Diamond Hogs Rally Past Centenary

SHREVEPORT, La. -- Whether it was the six-hour bus ride, overlooking an opponent that hadn't beaten them in 42 years or thinking ahead to a weekend showdown against No. 1 Vanderbilt, the Arkansas Razorbacks looked nothing like one of the nation's top 10 teams Wednesday.

Well, for at least five innings.

The ninth-ranked Razorbacks scored 12 runs in the sixth and seventh innings to rally from an early eight-run deficit, beating Centenary College 16-14 at Shehee Stadium.

"It's a satisfying win," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "If we had gone out and won 10-0, it'd have been ho-hum. It might make us better for the weekend."

Casey Coon hit a pair of two-run homers, Danny Hamblin added his own two-run shot and Brian McLelland earned his first win of the season out of the bullpen for the sluggish-looking Razorbacks.

Trailing by scores of 10-2 in the second inning and 12-4 in the top of the sixth, Arkansas (17-6) flirted with disaster against a school that last notched a win in this series in 1965.

The Razorbacks were primed for this sort of letdown, coming off a big series win against No. 24 Kentucky last weekend and facing an even bigger challenge in top-ranked Vanderbilt this weekend. That three-game series begins Friday in Fayetteville.

It didn't help matters that Centenary (10-16) entered Wednesday on a four-game skid, losing those contests by a cumulative score of 51-14 to unheralded Stephen F. Austin and Arkansas-Little Rock.

"We were worried about this game," said Van Horn, who was ejected in the third for arguing with the third-base umpire. "Our guys came to play, we just didn't pitch good the first two innings and they jumped all over us."

Coon gave the Razorbacks an early 2-0 lead with his first two-run homer of the afternoon, a deep shot over the left-field fence.

But once Centenary had its turn at the plate in the bottom of the first inning, Arkansas found itself fighting an uphill battle for the rest of the game.

The Gents sent 14 batters to the plate in the 55-minute inning, scoring six runs off Razorbacks freshman starter Dallas Keuchel and two more against reliever Chad Pierce. The final out of the inning was recorded by reliever James Gilbert, a senior southpaw who hadn't pitched in a game since Feb. 10.

Centenary kept scoring in the second, with Matt Davis hitting a leadoff homer and Garrett DeRooy driving in a run on a sacrifice bunt to give the Gents a 10-2 lead.

"I told the guys, seriously, that the first team to 16 runs wins," said Gents coach Ed McCann. "And that's while we were winning."

Coon answered with another two-run blast in the third to close the gap to 10-4 but Centenary scored twice in the fourth on a throwing error by Arkansas second baseman Matt Willard.

The Razorbacks finally made their move in the sixth, starting the comeback on a fielding error by Centenary third baseman Teddy Saenz.

Coon followed with his fifth RBI of the game, drawing a bases-loaded walk off Gents reliever David McElroy. That run forced McElroy out of the game and brought in freshman left-hander Dakota Robinson.

Robinson gave up four runs -- two of them unearned -- on six hits in his only inning, allowing Arkansas to tie the game at 12 in the seventh. Aaron Bronson (0-3) was tagged with the loss for giving up the lead on a passed ball, which scored Sean Jones.

Jacob Julius scored on a throwing error by Bronson, Coon scored on a balk by reliever Johnny Noland and Hamblin added a two-run homer to close out the scoring in the seventh. By that point, the Razorbacks had taken a 16-12 lead.

Travis Hill earned his first save of the season in two innings of work, allowing only a solo homer to Matt Webb in the ninth.

"That was a big wake-up call," Coon said. "It's tough to bus down for six hours, play one game and bus back for six and prepare to play a team like Vanderbilt. A win like this can give us more confidence."

The Razorbacks will take all the confidence they can get for Friday night's game against the top-ranked Commodores and ace lefty David Price. The bus ride back to Fayetteville would have seemed even longer had they lost to the Gents.

"It's huge to get a win here," Hamblin said. "Down the road, you look back, and this game could be very important for us."

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