the sixth, then step back before the third.
"So I put it down," Cole said.
What about the crowd?
"I've never seen anything like it," he said. "It was really fun."