Matt Vinson never won a baseball game with a hit or a play -- until Sunday. The true freshman from Alma slugged a backspin fly that hit the batter's eye in dead center field in the 10th inning for a solo home run to lift Arkansas to a 3-2 victory over Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Vinson is the switch hitting outfielder trying to win a spot in the starting lineup as the Hogs head to SEC play. With Brett Eibner pitching Sunday, both Vinson and Jarrod McKinney were in the lineup. Head coach Dave Van Horn will have to pick between the two for two of the starts this weekend when the Hogs play at LSU. After what happened Sunday, it may be Vinson.
Vinson hasn't exactly set the world on fire. He had only two hits in his first 12 at bats before his walk-off homer to end Sunday's game. But his at bats have been improving and McKinney is struggling, too.
McKinney made a mistake in the bottom of the ninth, perhaps a play that kept the Hogs from winning in that frame and giving Vinson another chance. McKinney led off with an infield single, then advanced on a wild pitch. But he was too far off the base on Collin Kuhn's grounder to the hole at short and was nailed at second for the first out of the inning with the Hogs trailing 2-0.
The Hogs eventually tied it to force extra innings. There were two outs in the 10th when Vinson struck. He fouled off a series of pitches before hitting a fly ball that spun under the north wind and sailed out well out of reach of the center fielder.
"I was watching the center fielder and he scared me because it looked like he thought he had it," Vinson said. "I wasn't really trying to hit one out. We are taught to go back up the middle with two strikes. I wanted to hit one at the feet of the pitcher. But I hit the bottom of it and it got up in that wind."
Hitting coach Todd Butler wasn't surprised.
"Matt has power both ways and he definitely can hit them out from the left side," Butler said. "It was one of those back spin jobs where that spin really lets it carry when the wind is blowing out. I thought it was out all the way."
Vinson said his roommate, Derek Bleeker, was one of several teammates who predicted his home run, calling it as he went to the on-deck circle.
"I don't who else, but he definitely did," Vinson said while doing interviews after his appearance on the post-game radio broadcast. "Someone got me the ball back. It's waiting for me down stairs."
Had he ever done anything similar in his baseball career?
"Never, not one time," he said. "I can't ever remember doing something like that. I'll remember the crowd as I was going around the base path, but what was really neat was my teammates. Now that was pretty cool."
Van Horn saw what they did.
"The new rule in college baseball is that they aren't supposed to go beyond the dirt (next to the dugout) for congratulations," Van Horn said. "They broke that rule."
They mobbed Vinson at home plate, knocking his helmet loose. It lay on the grass between the dugout and home plate for 20 minutes after the game.
"I don't know where it is," Vinson said in the press box. "I don't even remember it coming off. Doesn't surprise me. I lost it yesterday, too. I couldn't find my helmet after Saturday's game."
Butler has thought Vinson was about to explode for several games.
"His at bats have gotten better and better the last few times he's played," Butler said. "He was real nervous at the start of the year, but that's over now. He's just playing.
"Everyone in our dugout has confidence in him. They've seen what he can do. He's got some real power and he understands the (strike) zone. He's battling."
Butler knew he was a battler when he saw him in UA summer camps during his high school days.
"We always liked him," Butler said. "He'd played short in high school, but we knew he was an outfielder. Wichita State wanted him. We were a little tight on money at one point (for a scholarship), but some things opened up and we went after him. He's very talented."
Indeed, Vinson was a talented quarterback at Alma High School as well as a standout shortstop. Did he ever win a football game with a play at the end? No, Vinson said, no game winners there either.
"I've never done it before in either sport," he said. "I had a chance against Greenwood in football one time. We had a chance to win on the last play, but I threw it to the wrong receiver."
Second baseman Bo Bigham saw nothing wrong with the way Vinson played Sunday.
"That was big right there, for him and for our team," Bigham said. "You do that in the clutch like that, it's something you always have as far as confidence from this point forward. We needed that and he needed it for our team to win coming back like that. We've all had confidence in him, but now he has that in his memory and that's only going to help him as we move down the line."
Vinson Gets His Game Winner
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