State of the Hogs: UA Long Ball

Zack Cox made Alabama pay for pitching to him at all. The Arkansas star third baseman hit a massive home run to key another rally in a 10-5 victory on Sunday.

If anyone knows what Alabama baseball is all about, it's Todd Butler. He spent seven years in the building process of what is now a solid college baseball program with former coach Jim Wells and current skipper Mitch Gaspard.

Butler admits he roots for Alabama except when he's standing in the other dugout. He calls Gaspard "my best friend." But it had to be a good feeling to shake hands with Gaspard after Arkansas completed a three-game sweep and doing it with the long ball. The 10-5 bludgeoning the Hogs administered Sunday is just the way Alabama had won with Butler recruits.

"I guess you could say the Tide has turned a little bit," Butler grinned after Arkansas hit four home runs Sunday to give them six on the weekend.

It was a big week for Butler, the recruiting coordinator and hitting coach. He spent 12 years as a player, assistant coach and head coach at McNeese State where the Hogs won a pair of one-run decisions on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. There were two more one-run games to start the Alabama series before the Hogs won going away on Sunday.

However, there was one constant in the three victories over Alabama. The Hogs came from behind in each with clutch hitting from Zack Cox producing the tying run in all three games.

None were as big as the Sunday hit. Cox launched a solo shot for a 4-4 tie in the sixth that was just to the left of the massive batter's eye in center field.

"It was about 25 feet over the batter's eye," Butler said. "I don't know how far it went, but it was a no doubter, way out.

"I'm telling you, he's as good as I've ever coached. We've got some other good ones right now, but I think everyone should enjoy him while he's here."

Cox is just a sophomore, but he turns 21 before the major league draft in June. He'll be draft eligible. There may not be a better prospect in college baseball. He raised his average to .435 with a two for three day. He was also walked twice, once intentionally.

"The other walk you could call intentional, too," Butler said. "They tried not to pitch to him all weekend, but we had guys on base and they had to pitch to him some. He's something special and everyone knows it.

"I'd say he's unbelievable and it's pretty obvious. He is having so much fun right now and it's a lot of fun to be in that third base box when he's at bat. It's incredible to watch him."

The wind was blowing out around 15 mph from the northwest, meaning most anything in the air was going to leave Baum Stadium. But UA pitchers allowed only one home run, perhaps the difference in the game.

"We pitched pretty well," Van Horn said. "And we've got some guys who can hit the big one right now. Alabama has been that way before so that was fun to win it like that. We've hit some long ones already this season. The one Cox hit today was way out, but Brett Eibner's shot at LSU might have been further. If it had been here, imagine it landing on the street out over left."

However, Van Horn remembers a streak last year when things weren't going so well.

"Last year we got swept at Alabama," he said, "and we were actually playing pretty well. They won three one-run games and just seemed to get the key hit at the right spot. We were in that little streak where we weren't getting the hit in the right spot. We got it this week.

"I know this was a big week for Coach Butler. He spent some time with Alabama and McNeese. So this was good for him."

Butler said he tried to console Gaspard in the post-game handshake Sunday. "We talk all the time," he said. "After the game today I reminded him that they swept us last year and we ended up in Omaha. So anything can still happen."

Right now, the Hogs -- and red-hot Zack Cox -- look like the better bet for the College World Series.

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