FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas pitcher Randall Fant got off to a shaky start on Sunday, surrendering a first-inning home run to Texas A&M. Fant’s Razorback teammates struggled at the plate with runners on base.
Yet there was far more celebration than second-guessing for No. 12 Arkansas on Sunday as the team notched a 2-1 victory and series win against the Aggies. Coach Dave Van Horn noted a few areas the team could have performed better, but in the end didn’t want to lose sight of the final result. Arkansas won the series with consecutive victories after losing a heartbreaker in the opener.
“We won,” Van Horn said, after Arkansas notched its fourth victory in six Southeastern Conference series.
“It does a lot for their confidence,” Van Horn added. Yesterday’s game did a lot for their confidence after a tough loss on Friday.”
Pitching was once again a strong point for the Razorbacks as a crowd of 6,284 watched at Baum Stadium. Fant, outside of allowing that first inning home run, was solid in six innings of work. He struck out a career-high eight batters and allowed only two hits and one run as he improved to 3-1 for the season.
Fant shook off the early mistake on the Troy Stein home run and showed good command of his pitches the rest of the way. He effectively mixed in his changeup, a pitch that had been troubling him in previous outings, and kept A&M hitters guessing.
Arkansas (27-15, 11-7 SEC) took a 1-0 lead in the first and the Aggies tied it up on Stein’s solo shot to lead off the second inning. Fant then struck out the next two batters he faced.
“It’s part of the game,” said Fant, a senior left hander from Texarkana. “It’s going to happen. Hopefully not to often. You’ve just got to forget about it and regroup.”
Fant did just that. He struck out five in a row at one point over the second and third innings. Texas A&M’s only other hit against Fant came on Stein’s lead off single in the top of the seventh, just before Arkansas made a pitching change to bring in Landon Simpson.
“Randall Fant did a tremendous job,” Van Horn said. “It seemed like after he gave up the home run to Stein, he got settled in.”
Simpson, Trent Daniel and closer Colby Suggs also did their part to keep the Aggies from rallying. Simpson gave the Razorbacks 1 2/3 scoreless innings with just one hit allowed. Daniel was brought in to face one batter and got A&M second baseman Cole Lankford to fly out to left field. Suggs struck out two of the three batters he faced in picking up his fifth save of the season.
Arkansas was able to capitalize on the bullpen’s strong outing and close out the game, something the Razorbacks failed to do on Friday. They led 3-1 in the eighth inning and wound up losing 5-3 on a grand slam. It was a rare collapse by the bullpen, which has been the strength of the club this season.
Van Horn was proud of his team for shaking off the series opening loss to close out strong. Arkansas put up a season-high 15 hits in a 12-2 victory on Saturday.
While the Razorbacks had 11 hits against four Aggies’ pitchers on Sunday, they weren’t able to convert those base runners into runs, leaving the game’s outcome somewhat in suspense until Suggs shut the door on Texas A&M (22-19, 7-11) for good in the ninth.
Aggies pitcher Rafael Pindea was the losing pitcher as he allowed two runs on eight hits in four innings. A pair of singles from Tyler Spoon and Brian Anderson got the Razorbacks on the board in the first inning.
Arkansas added what proved to be the game-winning run in the third. Brett McAfee scored on a sacrifice fly from Anderson. McAfee reached on a single and advanced second on a Joe Serrano bunt. An A&M throwing error following a Matt Vinson single got McAfee to third.
Vinson, McAfee and Serrano all finished with two hits. There were five Razorbacks with at least one hit, including a double down the right field line from Dominic Ficociello. Arkansas wasn’t able to build on that 2-1 lead, however.
Still, the team felt like it was in good position late, catcher Jacob Wise said. Watching them give up a lead on Friday was merely a “fluke,” he said.
“They don’t blow leads,” Wise said. “The bullpen has been one of our best suits for the whole year. … With the pitching staff we have, we feel comfortable if we can get any lead at all.”