Andy Wilkins wears a crew cut all the time, but he admitted he got a closer shave than usual this week after Arkansas thumped Grambling State, 19-7, in the first round of the NCAA Fayetteville Regional baseball tournament.
"That's about as short as I've ever gotten it," Wilkins said.
Was he superstitious? Was he trying to snap out of his funk that has slowed his home run pace to a trickle in the last month?
"Naw, just knew it was going to be hot this week," he smiled. "I guess it worked out, huh?"
Yeah, the Hogs didn't have a close shave. They socked nine homers. Brett Eibner led the way, tying the school record with three. But none were as big, figuratively or literally, as one of the two that Wilkins hit. It sailed high over the scoreboard and landed in the grass beyond a lake in right center. It also rolled to the road, never before reached beyond the wall in right at Baum Stadium.
All those homers had Clay Goodwin, director of baseball operations for the Hogs, confused afterward. As often happens at Baum, fans returned the home run balls. Goodwin likes to give them to the players, or get them to autograph them for the fans.
"I don't know what to do with all of these," Goodwin said. "I guess we got a record today. I know some of these were Brett's. One of them might be the one Andy hit. I'm not sure. There are a lot of them."
Yeah, eight is enough. But nine is fine.
With the way the Hogs have been struggling to score runs over the past month, it was a nice explosion. In fact, it might be the last time the Hogs come close to double digits in home runs. The NCAA has promised to slow down bat speed again next season after adding weight to the aluminum bats this year.
"We know it's coming," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "They slowed them down this year and we are supposed to get the new ones in August. I hope they don't slow them down too much. The fans like the game the way it is now. I think it's about right the way it is now.
"There is supposed to be a little less exit speed with the new bats next year. I just hope we don't ever go to wood. That would slow the game down too much."
It wasn't so much about the bats Friday as it was a patient approach to hitting by the Hogs.
"We were taking some borderline pitches early in the game, very patient," Van Horn said. "Our guys were working the count and getting it like they wanted. I thought that was the key. That's the approach we like. We got into some good hitting counts.
"On the one Andy hit over the scoreboard, he worked the count to 2-1 and when that happens you can get geared up."
The Hogs are geared up for a big weekend after going with No. 3 starter TJ Forrest against the No. 4 seeded Tigers. They used four pitchers in the game, mostly guys who pitch in midweek situations -- Sam Murphy, Jason Fuqua and Christian Kowalchuk. The Hogs jumped to an 11-1 lead after three innings and survived a 13-hit attack from the Tigers.
Asked if it went according to his script, Van Horn said there were some anxious moments.
"Obviously, when you don't use your No. 1 or No. 2 guys, you can set yourself up for second-guessing if it doesn't work," Van Horn said. "I did feel some pressure. It can get nerve wracking. That being said, it was great to get ahead. Thank goodness it worked out.
"I knew Grambling could hit. I made a bunch of phone calls to people I know in that area and I was told they are playing great right now and they are real scrappy. I was impressed with the approach they took. They were patient, worked the count. Obviously, there were a couple of situations in the middle innings where they had the bases loaded after scoring some runs and they were one big hit away from being right back in the game."
As it was, the Tigers never got close. Van Horn knows runs will be hard to get the rest of the weekend.
"It's going to get tough and we know that Saturday night is a big game," Van Horn said. "We are going to see real good pitching and runs will be at a premium."
Still, it's nice to see the big bats boom to start the regional.
"We have practiced well this week and you like the way some of the guys have hit all week getting ready for this," he said. "I saw our guys do the exact things we worked on in practice and talked about doing.
"Still, it's nice to see the results to back all that up. I saw some good swings out there. I'm glad we played well."
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