Chris Murray: Revamped Lineup Sparks Razorbacks; SAU Tops GAC – UPDATE WITH VIDEO

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It may be too soon to say the Arkansas Razorbacks have turned a corner, but the results from the weekend series in Columbia, S.C., are certainly promising. The Hogs blew out the Gamecocks on Friday, and then scratched out wins on Saturday and Sunday to complete a three-game sweep.

Dave Van Horn shuffled the lineup, including moving Brian Anderson to shortstop, Jacob Mahan to third base, and benching Brett McAfee and Eric Fisher. Having struggled to score runs all season, the Hogs shocked everyone by plating nine runs in the fourth inning of Friday’s opener. Barrett Astin pitched well enough, and the Hogs poured it on, 15-3.

On Saturday, Ryne Stanek truly pitched like the MLB prospect so many believe him to be. The hard-throwing right-hander fired a complete-game, three-hitter, allowing two unearned runs and striking out seven. Stanek outdueled Carolina’s Nolan Belcher, whom the Hogs got to for four runs in the late innings, including Matt Vinson’s first homer of the season. Arkansas benefited from shaky defense this time, as Joey Pankake’s pair of throwing errors proved fatal to the Gamecocks.

Anderson had problems at shortstop, committing four errors on the weekend. But as the old saw goes, “drive in more than you let in,” and Anderson continued to swing a hot bat. It was Anderson’s error in the seventh inning on Sunday that led to two unearned runs. That cost Randall Fant a victory, as the Gamecocks pulled even, 3-3. For the weekend, Arkansas was tagged with five more errors, yet it was able to work around most of those.

Vinson delivered a two-run single in the 11th, and Colby Suggs made it stand up, earning the save. Fant made one of his finest starts as a Razorback, allowing just one earned run on three hits in 6.2 innings, while striking out seven.

For the weekend, the Hogs racked up 35 hits. And while they failed to score lots of runs on Saturday and Sunday, the lineup changes seemed to click. Going forward, it will be interesting to see if the improvement continues, because with the way the Hogs’ hurlers are pitching, an extra run or two per game is all they need.

Arkansas hosts Mississippi Valley State at 3:05 Tuesday at Baum Stadium, then at 7:05 Wednesday at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock. The Hogs’ annual trip to Central Arkansas is always a treat for UA fans, who turn out in droves to the great ballpark on the north side of the Arkansas River. The Hogs host Mississippi State this weekend.

Central Arkansas’ Southland Conference season got off to a rocky start. Oral Roberts completed a three-game sweep in Tulsa with a walkoff win on Sunday. The Bears have been one of the surprise teams in the nation, rising to 24th in the USA Today Coaches’ poll. Despite impressive wins in the pre-conference slate, things always get tougher in league play. The Bears will have to recover, but at least they have plenty of time to do so.

Southern Arkansas took two out of three from host Arkansas Tech in the teams’ Great American Conference showdown in Russellville. Due to bad weather, the series was moved back one day. The Muleriders won 9-5 on Saturday, and the teams battled the wind and brutal cold for a doubleheader on Sunday. SAU took the opener 11-3, and the Wonder Boys avoided the sweep with a 2-0 win in the finale. The Muleriders now lead the GAC with a mark of 14-4. Tech is 1.5 games back at 11-4.

The Hendrix Warriors lost two of three games on the weekend, but were highly competitive against Birmingham-Southern, the favorite in the Southern Athletic Association. The Warriors dropped a tight game on Friday before bouncing back Saturday and handing Birmingham-Southern its first conference loss of the season, 3-2. Hendrix led most of the way on Sunday before falling 5-2.

Hendrix went into a bit of a tailspin after being featured in this column (call it the Sporting Life Arkansas curse?), but looks to have righted the ship as of late.

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