Michael Bernal’s last two at-bats of Sunday’s game were very different, but because he was successful in both trips with the sacks jammed it allowed his team to get out the broom.
Bernal hit the 10th pitch he saw in the seventh inning for a game-tying single and then roped the first one he saw in the eighth for two more RBIs as Arkansas downed Auburn 3-1 and swept the three-game weekend series.
Relief pitcher Zack Jackson (2-2) made it exciting in the ninth before closing things out as the Razorbacks (18-6, 3-3) rebounded from being swept at South Carolina last weekend by taking down the Tigers before 2,087 fans at Baum Stadium on Easter.
“Well, obviously it was great to sweep,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. “ We just needed to win the series. 1-2 wouldn't have been good enough. That would have been taking another step back in my opinion.
“I'm not knocking Auburn. I just told the coaches that team is going to win a lot of games in the league. And they're going to beat you 10-8 when their pitchers don't do very well and they're going to beat you 10-2 when they do, because they're going to score.
“They can hit. I mean that's probably the best hitting team top to bottom in the league. It's an older team. If they get some pitching performances like they did today, they're going to beat a lot of people. Time will tell with them…not a 1-5 team, more of a .500 team anyway.
“That being said, it was great for us to win two out of three, and then to win them all, that kind of threw it over the top. Hopefully that'll give us some momentum going into this week.”
Bernal’s 10-pitch at-bat with the bases loaded and no one out ended up tying the game when his single landed just over the second baseman’s glove and just in front of the center fielder.
“Bases were loaded, I knew he didn’t have any place to put me and that he was going to have throw strikes and put it over the plate,” Bernal said of his seventh-inning single. “I didn’t think his breaking ball was anything that would beat me. So I was just working on the fast ball and if I saw a breaking ball I was just going to let it go.
“With two strikes at that point I was down in the count and I had to keep fouling pitches off. They were all fast balls and I knew he had to throw strikes and I just did what I could to find a pitch to get the job done with. The one I did put in play wasn’t textbook but it got the job done.”
In the eighth, Bernal - who hit two homers in Saturday's 14-7 win - jumped right on the first pitch he saw reliever Gabe Klobosits with the bases loaded and two out.
“It was a ball in the middle half of the plate,” Bernal said. “That guy came in and threw against us Friday and I saw him really well and hit a ball hard to center field. So I was feeling pretty good about that at bat. The same situation, the bases loaded and he didn’t have anywhere to put me. So I was just going up there and be aggressive and try to find a pitch over the plate.
Bernal, Rick Nomura and Cullen Gassaway all had two hits each on a day when the Razorbacks were outhit 9-7.
Auburn starter Cole Lipscomb - a second-team All-SEC performer from last season that came into the game with a 1-2 record and a whopping 6.33 ERA - stymied Arkansas on just one hit through the first six innings before allowing lead off hits to Nomura and Luke Bonfield.
"Just a great job by our team hanging in there," Van Horn said. "Really, the bullpen did a tremendous job. We weren't doing much offensively, obviously. Lipscomb, he kept us down. We weren't doing much against them. When we got people on base it seemed like he got better. Pitched like the veteran that he is. He knew how bad his team needed a win. he gave them a great opportunity to win."
Jackson - the fourth pitcher of the day for Arkansas - went the final 2 1/3 innings and allowed the tying runs on base in the ninth, but got the final out of the game when he Nick Buentello flied out to left field warning track.
“I’d rather not put that much pressure on everybody I guess, but I guess I kind of got used to putting myself in that situation all the time so it was about time to get used to it,” Jackson said.
Arkansas freshman starting pitcher Barrett Loseke went the first 2 2/3 innings and gave up Jackson Burgeen’s homer in the second before being followed by Jordan Rodiguez, who got he Razorbacks into the fifth still down 1-0.
Doug Wiley then went the next two 2 2/3 before Jackson closed it out.
“It was huge,” Jackson said of the middle relievers. “You kind of get a guy like Jordan Rodriguez, who has become kind of our guy to bring in after the starter, especially against lefties.
“He is a guy that started off the year a little slow and then every chance he has gotten since then he has just been dominant. Coming in there especially after throwing as much as he did Friday was really big for us.
“And Doug just doing what we know he can and finally getting his chance today and just showing what he has been doing all year. That middle relief can kind of go unnoticed, but it is huge.”
Arkansas will go to Oklahoma State on Tuesday night before hosting Missouri next weekend with a chance to get above .500 in league play.
“I think that, even after getting swept last week, in league play we are sitting .500 now,” Jackson said. “Those kind of cancel each other out - lose an away series, win a home series and that is basically what everybody is expected to do all year. So getting back to .500 is huge.”