Don’t look now, but the Arkansas baseball team sits at the very top of the SEC standings.
Sure, it’s just one series into league play, but the Diamond Hogs’ sweep of Mississippi State this weekend, culminating with a 6-1 win on Sunday, is such a far cry from where things were most of last season, you’d have to pardon anyone around the program for getting excited. It is, after all, the team’s first sweep in SEC play in nearly a calendar year.
They did it with home runs on Friday and Saturday. Sunday was all manufactured. Arkansas (17-4, 3-0) knocked 11 hits, walked 3 times, had 2 batters hit by a pitch, 2 more with sacrifice bunts and got a sacrifice fly to stack up the 6 runs.
The first three came in the third inning as Razorbacks hitters chased starter Jake Mangum. Mangum, who led the SEC in hitting as an outfielder last year, gave up 2 singles and a walk to load the bases with nobody out to start the inning. Chad Spanberger hit the sac fly to score the first run. Jax Biggers scored two batters later on a passed ball. And Carson Shaddy hit an RBI single to score Luke Bonfield to finish things.
Josh Alberius kept Mississippi State (12-9, 0-3) hitters enough off-balance in top-halves of innings to make it hold up.
Alberius, making his third straight Sunday start, didn’t give up a run in his 4 2/3 innings. The last three years, Alberius has been a bullpen arm, thus the shorter-than-usual stint.
Arkansas added an insurance run in the fourth on a Jake Arledge RBI single, then responded to a Mississippi State solo home run in the sixth with another run in the bottom half. The final score was made when Shaddy hit a solo shot in the seventh.
Shaddy, Biggers and Jordan McFarland each finished with 2 hits for Arkansas. Arledge reached 4 times, going 2 for 3 with 2 walks and an RBI.
The last time Arkansas swept an SEC opponent was March 27 last year against Auburn.
Grading the Hogs
Hitting is more than just getting base hits. Arkansas did that to the tune of 11. But when the best home run-hitting team in the SEC is scoring runs in other ways, things are going swimmingly.
Coach Dave Van Horn’s choice to keep going with Alberius, a reliever, as a Sunday starter worked again. Alberius can’t go deep into games, but on weekends when Van Horn doesn’t have to use his best bullpen arms behind him, he can do what he did Sunday and get another 4 innings out of veteran Dominic Taccolini. That helps short- and long-term.
The Big Stick + Arm
He doesn’t have the filthiest stuff on the roster, but he’s been Mr. Reliable for more than two years now.
Hitting in the 6-hole, where he’s awfully comfortable, Shaddy went 2 for 4 with the solo homer and 2 RBIs.
What’s next for Arkansas?
The Razorbacks get a one-off date with New Orleans on Wednesday at Baum Stadium. First pitch is at 6 p.m. After that, Arkansas heads to Columbia, Mo., for its next SEC series. The Tigers lead the SEC East with a perfect 3-0 record, as well.