Cullen Gassaway does not have the slugging percentage of a cleanup batter, but he's delivering. Gassaway had his second clutch walk-off at bat of the week, a one-out single in the 10th to lead No. 14 Arkansas past Western Illinois, 3-2, Friday afternoon at Baum Stadium.
Gassaway entered the day with just two extra base hits in 12 games for a .389 slugging percentage. That's 11th best on the team. But he's got 11 RBI, fourth on the team.
"He's been clutch," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said of Gassaway. "He's a calm and cool guy. He never gets excited. I wish he would get a little more excited. He's got a good demeanor at the plate."
Gassaway had a walk-off walk in the ninth inning on Sunday to help the Hogs beat Eastern Illinois by the same score. Just as he was Sunday, teammates mobbed him after his at bat. This time they waited until Eric Cole had scored from second on Gassaway's clean single to left. They had mobbed Gassaway before he reached first on Sunday. They doused him with water both times.
"They got me a lot better today," said Gassaway, who had already dropped a soaked game jersey in his locker. "I got really wet."
The Hogs had to go extras when ace closer Zach Jackson gave up a run in the ninth after starter Dominic Taccolini and catcher Tucker Pennell handed him a 2-1 lead after seven.
Pennell broke up a double no-hitter with a two-run homer into the teeth of a damp, east wind in the fifth inning. Western Illinois broke through against Taccolini for two hits and one run in the eighth. Jackson was going for a six-out save, but ended up evening his record at 1-1.
Jackson gave up a lead-off walk in the ninth. Colton Pogue stole second, then scored when third baseman Carson Shaddy threw away a bunt. It was Shaddy's second error of the game, both double-pump mistake when he couldn't get a grip making a charging play. He's made five of the Hogs' 15 errors.
Shaddy was hit by a pitch to start the 10th. Eric Cole took his spot and was bunted to second by Clark Eagan. Gassaway greeted lefty reliever Aaron Michel with a clean single to left after tapping a foul down the third base line on the first pitch.
Van Horn said he was not surprised to see a change to a lefty to face the righthanded hitting Gasaway after looking at the charts.
"The lefty had been effective against righthanders," Van Horn said. "They were batting under .200. Lefthanders are batting over .400. So what that means normally, they are going to throw a righthander off speed. That's what Cullen got and just missed on the first one. He stayed on the second one a little longer."
Gassaway didn't know any of the stats. But he said he's been seeing a steady diet of breakers in the last two weeks.
"He came right after me with the breaking ball," he said. "That's what I'd been getting and I was sitting on it."
Pennell said, "That's the kind of pitcher Cullen has been successful against, a soft-toss lefty. He's doing what he's done for us all year, drive in runs."
It was Pennell's first home run as a Razorback. He leads the team with six doubles. It was a "no doubter" despite the brisk wind coming in from left.
"It was a good pitch down and in and Tucker went down and got it," Van Horn said. "It got out easy. We knew it, too."
Van Horn was pleased with the work of Taccolini. He's been solid in all four outings. He's firmly entrenched as the Friday night starter as the Hogs approach the beginning of SEC play next weekend at South Carolina. Taccolini lowered his ERA to 2.16 with his 109-pitch outing.
"He's really been pretty good," Van Horn said. "He had pretty good stuff. There were some innings he was throwing a nice slider for strikes, then other innings where his fast ball or his curve was for strikes. He didn't really put it all together every inning, but he was good. He's been really consistent in four outings.
"I'm proud of him for bouncing back (from surgery). He's 100 percent. We look for a good outing from him next weekend at South Carolina."
Jackson did not have dominating form. He needed 59 pitches to get through three innings and is done for the weekend.
"We thought about maybe putting someone else in to start the eighth, but I just decided that Zach needed to pitch," Van Horn said. "He didn't have his best stuff, but he battled. He was not in the mid 90s, the low 90s, 90 to 92 on a cold night. He was spotting that fast ball away to righthanders."
Taccolini tied a career high with nine strikeouts. With Jackson's five strikeouts, the 14 was the most for Arkansas pitching since a game at Texas A&M last April.
Van Horn said Shaddy's errors were similar to issues with both catchers, Alex Gosser and Pennell.
"Carson's arm is still not 100 percent (after Tommy John surgery)," Van Horn said. "His issues are throwing. The two today, he covered a lot of ground and just had trouble gripping the ball. Both Alex and Tucker had the same issues when we guessed right on pitchouts. They just didn't grip the ball."
Keaton McKinney pitches for Arkansas in the second game of the series at 2 p.m. Saturday.