FAYETTEVILLE - The story of the 2010 Arkansas baseball team has been one of the unheralded coming through in the clutch.
You can add Christian Kowalchuk's name to that growing list. The Canadian-born left-hander retired all 11 batters he faced Wednesday night, earning the win as the No. 9 Razorbacks beat New Mexico 5-4 at Baum Stadium. Arkansas has now won a season-best eight consecutive games.
"He threw strikes," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "He didn't give up a hit through three and two-thirds innings. We didn't know who we'd go to next…We weren't going to go too much farther with anybody that we felt could help us Friday or Saturday. He did a good job of saving the bullpen for the weekend.
"I was worried about (this series). They came out and took care of business. It wasn't anything fancy and we didn't dominate anybody. We just kind of professionally went out and won and I told them I appreciate that."
Kowalchuk stymied the New Mexico rally, handcuffing a talented offense by getting Justin Howard to fly out to center field and striking out Rafael Neda to end the threat.
"Coming in with that situation, I knew we had a good hitting team and would probably score some runs," Kowalchuck said. "I wasn't really thinking about what the score was but just thought about where I was throwing the ball at that time.
"We practice where we get everybody ready for the game. You never know what's going to happen, just like Tom didn't know he was going to come off the bench last night. You get put in those positions and everybody on our team is so good that we're ready for whatever they give us."
Arkansas' offense came through in the bottom half of the inning. Zack Cox' RBI single to score Collin Kuhn gave the Razorbacks a 5-4 lead they wouldn't relinquish. Arkansas had a chance to put more runs on the board in the inning, but stranded runners on the corners. For the night the Hogs left 11 on base.
But the one run turned out to be enough as Kowalchuk sliced through the New Mexico lineup. Aided mostly by fly balls, Kowalchuk retired the side in each the seventh, eighth and ninth innings without a base-runner. He finished the night with 3 2/3 innings pitched and two strikeouts.
"It was pretty fun," Kowalchuk said. "It's something where you don't want to think it's the ninth inning and a one-run game. You just want to think what you did in the previous innings and keep doing that."
Entering the game, Arkansas knew it would have to limit its use of its bullpen with an impending SEC series against Georgia. New Mexico (21-13) didn't have to worry about a conference game this week, however, and started its ace pitcher, Kenny Toves.
Arkansas roughed up the left-hander, scoring three runs in the bottom of the first inning on two-out RBI singles from Brett Eibner and Monk Kreder and a bases loaded walk by Tim Carver.
|Marc F. Henning|
|Monk Kreder extended his hitting streak to 16 games.|
That lead grew to 4-0 in the third inning when Kreder, who extended his hit streak to 16 games, scored on Carver's RBI single.
Arkansas starter Geoffrey Davenport went three innings on a pitch count, giving up no runs on two hits and three walks.
"I thought he did a very good job," Van Horn said. "The first inning he seemed very nervous again, which is a little disappointing, but once he settled in he relaxed and he pitched well. He carved right through them for a couple of innings."
Davenport settled in thanks in large part to a big defensive play in the first that saved a run.
Adam Courcha was thrown out at the plate by Razorback first baseman Andy Wilkins on a bunt attempt by New Mexico clean-up hitter Chris Juarez to record the second out of the inning.
"That was a nice play," Van Horn said. "That play surprised me that a four-hole hitter with runners at first and third in the first inning would show bunt. He hit it a little bit too hard and Andy made a nice play."
Reliever Jordan Pratt wasn't so fortunate. Pratt gave up two runs in the fourth and two more in the sixth inning as the Lobos tied the game 4-4.
Courcha chased Pratt with an RBI single in the sixth inning to tie the game, but couldn't score as Kowalchuk worked his magic out of the bullpen.
The win is Arkansas' ninth by one run this season and the Razorbacks have won 15 of their last 16 games since a series-clinching loss to LSU on March 21.
Arkansas returns to the diamond Friday night with a 6 p.m. first pitch scheduled against Georgia at Baum Stadium. That game will be televised nationally on ESPN2.