FAYETTEVILLE — A midweek series against New Mexico was supposed to inject confidence into an Arkansas team preparing for a top 10 show down against LSU.
Instead, Tuesday’s doubleheader at Baum Stadium left the Razorbacks breathing a sigh of relief as they move into the weekend series against the Tigers.
Arkansas rallied from a three-run deficit to beat New Mexico 4-3 in the second game Tuesday, salvaging a split in front of an announced crowd of 2,948. The Razorbacks (24-10, 8-4 in SEC) couldn’t relax until Jacob Mahan’s two-out, bases loaded single in the ninth inning secured a win on a day that largely didn’t go Arkansas’ way.
“It was huge,” Van Horn said. “You don’t want to get swept in your own ballpark in a doubleheader. We were about ripe for it.”
New Mexico (17-16) entered the series with a lineup that ranked among one of the nation’s best (.323 batting average) and a pitching staff that had endured some struggles (5.44 ERA). But the Lobos beat the Razorbacks 3-0 in the first game behind its pitching, getting a big performance from Drew Bridges (2-1) and reliever Josh Walker.
The duo limited Arkansas to six hits – all singles. The shutout was the second straight for the Razorbacks, who lost the series finale at Alabama 5-0. It was the first time Arkansas had been shut out in consecutive games since the 2005 season.
Arkansas was off to another rough start in the second game, too. New Mexico built another 3-0 lead before Arkansas finally broke through offensively in the second inning. The Razorbacks got on the board when Brian Anderson opened the second inning with a walk and scored on a fielder’s choice by first baseman Eric Fisher.
It was Arkansas’ first run in 20 innings dating back to Friday’s game at Alabama.
“That was like having an anvil lifted off your back right there to be honest with you,” Van Horn said. “Because it starts to become a mental thing.”
Anderson was responsible for Arkansas’ second run, too, hitting a solo home run to lead off the fourth inning. Then, the Razorbacks tied the game at 3-3 in the fifth when Tyler Spoon’s double scored Matt Vinson from first base.
“Once we got that (first run), it took pressure off of us,” said Vinson, who went 4-for-8 with two runs Tuesday. “It kind of got us going and got us back on the right track.”
Arkansas relievers Michael Gunn and Chris Oliver then kept New Mexico scoreless for five innings, setting up the game-winning ninth. Vinson opened the inning with a one-out single and moved to third on a single by Spoon. New Mexico then walked Dominic Ficociello to get to Anderson, who struck out looking.
So Van Horn brought Mahan — who had been battling a stomach bug along with sophomore Joe Serrano on Tuesday — out of the dugout to face New Mexico reliever Hobie McClain (1-1). Mahan hit a 1-1 pitch up the middle to win the game.
“Mahan has probably thrown up five times since he’s been at the ballpark today and that was a gutsy move by him,” Van Horn said. “I couldn’t find him on the bench. He was actually stretching in the tunnel. He was mentally getting ready. That’s what you like about that. The guy is thinking with us and thinking I might get an at bat.”
Mahan started the first game at first base, but was replaced by Eric Fisher in the second inning because Van Horn said he looked pale. Mahan spent most of the next 15 innings trying to recuperate enough in case he was needed in the finale.
“We really needed that win,” Vinson said. “Getting that walk-off was big. It was big for Mahan. He was really feeling bad today. That was a really gutsy performance by him and it lets the team know that he’s in for the right reasons.”
Arkansas now has two days to prepare for third-ranked LSU (31-2, 11-1 in SEC) and one of its biggest areas of emphasis will be on shoring up more defensive problems.
The Razorbacks made several lineup changes for the opener Tuesday, including freshman Jordan Farris’ two starts at third base. But the moves didn’t solve the fielding issues that have plagued Arkansas most of the season.
The Razorbacks committed three errors in each game and the mistakes helped contribute to four unearned runs. Arkansas has now committed 11 errors in the past three games and now has tallied an SEC-high 58 through 34 games.
Arkansas also has allowed 30 unearned runs this season.
Anderson said the only thing the Razorbacks can do is go back to work after Tuesday’s close call. Arkansas has two days to improve as it waits for LSU.
“It’s going to be big for us to practice (today) or get good work in on Thursday,” Anderson said. “I think that will really prepare us and maybe get our confidence up.”