FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas didn’t need any extra-inning heroics Saturday.
The Razorbacks (29-8, 11-4 SEC) jumped on Georgia (15-22, 4-11) early and cruised to an 11-3 win in front of 7,233 fans, completing a three-game sweep of the Bulldogs.
The victory moves Arkansas to the top of the SEC West standings, a half-game ahead of Mississippi State. If the Bulldogs beat South Carolina on Sunday, they will be tied with the Razorbacks.
“It’s where you want to be,” head coach Dave Van Horn said. “We have 15 left. We’re not jumping for joy. We haven’t really talked about it.”
Georgia actually scored first with an RBI single by Aaron Schunk in the first inning, but seven runs in the second gave Arkansas all of the offense it needed.
Just as it did Friday night, an error played a critical role in the game.
Grant Koch singled to start the inning and then Jared Gates grounded to the second baseman, who tried to get Koch at second instead of taking the sure out at first. His throw was off line and both Arkansas players moved into scoring position.
“They made a mistake and we jumped all over it,” Van Horn said. “It would have been bang-bang with a perfect throw and the throw was off just a little bit and got away and all of a sudden we had runners on second and third.”
Two-run singles by Carson Shaddy and Jax Biggers followed by Chad Spanberger’s three-run home run erased the Bulldogs’ one-run lead, turning it into a 7-1 Arkansas advantage.
Spanberger finished the game 2 for 5, continuing his hot hitting. Over the last 15 games, the junior from Illinois is hitting .403 and slugging .791 with 26 RBIs.
His rise has almost been mirrored by Eric Cole, whose 3-for-5 performance improved his batting average to .257. Just three weeks ago, he was hitting .176.
“(Cole’s) batting average is really getting up there now,” Van Horn said. “He’s a guy that we thought was a pretty darn good hitter and it wasn’t happening.
“Between Eric and Spanberger, those guys have climbed out of the sub-.200 batting averages and really have helped us.”
Georgia tried to climb back into the game, with runs in the third and fourth inning, but Arkansas called on reliever Kevin Kopps to get out of the jam.
Entering with the bases loaded and only one out, the freshman right-hander got Cam Shepherd to ground into a double play on his first pitch, a cutter.
“It looked like, hey, they’re going to be right back in this thing,” Van Horn said. “For him to get that double play ball really threw the momentum back into our dugout. It was a huge pitch.”
Kopps (2-0) finished the game and earned the victory, scattering five hits and two walks across 5 2/3 scoreless innings. All three of Georgia’s runs were charged to Arkansas starter Josh Alberius, with two of them earned.
The Razorbacks added four insurance runs over the next two innings. Luke Bonfield accounted for three – he had an RBI double and two-run single – and the fourth scored on a passed ball.
The 11-4 start in conference play is tied for the third best in UA history. Arkansas began its 1999 and 2010 seasons 12-3 and the Razorbacks matched the 11-4 start in 2004 and 2007.
Arkansas travels to Auburn – which is one game back in the standings – next weekend.
Before the road trip, though, the Razorbacks have a two-game midweek series against Memphis. Tuesday’s game is at Baum Stadium, but Arkansas’ annual game at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock is Wednesday. Both are scheduled for 6:30 p.m.