Arkansas Slips Past Grambling State, 3-2

Darien Simms flashed some speed to help Arkansas slip past Grambling State, 3-2, on Wednesday in the last tuneup before the start of SEC play.

There was an extra-inning feel to what was happening as Arkansas played its final tuneup Wednesday before SEC play begins this weekend at South Carolina.

Then, in a flash, Darien Simms and Doug Willey changed that in as 3-2 victory over Grambling State at Baum Stadium.

There had been hardly a hint of a rally by either team following a two-run homer by Little Rock product Tray Bell as the Tigers made it 2-2 in the fourth.

When Cullen Gassaway walked to lead off the eighth, Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn unleashed his secret weapon, speedster Darien Simms. The reserve outfielder wasted no time against Grambling lefty Tanner Raiburn. With a great jump, Simms had second easily. When the catcher's throw got by second baseman Larry Barraza into center, Simms was on to third. One batter later, Simms raced home on a wild pitch.

The Tigers (4-11) went quietly in the ninth. Willey got a ground out on his second pitch, then two quick strikeouts. He threw only 10 pitches to record his first save and allow Van Horn to rest Zach Jackson. Willey and Josh Alberius set down the last 10 Tigers in order. Alberius had four strikeouts while setting down the Tigers in order in the seventh and eighth.

The Hogs got only four hits on the day, struggling against soft-toss pitching. They topped a lot of ground balls.

The story was Simms, gaining confidence as a base stealer. He's easily the fastest Arkansas player and he's got the quickest jump.

"He's got a feel for it," Van Horn said. "He's really quick getting started. He's full speed in three steps.

"It's great anytime you can steal a run without getting the ball out of the infield. You have a chance with him."

Van Horn liked a lot about what he saw in his pitchers. They didn't walk a batter and had only two in the pair of games against Grambling.

"We are throwing strikes," he said. "We've improved in that area."

Jackson did throw in the ninth, but never got in full gear. Willey had the Tigers down that quickly.

"Jackson has had some trouble with shin splints," Van Horn said. "It's cost him some velocity. So it was good to rest him. We just decided to let Willey have this one and give him a chance to save it."

The Hogs staked starter Weston Rogers to a 2-0 lead with single runs in the second and third. Rick Nomura walked, stole second and Michael Bernal drove him home with a single. In the third, Carson Shaddy doubled, Clark Eagan moved him to third on a ground out and Gassaway plated him with a sacrifice fly.

Grambling had six hits, but only threatened in the fourth. Daniel Barnett singled and Bell followed with a home run into the Arkansas bullpen.

"Rogers couldn't do anything with his curve ball and wasn't locating his fast ball great, but his change was good," Van Horn said. "Blaine Knight was next and he didn't have a lot today, either. But Alberius was really good. He had to go through the top of that lineup, where they are pretty good."

The Tigers impressed the Hogs with the aggressive nature of their swings on Tuesday when the Hogs won, 14-4.

"They all take good swings and they are powerful," Shaddy said. "We were really impressed with their team."

Van Horn said the nature of the Tuesday victory always suggests a tight game to follow.

"That's the way it works," he said. "You beat a team 14-4, it's going to be tight the next day. It just is.

"It was a good win. We didn't do much offensively. The first two guys were not throwing it hard and we were topping them. The second guy had a cutter down and away and we were frustrated with it."

It's about SEC play now.

"We are anxious to get down to South Carolina and get it under way," Van Horn said. "I told them it's 30 games, not one weekend. It's 10 weekends, not one weekend. You just have to win enough to be in it at the end."

Van Horn is sure about two of his starting pitchers. It will be Dominic Taccolini on Friday, Keaton McKinney on Sunday. For Saturday, it's likely Barrett Loseke, but he'll wait a day to announce that decision.

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