Walker's Homer Lifts Arkansas To Win

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Several hecklers behind home plate ragged Arkansas catcher Brian Walker for most of Saturday's 5-3 win against Vanderbilt at Hawkins Field.

"They were just all over me," Walker said. "They made some funny comments. I don't remember exactly what they said, but they were making fat jokes and donut jokes and all kinds of stuff."

With heavy tape on his left index finger form getting hit with a pitch in Friday's loss, Walker was unable to wrap his finger around the bat and appeared to be calling his shot — pointing to right field — each time he stepped into the batter's box.

That shot finally came in the top of the ninth when Walker did his best to silence the crowd of 2,023 with a solo homer into the wind in right that proved to be the game-winner.

"You would think it would have shut them up, but the next inning, they were all over me again," Walker said. "It makes it fun and that's just part of playing on the road. You can't take it to heart, it's just all in fun."

Walker hit an 0-1 slider off Vanderbilt reliever Casey Weathers to break a 3-all tie and take some decision-making pressure off Hogs coach Dave Van Horn.

"When it left the bat, I wasn't sure," Van Horn said. "I knew he had at least a double and in my mind I'm thinking, ‘Am I going to pinch run for him?' I didn't want to take him out of the game, but I would have.

"And when it left the park, it was like the best of both worlds. We got a run and I didn't have to take him out of the game."

Arkansas (24-8, 5-6 in Southeastern Conference play) will try to win the series at 1 p.m. today with left-hander Trey Holloway pitching against Commodores right-hander Ty Davis, who faced two batters in Saturday's ninth inning.

Vanderbilt (21-10, 8-3) left 12 runners stranded on base to end a 10-game home winning streak.

"We just (expletive) it up. We did," said Commodores coach Tim Corbin. "(UA starter Nick) Schmidt is a good pitcher, so we had our hands full and we didn't get off a lot of good swings.

"You don't get many opportunities against a guy like him. He's a good competitor, but (expletive), you've got to put the ball in play."

Schmidt (6-2) turned in one of his better outings considering he didn't have his best stuff. He threw only 76 strikes in 126 pitches while laboring through eight inning. He allowed three runs on a season-high nine hits, but still struck out 10, giving him his fourth consecutive double-digit strikeout performance.

"I didn't have anything (Saturday)," said Schmidt, who didn't start an SEC series opener for the first time in his career. "You can't beat yourself in those type of situations. It's a lot tougher to get hitters out when you have trouble locating your fastball or you can't even throw your curveball for a strike.

"It's frustrating, but we won and that's what matters."

The Razorbacks won because they refused to lose. They bounced back from an early 1-0 deficit to tie the score in the fifth when Craig Gentry hit a sacrifice fly to score Walker, who reached on a one-out single, from third.

Then in the sixth, Danny Hamblin slammed an RBI double off the green monster in left to give the Hogs their first lead in 23 innings. With runners on first and third later in the inning, Arkansas executed a "rabbit play" (both runners take off before the pitcher starts his delivery) to push the lead to 3-1.

"We screwed up an inning in the sixth," Corbin said. "They ran a stink play which we run ourselves. We run it in practice, we just didn't react to it."

Vanderbilt evened the score again with RBI singles by Ryan Flaherty and Matt Meingasner in the bottom of the eighth to set up Walker's late-game heroics. After Walker's homer, Arkansas added another run on an single by Hamblin to take a two-run lead into the Commodores' final at-bat.

Hogs releiver Chris Rhoads started the ninth, but didn't last long after walking two of the first three batters he faced. He was replaced by Devin Collis, who made a key play with the bases loaded when he stumbled forward while fielding a high-chopper and flipped it to Walker for the force out before falling to the ground.

Collis then ended the game by striking out Alex Feinberg with a nifty breaking ball to record his fifth save. As Feinberg swung and missed, all nine Razorbacks on the field seemed to jump into the air and pump their fists almost in unison, a sure sign of an important conference win.

"For us to hold onto that was huge," Van Horn said. "What a big inning for us. Top of the ninth after they came back and tie and we came back to score two runs. We told the team before the game, ‘Hey, let's find a way to win today. Let's get after it.'"

A textbook piece of hitting by Meingasner put Vanderbilt on the board in the second inning. With runners on first and second and two outs, Meingarden went with a fastball away to slice it just inside the right-field line for an RBI single.

"It was supposed to be a breaking ball from (UA pitching coach Dave) Jorn, but I changed it up because we were picking behind the runner at first," Walker said. "(Schmidt) was angry and I was like, ‘Don't be angry at Coach. It was me.' So he was like, ‘Well, then hit a home run.'

"And I ended up doing that later in the game, so it's funny how things work out."


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