Chris Murray: Poor Execution Costs Razorback Baseball in Arizona Opener

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Following a 7-1 homestand to start the season, the Arkansas Razorback baseball team dropped a tight game Thursday to Arizona State at the Coca-Cola Classic in Surprise, Ariz. Arkansas, ranked no. 2 in most polls, struggled with men on base and fell 3-2.

Arkansas managed nine hits, but all were singles. Still, the Hogs had a chance in the ninth. Down 3-1, the first two batters reached to start the inning. Matt Vinson, who has steadily progressed in his four years at Arkansas and has been hitting extremely well, then bunted the runners over. Joe Serrano brought home a run on a groundout, but Tyler Spoon flied out to end the game.

The merits of “small-ball” have been reinforced due to the modifications to the bats in the college game, and certainly there are times when you have to manufacture runs. But down two runs in the ninth, I’m not sure bunting in that situation was the right call. It sure doesn’t pass the Moneyball test.

The Hogs also wasted a great scoring chance early in the game. They loaded the bases with no outs in the second inning, but Jacob Morris, Eric Fisher and Brett McAfee struck out in succession. For the game, the Razorback baseball team left 12 on base. Against an NCAA tournament-quality opponent like Arizona State, that lack of execution will usually prove fatal.

On the bright side, Dominic Ficociello made his 2013 debut and promptly singled in his first two at-bats. The Hogs got a better start out of no. 1 starter Ryne Stanek, who went 5 2/3 innings and allowed two earned runs. In his first two starts, Stanek had run up his pitch count early and failed to get as deep into the game.

The Hogs get another crack at the Sun Devils on Saturday, with games against Gonzaga today and Pacific on Sunday.

Those looking for a quality afternoon of baseball Saturday could do a lot worse than what’s to be found in Conway. The Hendrix Warriors open Southern Athletic Association play against Berry College at 2 p.m. The Warriors are 4-6 on the season, having dropped a number of close contests under first-year head coach Neil Groat. Their first home game came on Wednesday, a 4-1 win over the University of the Ozarks. A player to watch for Hendrix is outfielder Collin Radack, rated as one of the top pro prospects in all of Division III (D-3: No Schollies, No Problem).

After that game wraps, one could drive across town and catch most of Central Arkansas’ game with Wichita State. Similar to last weekend with Kansas, UCA benefits from an opponent looking for warmer weather. The Shockers, once a frequent visitor to Omaha, defeated UALR 9-5 on Thursday in Little Rock, for legendary coach Gene Stephenson’s 1,800th victory.

The UCA Bears play New Orleans today (6 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m.). Bear Stadium will also host fellow Southland Conference team Northwestern State for its series with Missouri State, which was moved from Springfield, Mo., due to weather concerns. UCA is undefeated at home and 7-1 overall, with its only loss coming at Vanderbilt.

The red-hot Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys look to continue their winning ways in Oklahoma this weekend. Tech opened the season by losing three of four at Houston’s Minute Maid Park, home of the Astros. Since then, the Wonder Boys have won 12 of 14, including a three-game sweep of Southern Nazarene to begin Great American Conference Play. Tech travels to Ada, Okla., to meet East Central University for a doubleheader Saturday and a single game Sunday.

First baseman Jonathan Finnegan has been on a tear, clubbing five home runs and driving in 18 so far. Cesar Abreu is batting a team-best .468. Danny Parker, a junior left-hander from Pottsville, is 3-0 with 20 strikeouts in four starts.

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