OMAHA, Neb. – Todd Butler used an old baseball phrase three years ago when he came to Arkansas as hitting coach. Chicks dig the long ball.
Cal-Fullerton came to Rosenblatt Stadium with a small ball reputation, bunts and stolen bases combined with lights out pitching. However, Zack Cox and Andy Wilkins doused that plan with something the chicks might dig to pace a 10-6 Arkansas victory Saturday in the College World Series opener.
Cox, a true freshman, blasted a two-run homer about 30 rows into the bleachers in straight away right field in the third inning. Wilkins added a three-run blast in the fourth. It continued hot postseason hitting for both.
"I said before the season that Zack Cox is the type hitter that when he gets hot, he can carry a team," said Butler, the UA hitting coach. "He's doing that right now. Our whole team is starting to hit. Andy is red hot, too. It's just a matter of the averages turning around.
"I thought before the season we had the kind of hitting team that could take us to Omaha. They did that and they have really hit the ball well against good Oklahoma, Florida State and Fullerton pitchers the last three weekends."
Butler knew he was watching something special two years ago when he saw Cox play in a summer league game.
"But I thought he might be better as a pitcher than a hitter," Butler said. "He could really pitch it. Then, I went to watch him take batting practice the next spring at his high school. His coaches took me to the batting cage and showed me a place where he wore out the fence with line drives."
Cox smiled about that story.
"It's true," Cox said. "It was actually from the batting cage, against the back of the fence. There was a piece of plywood on the other side of the net. I'd put the ball on a tee and if I really hit it great, it would take the net all the way to fly wood. I'd stand there and wear that one spot out and it finally put a hole straight through the plywood."
Cox has slammed six home runs in postseason play, including some massive blasts. There's one that was estimated at 500 feet off the top of the scoreboard in the SEC tournament. The shot he slammed Saturday was into a slight breeze that probably kept it from sailing out of Rosenblatt completely.
"He's just finally healthy," Butler said. "I don't think he's been full speed since the last week of the regular season. He couldn't bend over at third, his back was bothering him so much. We didn't know it at first. But we knew something was wrong."
Cox, who has hit six of his 13 homers in postseason, said he learned a lesson. You don't let injuries linger too long.
"I was a freshman and I didn't want to leave the lineup, so I didn't tell anyone about my back," he said. "You get out of the lineup, someone gets your spot, you don't ever get back into the lineup. As a freshman, you keep quiet about injuries.
"I think maybe the last week of the regular season it got better. And, I've felt great in postseason."
The home run was impressive, but Cox liked his barehand scoop of a bunt midway through Saturday's game that foiled Fullerton's small-ball strategy. He threw in one motion to nip a fast Titan at first base.
"I think what makes that play better to me is that you know Fullerton loves the bunt," he said. "They like to play that way and to do that had to hurt them and tell them they couldn't play that way against us. I couldn't bend like that and throw earlier this year because of my back. I enjoyed making that play."
Wilkins said, "That was a huge play. He's going great in the field and at the plate. He may be a freshman, but you'd never know it by the way he's playing right now."
Butler said, "He's going good, but I think you are going to see better things from him in the future. He's just getting started. Like I said, I really liked him as a pitcher. We'll get pitching from him at some point, too."
Butler loved the way the Hogs hit with two outs. Nine of their 10 runs came after two outs on Saturday. That's the way the Hogs won games early this season.
"We are taking great at bats with two strikes and with two outs," Butler said. "I think the two-strike hitting is what we stress. We talk about a quote from Tony Fernandez, the shortstop with the Blue Jays. He said if you are on an island, you don't get off the island by standing there. You swing your way off the island. We want an aggressive approach with two strikes and we have that right now."
Dave Van Horn said much the same thing after his first CWS victory in seven games.
"Sometimes you just get it going and right now, we got it going," Van Horn said. "Hits start falling it. You get some things going with two outs. That's what good teams do and have happen to them. Right now, we are getting hits to fall in and some of them are leaving the park, too."
Chicks dig that.
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