Arkansas 9, Western Illinois 3

Chad Spanberger and Rick Nomura homered while Nomura had four hits and Luke Bonfield added three as Arkansas downed Western Illinois 9-3 Saturday afternoon before 6,239 fans at Baum Stadium.

It was far easier corralling the Leathernecks on Saturday than it was on Friday.

Chad Spanberger and Rick Nomura both homered while those two paired with Luke Bonfield for nine of their team’s 15 hits as No. 14 Arkansas downed Western Illinois 9-3 Saturday before 6,239 fans at Baum Stadium.

The Razorbacks (11-3) edged the Leathernecks 3-2 in 10 innings on Friday, but Spanberger’s monster three-run blast way over the right field fence broke a 2-2 tie in the third on Saturday and gave his team a cushion to work with the rest of the game.

“Good job by our offense today putting a lot of pressure on Western Illinois,” Razorback head coach Dave Van Horn said. “I thought our hitters did a good job. We fouled off a lot of pitches, got deep into some counts. Did a nice job of running the bases, stealing some bases, couple hit and runs. 

“Seemed like most every inning we got something going. That's one thing I like is that it just didn't happen one inning here or there. We kept it going pretty good.”

Freshman hurler Blaine Knight (2-0) pitched  4 1/3 innings of scoreless relief to get the win after starter Keaton McKinney left in the fourth after allowing three runs on three hits, fanning five, walking two and leaving Knight with a bases-loaded, two-out jam.

“As far as pitching goes, Keaton didn't have very good stuff obviously,” Van Horn said. “He was having trouble locating his fastball. Everything was elevated. They were on it pretty good. 

“Blaine Knight came in and did a really nice job, especially getting out of that bases loaded jam when we first brought him in. At the time I think we had just taken the lead. We had scored three runs. You always want to have a quick inning and it didn't happen. 

“…We tried to give Keaton a chance to get out of it, wiggle his way out of it and when he walked that last hitter, we just thought we better get him. Blaine came in an held them down next four innings and gave us a chance to build up on our lead.”

Knight began the year as starter and was making his first relief appearance.

“It felt pretty good,” Knight said “I had to work the past couple of weeks. I am trying to get back throwing the way I was again and it felt good they had the confidence in me to help the team get out of that jam. It felt really good to show that I still have my stuff and that I got a feel for it back again."

Knight used a fastball to strike out C.J. Schaeffer to end the fourth.

“I felt pretty strong the whole rest of the way,” Knight said. “Everything seemed to work. I was locating well and keeping the ball down. Everything felt fine. Felt good.”

Nomura was 4-of-5 at the plate, scored three runs, drove home two and elevated his batting average from .220 at the start of the game to .283 at the conclusion.

“You know this guy right here (Bonfield), a lot of credit to him,” Nomura said. “He is always hitting with me after games and we are probably going to hit after this anyway. We are always hitting in here and he is always encouraging me.

“I have been hitting a lot of balls hard, but they have been going at people. It is the game of baseball. You can be 3-for-10 and you will be considered a Hall of Famer, but if you were playing football and you were 3-of-10, you ain’t playing.

“It is a lot of a game of failure and being mentally tough. I was fortunate to have a day like today and I am happy.”

Bonfield had three hits, Spanbeger two hits and four RBIs and Clark Eagan - starting his second game this season at third - and Eric Cole both added a pair of hits and an RBI each.

“It was good to see Rick Nomura get four hits and hit the ball like he did,” Van Horn said. “ Luke Bonfield had a good day. Spanberger I guess had a double and a home run. Pretty good production down there five, six, seven in the order.”

Bonfield was 3-for-3 with a pair of walks as his averaged jump from .250 to .323.

“Before the game, some of the hitters, well probably most of the hitters went to the indoor and (hitting) Coach (Tony) Vitello calls it no peek, which is basically seeing the ball as long as you can and hitting it the other way and up the middle or what not,” Bonfield said. “I feel like that really helped me and pretty much all of our hitters.

“I think a guy who didn’t really get a ton of credit today, but hit the ball hard every single time was Tucker Pennell. I mean every single ball he hit was scorched. That was the approach Coach Vitello wanted and that was my approach.”

Spanberger’s blast broke a 2-2 tie and flew well over the right field fence and the bullpen. He has only four hits this season with two being homers and two being doubles.

“Way out there,” Van Horn said. “When he hit it, it was pretty obvious that it was going to go way out. He's got that kind of power. He just missed that one there in the ninth.”

Nomura’s solo homer in the fifth pushed the lead to 6-3 and Eagan added a sacrifice in the sixth while Nomura scored on a throwing error in the seventh.

Spanberger had opened the scoring in the second when he followed up Bonfield’s double with one of his own and Eric Cole added a run-scoring single later in the frame to put Arkansas up 2-0.

Chris Tschida hit a two-run homer off McKinney in the third to tie it 2-2 as Drue Galassi and Tschida did the damage on McKinney’s first two pitches of the inning.

The Razorbacks had six doubles and two homers in the game.

“I like doubles,” Van Horn said. “Doubles keep those innings rolling. I like to hit two or three doubles in a row and then hit a home run. Home runs sometimes slow you down a little bit.”

“But it is nice when you have a lead to chalk up a run here and there, quickly with one swing. Everybody likes home runs. Those doubles seem to drive in runs and extend innings and get pitch counts up.”

Spanberger’s homer was one hard hit as was a play at first base in the eighth inning that ended with Steve McShane - a freshman running back for Western Illinois - using his forearms to barrel over Arkansas first baseman Cullan Gassaway.

The contact dislodged the ball from Gassaway, but Nomura picked the ball up and retired McShane, who was kicked out of the game.

“ You know that running back ran right over him, didn't he?” Van Horn said. “I don't think there was anything meant by it. What Cullen was thinking, most guys, when you go to get them, they're going to try to avoid you. 

“That young man just kept running straight line and next thing you know he's right in the path. He got hammered pretty good. I don't think there was a problem there. Ball rolled straight up the line and Rick picked it up and stepped on the bag. That was pretty good collision. I'm just glad nobody got hurt.”

The two teams will meet again on Sunday with Van Horn planning to start freshman right hander Barrett Loeske.

“He's a kid we thought was going to be one of our better guys coming out of the chute,” Van Horn said. “His first outing it didn't happen and we're like, 'What happened?' Since then he's thrown pretty well. He threw pretty well at Minute Maid. 

“His last outing here he threw the ball well against Gonzaga. He went through their lineup once. We're not asking him to give us five innings. We'd just like him to go out there and fill up the zone for a couple, three innings and we'll go from there.”

James Teague, who has had the flu since Thursday and missed the first two games, should be back and pitch some on Sunday as well.

Van Horn hopes to continue a run of good pitching that has occurred the past few days after the Razorback staff was shellacked in a 15-10 home loss to Gonzaga on Wednesday.

 “A lot better than we did Wednesday,” Van Horn said. “That was a bad day. That was a real bad day. They took it personal. They all took it to heart and they wanted to make a big change. So far in this series they've done it. 

“The key is just working ahead in the counts. Keaton will be all right. I have a lot of confidence in him. He's usually ahead in the count, and when he is he's pretty good. He's the only one really the first two ball games (in this series) who hasn't commanded his pitches.”

Chad Spanberger launches his two-run blast.

Arkansas pitcher Blaine Knight pumps his first after getting out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth inning.\


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