Chris Murray: Razorbacks Answer Bell After Tough Loss to Aggies

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With their season seemingly teetering on the edge, the Arkansas Razorbacks responded Saturday behind Ryne Stanek and a 15-hit assault. The Hogs then won a nailbiter Sunday, 2-1, to take the weekend series from Texas A&M and perhaps pull out of the slide that saw them lose seven of their previous nine games.

On Friday, the Aggies rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win 5-3, thanks to Jonathan Moroney’s eighth-inning grand slam. That was Arkansas’ fourth straight loss, and it put them in the position of needing to win the next two to take the series against a team that had been scuffling.

Randall Fant had his changeup working on Sunday, striking out eight while allowing just one run on two hits over six innings. Arkansas stranded nine runners, but Fant and three relievers made two early runs hold up. Colby Suggs slammed the door with a perfect ninth for his fifth save.

Stanek looked like an ace on Saturday, striking out nine and allowing just one run over six innings. Michael Gunn got the save with three innings of relief before a monstrous crowd at Baum, no doubt benefitting from the Red-White football game that afternoon. Meanwhile, the Razorbacks let out some offensive frustration, clubbing eight extra-base hits, including home runs from Dominic Ficociello and Jordan Farris.

The week started badly for the Arkansas Razorbacks with a loss in the series finale with LSU, then got worse at Nebraska. The Cornhuskers swept a doubleheader Tuesday, including no-hitting the Razorbacks in the opener (the first time UA has been no-hit in recorded history). But behind Barrett Astin, the Hogs looked in control on Friday with a 3-0 lead. But the Aggies scored once in the seventh, and Moroney blasted a 2-0 fastball from Chris Oliver into the Hog Pen.

Two big factors in the series win were Farris and Brett McAfee. Farris, a freshman infielder, has responded to increased playing time with big-time production at the plate. In just 50 at-bats, he has three home runs (tied for the team lead with Tyler Spoon) and 14 RBIs. The ball just jumps off his bat, and as a result he drove in six runs this weekend.

Shortstop Brett McAfee went 7-for-16 at the plate last week, raising his season average to .298. McAfee’s increased offensive production may be critical to the team’s success. When he wasn’t hitting, coach Dave Van Horn looked elsewhere to start at shortstop, and that position was a big part of the team’s defensive troubles. As talented a hitter as Brian Anderson is, he is not an SEC-caliber shortstop.

The Hogs host Oklahoma on Tuesday before traveling to Athens for a weekend set with the Georgia Bulldogs. Although three of their last four SEC series are on the road, the truth is the Razorbacks should handle those teams. Georgia, Tennessee and Auburn are among the worst teams in the SEC, and Kentucky, after getting off to a red-hot start, is now under .500 in league play. In fact, those four teams have a combined 18-47 record in the SEC.

The Arkansas Travelers begin an eight-games-in-eight-days road trip tonight at Tulsa. The Travelers return to Dickey-Stephens park on April 30. Northwest Arkansas is also on the road the next eight days, returning to Arvest Ballpark to face Springfield on April 30.

The Travs are one game back of first in the Texas League North division, two games ahead of the Naturals.

Notes: The Hendrix Warriors closed out the regular season by taking two of three from Oglethorpe in Atlanta. The Warriors earned the no. 4 seed for this week’s Southern Athletic Association tournament, which begins Friday in Jackson, Miss. … Arkansas-Little Rock swept a doubleheader at Oklahoma in Norman on Tuesday. The Trojans couldn’t carry that over into Sun Belt Conference play, as they were swept on the road by Troy. … Central Arkansas took two of three from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi for its fourth straight Southland Conference series win. The Bears are now 28-10, 8-7 in league play.

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