FAYETTEVILLE - For the second straight game the Arkansas bats went quiet after the first inning. Unlike Saturday, though, the Razorbacks had enough pitching to quell Mississippi State’s chances in taking the series.
Arkansas scored three runs in the first inning and had an impresive staff pitching performance to take two of three from the Bulldogs with a 3-1 win in Easter Sunday’s matinee.
It’s the Razorbacks first Southeastern Conference series win at Baum Stadium in their last four, dating back to last season.
The Razorbacks’ (21-8, 6-3) pitching was brilliant, allowing just five hits and few hard-hit balls the whole game. Starter Randall Fant worked six innings for the fourth straight start, struck out six and had only one mistake - a fourth-inning solo home run to Wes Rea.
“It’s not like we haven’t seen it (from Fant),” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “Maybe we didn’t see it last year as much, but we saw it in the fall. And it’s carried over. He’s just gotten better. He’s a senior and he knows how to get people out.”
They were necessary outs for a Razorbacks team that had only more one runner reach second base after chasing Mississippi State starter Ben Bracewell with a three-run first. Bracewell didn’t retire any of the four batters he faced before being pulled for Ross Mitchell.
Jacob Mahan singled and Joe Serrano walked to start the Hogs first inning. Tyler Spoon doubled them home and Brian Anderson walked to finish Bracewell’s day. Mitchell came in and walked Matt Vinson, but got Dominic Ficociello to ground into a double-play and struck out Will Schwanke to end the Hogs’ threat.
“(Bracewell) was just everywhere out of the zone,” Spoon said. “Got runners on and got some hits. Just made him pay for the walks he made, the mistakes he made. That was good.”
Arkansas wouldn’t come close to scoring again. Thanks to Fant and company, they wouldn’t need to.
“We were frustrated over there,” Van Horn said of the hitting. “We had a leadoff man on three times, I think. We never scored them. Hats off to their bullpen and their pitching. They did a great job.”
Twice bad luck bit potential big innings for the Razorbacks. Serrano led off the fifth with a single before Spoon hit a rocket back up the middle that was snagged by the pitcher for a forceout of Serrano at second. Anderson grounded into a double play on the next at-bat. Later, in the eighth, after a Jake Wise single to start the half-inning, Jacob Morris’ sac bunt attempt pulld Rea off the bag at first on the throw, but Morris was called out on a close play. Replays clearly showed Rea’s foot lift off the base before Morris arrived. Van Horn came out of the dugout to argue to no avail and the next two Razorbacks struck out.
Mitchell threw 6 1/3 innings, allowed four hits, no runs and two walks to Razorbacks hitters after reliving Bracewell.
Mississippi State (23-8, 3-6) didn’t fare much better. After Rea’s homer, the Bulldogs had only two batters reach scoring position. Jalen Beeks picked up five groundball outs in his two innings of relief and Colby Suggs finished the game with a hitless ninth.
Suggs was especially glad for the effort. Van Horn told him after Friday’s win he wouldn’t waste any time going to him anymore. He’s the closer for the forseeable future.
“Just hearing him say ‘you’re the closer. You’re the guy we want,” just hearing that, when he said that, built me up even more and I have more confidence going into the ninth.
Mississippi State right fielder Hunter Renfroe, who entered the game leading the SEC in slugging and third in batting average, had his 15-game hitting streak come to end.
Fant, in four starts, hasn’t allowed more than one earned run in each and lowered his ERA to 1.26 with Sunday’s effort. He struck out Renfroe twice and forced a fly out in facing him three times Sunday.
“I feel like I’m playing with a lot more confidence than I was the past three years and I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better,” Fant said.
Van Horn said he’ll give his team Monday off before heading to Alabama on Wednesday for a three-game set with the Crimson Tide starting Thursday.