Hogs Shine In Sweep

FAYETTEVILLE -- Maybe the sun is finally shining on Arkansas.

Skies were overcast during the entire weekend series against Alabama until the clouds broke for Brian McLelland's final pitch which struck out Greg Paiml. It completed an improbable series sweep for the Razorbacks with a 5-3 win in front of 6,927 in Baum Stadium on Sunday.

The sun stayed out for about 15 minutes, lasting well into Hogs coach Dave Van Horn's postgame interview.

"I like seeing that," Van Horn said. "Now, I'll go home, work in the yard a little bit and relax with my kids. I'm looking forward to it.

"We welcome the sight of that sun and we'll take the three wins."

While breaks in the clouds were minimal, the No. 14 Razorbacks (34-15, 14-10 Southeastern Conference) caught all the breaks to win the series against No. 6 Alabama (34-16, 15-8), a team that entered the weekend atop the overall league standings.

It was Arkansas' first SEC series sweep of the season and the first time Alabama had been swept in league play. The Hogs hadn't swept the Tide since 1994.

The biggest break came with the Hogs trailing 2-0 when Tide third baseman Matt Downs bobbled a routine grounder to start a four-run, sixth inning.

The next batter, James Ewing, had struck out seven times during the series with five of those looking at called third strikes. With that in mind, Van Horn called for a hit-and-run, a play that forces a hitter to swing.

Ewing hammered a high fastball into the ground and one-hopped it over Downs' head to put runners at the corners.

"I want to make him swing the bat," Van Horn said. "The ball is eye high and that is classic hit-and-run. I need a video of that to show people that that is what you do. He clubbed it, beat it into the ground and that really won the game for us."

Pinch hitter David Hum, a freshman, then lined an RBI single up the middle and Jake Dugger followed with a three-run homer off the Citgo sign on the scoreboard in right to give the Hogs a 4-2 lead.

Dugger didn't watch the ball as it left the park and came a few feet away from hitting his huge mug shot on the JumboTron.

"I knew it was gone when I hit it," Dugger said of his career-best 10th homer. "But it was the perfectly executed hit-and-run by Ewing that lifted us all up. We knew we were going to have a big inning after that."

Prior to the sixth-inning outburst, Arkansas had only three hits while leaving four runners stranded on base against Alabama freshman starting pitcher Tommy Hunter.

"Tommy Hunter has been their best pitcher, so we knew it was going to be tough," said Hogs hitting instructor Todd Butler, who coached eight seasons at Alabama. "We kind of figured some things out on him and we popped him and had a big inning because of it. He's a good pitcher. He's going to be a phenom in this league, but we got to him with the one big inning."

After a double-play ball skipped off shortstop Matt Willard's glove helped the Tide trim the lead to 4-3 in the eighth, Willard made up for it in the bottom of the inning when he lined a single to right to create the final margin. It scored Stephen Robison, who reached on a leadoff-bunt single and stole second base.

"You've got to give credit to (Robison)," Van Horn said. "He lays down a great bunt, steals second base and then we get another big, two-out hit from another freshman.

"That two-run lead compared to one was huge going into the ninth there."

It was considering McLelland put two runners on with one out before getting a pop up and a strikeout to end the game.

Improbable as the sweep was (only one team, No. 3 Nebraska, has swept the Tide all season), several of the players and even the coaching staff said they "sensed" something special was going to happen this weekend.

After back-to-back poor performances in losses at LSU and Oral Roberts, there was a team meeting in the clubhouse on Wednesday. Players called each other out for their failures while others, like catcher Brian Walker, were apologetic for not getting it done in clutch situations.

"We'll never forget what we felt during that meeting," Walker said. "Just the feeling of knowing that we all love each other. We're a very close-knit team, not that we weren't last year. But this team, we bleed together and we hurt for one another.

"We kept that feeling with us and that's why we had confidence all weekend. We came out flat (Sunday), but we knew we were going to have a chance to win it.

"It was just our weekend ... Our time to shine."

And the skies agreed.

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