After losing an extra-inning game while commiting six errors on Saturday, Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn dug into his bag of tricks in hopes of finding a loose approach on Sunday. As it turned out, the Razorbacks had to just grind out a tight one.
The No. 12 Hogs (10-2) squeaked past Eastern Illinois, 3-2, on Cullen Gasaway's bases loaded walk with one out in the ninth to take the series, 2-1. The Hogs scored on two bases loaded walks and a sacrifice fly.
The Panthers (1-10) took a 2-0 lead in the top of the third, but starter Keaton McKinney settled down while handling all three outs to get out of that frame. McKinney had struggled in his first two starts, but threw 95 pitches and had command with two pitches for the first time this season. He is coming off of summer hip surgery.
McKinney was in a serious zone 90 minutes before the game when Dominic Taccolini, the Friday starter, pranced in front of his locker with an announcement that he'd be the designated hitter. Taccolini had a batting helmet and batting gloves.
It was just Van Horn's way of trying to lighten the load on everyone, including McKinney, pressing to find the right mechanics with a quicker hip.
"He said he was DHing," McKinney said. "I blew it off. I said, 'Why you messing with me. Shut up.' Then after the lineup was posted, he said, 'See.' I just finally told him, 'OK, get a hit for me.' Funny."
Van Horn, with McKinney in the bullpen warming up, told the team in the outfield that there was no way Taccolini was going to bat. He did have some strategy.
"I got to the ball park and the wind was blowing in at 25," he said. "So I wasn't sure if I wanted to DH Darien Simms for his speed, or go with Chad Spanberger. I was just going to wait and see what the situation came up."
With the DH batting seventh, Van Horn was going to go with Spanberger in an RBI position, or lead off with Simms. The Hogs went one-two-three in the first, so the decision didn't come up until the second. When Rick Nomura reached on an error, Spanberger was inserted. Nomura was thrown out at second after the catcher retrieved a bobbled pitch.
"So you see how that worked out," Van Horn said. "Spanberger ended up getting to lead off (the third).
"I was just trying to loosen our guys up. I told them (Taccolini) was never going to hit."
It was a day to pitch, not hit. The flags were streaming in from the southeast. The Hogs cranked four shots that didn't even make the warning track, including a sacrifice fly by Spanberger in the eighth that would have hit the middle of the scoreboard on Saturday.
Clark Eagan drew a bases loaded walk in the third for the first UA run. Jake Arledge plated the tying run with a sacrifice fly in the seventh. Tucker Pennell was involved in all three runs, with a walk in the third, a double off the wall just inside the foul pole in the seventh and a single to lead off the ninth.
Pennell's double in the seventh followed a leadoff walk by Michael Bernal. It was a nine-pitch at bat that featured two fouled bunt attempts.
"He's one of our best bunters," Van Horn said. "It was a good at bat after that. And, the at bat in the ninth was great, right back through the middle."
Sims was inserted to pinch run for Pennell. Eric Cole moved him up with a sacrifice. Jason Euler (1-1) then walked Arledge, Clark Eagan and Gasaway. Van Horn said Gasaway had the green light.
"The first pitch was down and it was probably a double play ball and he stayed off of it to take a strike," Van Horn said. "I wasn't going to give him a take. He's our clean-up man. I hadn't started him and I'm sure he wasn't happy about that and had something to prove."
Gasaway said not so much.
"I didn't want to go up there thinking like that," he said. "That approach, you might be too anxious. I just wanted to let it come to me."
The approach was to look for a pitch that he could put in the air to the outfield.
"I was looking fast ball elevated," he said. "I wanted to get it up with some backspin. But he didn't give me anything close to that. I just stuck to my approach.
"We didn't get a hit with runners in scoring position, but a win is a win."
Gasaway was doused by teammates after taking the walk.
"I didn't care, we got the win," he said. "Anything to get a win."
James Teague (2-1) pitched the last two innings, working around one walk. With Blaine Knight struggling over his last two Saturday starts, does Van Horn contemplate moving Teague into the rotation next weekend?
"I've said this a few times, Teague really doesn't like to start," Van Horn said. "We have to keep an eye on him."
McKinney's outing was a real positive.
"That should give him a little confidence," Van Horn said. "He gave up three singles in the first, but they were ground balls. I think he was good with three pitches."
McKinney said it's a matter of working out new mechanics. He altered his delivery last year when he battled the hip issue for several months.
"This was a big one for me," he said. "I needed it for the team and for me, to bounce back after we lost yesterday and I struggled last weekend.
"I went to work last week with Coach (Dave) Jorn and Mike Strouhal, our strength coach. I was working on some things to help me repeat my delivery. It's been a long process to get back. I had to find the new normal. I did some things last year with mechanics because of my hip that I didn't want to do.
"Now, I'm so much quicker with my hip. I feel better. I just needed to repeat it. I felt good at the start, but they got three ground balls through. It was a lot like yesterday. Sometimes the (ground balls) find a hole.
"It was nice to go (95 pitches). My arm felt good. My hip felt good."
The Hogs will meet Gonzaga in a pair of midweek games, on Tuesday and Wednesday. Both games start at 3:05 p.m. A scheduled night game on Tuesday has been moved to the afternoon.
Van Horn would not commit on starting pitchers for the Gonzaga games.
"We'll see," he said. "We went through a lot of pitching this weekend."