FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas is still perfect in SEC series openers this season.
Aided by five home runs, the Razorbacks (27-8, 9-4 SEC) made it five straight with a 14-4 win over Georgia on Thursday.
The 27 wins for Arkansas are more than it had all of last season, which it finished 26-29 and missed the postseason.
Here is a snapshot of the victory:
It was a close game until Georgia imploded in the third inning.
Grant Koch’s leadoff single followed by Carson Shaddy’s two-run home run extended Arkansas’ lead to 5-1, but the Bulldogs nearly got out of it when they replaced starting pitcher Blakely Brown with reliever Tony Locey.
After two quick outs, Locey hit Jake Arledge with a pitch to load the bases. With Arkansas’ hottest hitter coming up to bat, the Georgia pitcher was clearly rattled.
A wild pitch scored a run and opened up a bag, so the Bulldogs opted to intentionally walk Spanberger.
Unlike the new rule in Major League Baseball, college pitchers still have to throw those pitches and it went poorly for Locey. One of his pitches sailed over the catcher’s head, allowing a second run to score via wild pitch.
When Spanberger was finally walked, Bonfield sent the first pitch he saw in the next at bat well into the Hog Pen for a three-run home run. That gave Arkansas a 10-1 lead and effectively ended the game with six innings to go.
“(Spanberger) didn’t have to swing the bat and he caused problems,” head coach Dave Van Horn said. “They’re trying to intentional walk and they throw a pitch over the catcher’s head.
“Bonfield got a little upset that they pitched around Chad to get to him. He got a breaking ball and hit a home run.”
Spanberger Crushing It
Speaking of Spanberger, the junior from Illinois has been on an absolute tear since the Missouri series.
Including his 2 for 3 performance Thursday – which included a solo home run in the first and a two-run double in the second – he is hitting .414 over his last 13 games.
Factoring in his three doubles, one triple and four home runs, Spanberger is slugging .707 during that span. That likely contributed to Locey’s wild pitches in the third inning when he came up to bat with the bases loaded.
“He had a great game obviously,” Van Horn said. “He’s still causing some problems without swinging the bat because he’s such a thread right now.”
Despite what would be considered a sub-par start by his standards, Blaine Knight’s domination of the SEC continued Thursday.
The sophomore right-hander from Bryant, Ark., scattered five hits across six innings – incuding a solo home run in the second – and issued his sixth walk of the season.
“He’s on a shorter week than last week and just felt like his stuff, it just wasn’t as good as it’s been,” Van Horn said. “A lot of his pitches were belt high and he just wasn’t quite as sharp as he usually is.”
Still, his ERA dropped to 1.89 with the performance and, thanks to a lot of run support for the fifth straight week, he improved to 6-1 on the season and 5-0 in conference play.
The Razorbacks have averaged 8.4 runs in his SEC starts, including at least seven in each of his last four.
“You can’t win without run support,” Knight said. “It’s the SEC. You’re going to give up runs. You’re not going to shut everybody out. For me, them putting up runs like they’re doing is incredible.”
Arkansas needed only 35 games this season to surpass last year’s 55-game total for home runs.
The Razorbacks went deep five times Thursday, with Alex Gosser’s solo home run – the first of his career – giving them 50 this year. They hit only 49 in 2016.
“We got some guys that are big and strong, they’re confident and feed off each other a little bit,” Van Horn said. “Guys are starting to get into a groove a little bit, they’re seeing the ball pretty good.”
In addition to the two home runs by Spanberger, Shaddy and Bonfield, Jax Biggers led off the fifth with a solo shot. Gosser’s homer capped Arkansas’ scoring in the eighth.
All four of Georgia’s runs came on home runs by Michael Curry. His solo shot in the second tied the game, while his three-run homer in the eighth pulled the Bulldogs within 13-4.
Stats to Know
-Over the last 13 innings against LSU, Arkansas managed just six hits and didn’t score a single run. In the Razorbacks’ next 13 innings against Missouri State and Georgia, they racked up 22 runs on 26 hits.
-It wasn’t a particularly pretty game by Georgia. The Bulldogs committed two errors in the field and their pitchers combined for three hit batsmen and five wild pitches. There was also a passed ball.
-Those three hit by pitches were the most for the Razorbacks in a game in almost exactly one year. Arkansas also had three against ULM on April 12 last season in North Little Rock.
Arkansas can clinch the series with a victory Friday night. The Razorbacks have had the opportunity to do just that in Game 2 of their last three conference series, but lost each time.
On the mound, Arkansas junior right-hander Trevor Stephan (4-2, 2.86 ERA) will take on Georgia senior left-hander Andrew Gist (2-2, 3.38 ERA).
First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. and it will be streamed on SEC Network+, meaning it can be watched online on ESPN3.com or on the WatchESPN app.