FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas pitching staff struggled through its worst outing of the year Friday night, surrendering a season-high in runs and hits to Tennessee.
Arkansas right-hander Ryne Stanek made sure it didn’t happen again Saturday.
And the Razorbacks offense made sure Stanek had plenty of support at the plate.
Stanek and the Razorbacks bounced back from the frustrating opener by beating Tennessee 11-1 in front of an announced crowd of 7,478 in Baum Stadium. Stanek – who wasn’t at his best early — dug down to throw seven shutout innings, while the Razorbacks scored at least one run every time they batted Saturday.
The win helped Arkansas improve to 4-0 in SEC games the day after losing the series opener. The Razorbacks have outscored opponents 41-7 in those games.
“The team knows you don’t have a chance to win the series if you don’t win the next day and they’ve done a great job,” Van Horn said. “It was two different teams from (Friday) to (Saturday). And I’m not really talking about on the field. I’m talking about mentally. We were ready to play (Saturday).”
It put Arkansas (33-17, 16-9 in SEC) in position to grab another conference series win in today’s finale at 1:05 p.m. The Razorbacks will send left-hander Randall Fant (4-1, 2.27 ERA) to the mound, while the Volunteers (20-27, 7-17 in SEC) will throw right-hander Aaron Quillen (2-3, 6.04 ERA).
Stanek (7-2) had to work hard through the early innings with a fastball struggling to find the strikezone, but the junior managed to come up with big pitches and record key outs when it mattered most. Tennessee had runners on base in each of the first four innings, but failed to push one across the plate off Stanek on Saturday night.
“We weren’t good offensively,” Tennessee coach Dave Serrano said. “Obviously Stanek is a really good pitcher, all American-type stuff, first round draft type stuff. But I thought early on he gave us a chance and we didn’t take advantage of it.”
Stanek settled in as the game went on. He retired the side in order in the fifth and sixth innings. He allowed a leadoff double to Christin Stewart in the seventh, but struck out the final three batters he faced to wrap up another strong start.
Stanek allowed five hits, walked two and equaled his season-high with nine strikeouts on 112 pitches. It was one off his career-high of 10. The performance also lowered his ERA to 1.70 this season and 1.10 in nine conference starts.
“As soon as I got a little bit tired, I started calming down and I was able to locate my fastball a little better,” Stanek said. “It got a lot better because I was able to throw my slider, curveball and changeup for a strike (Saturday).”
Stanek never had to work from behind, either, because of an Arkansas offense that enjoyed its best night since a 12-2 win against Texas A&M on April 20.
Outfielder Brian Anderson, who hit third in the lineup for the first time this season, went 4-for-4 with a triple, home run, a walk and three RBIs. He missed out on a chance to hit for the cycle in his last at-bat in the eighth, but still received an ovation from the crowd after wrapping up his second four-hit night of the season.
Anderson’s two-run home run in the fourth inning was the most important one. The Hogs led 3-0 at the time, but added to their cushion when Anderson clubbed a pitch from reliever Andy Cox over the wall in center field. It was his fourth home run of the season, which ties Anderson for the team lead with outfielder Tyler Spoon.
“I was having trouble pulling off on that lefty that was pitching,” Anderson said. “So I just decided to widen out another stride, I got two strikes, and he left me a breaking ball up. I was just trying to barrel it up and it happened to fly out to center.”
First baseman Dominic Ficociello — who moved up to man Anderson’s previous spot in the four-hole — drove in two runs for the second straight game to raise his season total to 12 RBIs. Spoon — who moved out of the three-hole for just the third time this season — 1-for-2 with an RBI and a run scored batting fifth in the lineup.
“I felt like (Anderson) was swinging the bat pretty good,” Van Horn said of the lineup shuffle. “Really move than anything I was just trying to move Spoon out of the three-hole and let him relax a little bit maybe. I thought he had a good night as well. … It paid off. It worked out, I guess.”
The Razorbacks finished with 11 hits – five for extra bases — off four Tennessee pitchers. Starter Nick Williams (2-4) only lasted 2 2/3 innings, allowing three runs on five hits after laboring through a 77-pitch performance.
But the Tennessee bullpen wasn’t any better, allowing eight more runs.
“We were still in the game and we went to the bullpen and we didn’t have anyone who wanted to step up in this atmosphere,” Serrano said.
Arkansas scored 10 or more runs for the ninth time this season. Four of those games have come in SEC play, three of which were the day after a game one loss.
“We just feel like the next day we get to play again, we’re going to have a good chance and we need to win a ball game,” Stanek said of the bounce back success this season. “We have confidence in each other to get the job done. The pitchers go out there, we try to throw up zeros and the hitters go up there and put up competitive at-bats. It just typically has rolled pretty well for us on the second day.”
The Razorbacks hope the success continues today, when they try to win their seventh SEC series in nine tries. Arkansas will honor its six-member senior class before its final regular season home game.
“We’ve got Randall Fant, a senior, pitching on senior day,” Van Horn said. “Hopefully he can control his emotions and give us four, five, six quality innings and we do a good job offensively. It’s a big game. It’s the rubber match to win the series.”