FAYETTEVILLE - Good or lucky. Either one can produce a win.
FAYETTEVILLE - Good or lucky. Either one can produce a win.
Arkansas was in its series finale game with Central Michigan in the early going because favorable fortune. Not much of Arkansas’ own doing had gone right. Until near the end.
Michael Bernal’s tie-breaking, two-out, two-run double to the left field wall in the sixth inning was the first clutch play the Razorbacks had all day. But after several trying innings, it did open the floodgates in a 9-4 Arkansas win in 8 1/2 innings.
Dave Van Horn will take it however it comes.
"We could have lost a game or two against this team," the Arkansas coach said. "They have 18 juniors or seniors they are not scared. It was good experience."
The game was going to end around 2:30 p.m. no matter what. Central Michigan’s travel plans required it. So about 1:30 p.m., with the game tied, Arkansas began to play for at least a lone run. Cullen Gassaway singled to start the sixth and Darien Simms came in to pinch-run. Simms, who played in all three games in the series as a pinch-runner, stole second and advanced to third Robert Greenman’s throw down to get him went into center field. Rick Nomura followed with a walk.
That left runners at the corners with no outs for Luke Bonfield. Bonfield swung on a 3-0 count and popped up to the second base. No one advanced.
Austin Catron followed. He swung at a 1-0 pitch out of the zone and popped out in foul territory. No one advanced.
Bernal, a hero in last year’s Arkansas postseason, stepped in and sent a 1-1 double near the Diamond Hogs bullpen, scoring both runners.
"I was just trying to get a pitch to find a way to get a runner in," he said. "Right there I’m just thinking about getting a runner in. You know Rick’s fast, so anything other than a single Rick’s going to try to score. I got a fastball inside and just put a good swing on it."
No. 22-ranked Arkansas is 25-2 the last nine years in season-opening series. The most recent one was one of the most impressive of the series wins. Central Michigan, which Arkansas (3-0) swept, is predicted to win its division in the Mid-American Conference won the league last year, too.
The Chippewas (0-3) had only themselves to blame Sunday.
They led in the fifth by two runs, 3-1, after an RBI single, a bunt single and error, and a sacrifice fly moved them ahead. Things fell apart in the bottom half, though, after Greenman and Daniel Robertson made a mess of a routine throw down to first base on a pick-off play.
Grant Wolfram walked Austin Catron and Tucker Pennell around a Bernal lineout. Greenman, seeing his fellow slow-footed catcher get too far off first base for his liking, throw down toward the base after a Wolfram pitch. The throw skidded into right field to Robinson as Catron and Pennell moved up a base. Robinson fumbled with the ball, allowing Catron to head to the plate. When he finally picked it up, he panicked and rushed the throw back toward the infield. Instead it went awry, going into left field and Pennell trotted home to tie the game.
Pennell added an RBI of his own in the sixth when he followed Bernal’s triple with a single to left to score his shortstop.
"Up until today we thought we played, we competed all the way through today but we had two innings that weren’t very good," Central Michigan coach Steve Jaksa said. "Three errors on that one play with first and second,s o that led to two runs they didn’t even get a hit. Next inning we just didn’t throw enough. We put a couple young guys in there and they didn’t throw as many strikes as we’d like. If you can only throw one pitch for a strike at that point, it doesn’t really matter how hard you throw."
Keaton McKinney started his first game of the season following offseason hip surgeries. He threw 58 pitches in four innings. His fastball topped at 89 miles-per-hour and his control was spotty. McKinney walked two batters, hit one and gave up three runs (two earned) on four hits.
Anthony Dahl, a freshman, entered in relief for his Arkansas debut. Dahl struck out three, walked one and gave up two Central Michigan hits in 2 1/3 innings. He was in the game when Bernal drove in the game-winner and collected the win.
Bonfield, the highest-potential player in the Arkansas lineup, made good on some of that promise when he hit a three-run home run over the right-centerfield wall in the seventh inning. It was the team’s first home run of the season. It atoned for his earlier mistake when Van Horn eye-balled him all the way back to the dugout and had some harsh words.
"I made the comment to the team, back in the old days he wouldn’t have been in the game, but I have calmed down a little bit," Van Horn said. "The reason I didn’t take him out is I wanted him to have another at bat. We need him to start hitting and he hit a 3-run homer so maybe that will get him over the hump."
Arkansas scored all its runs in consecutive innings: one in the fourth, two in the fifth, and three each in the sixth and seventh. Only Simms and Jake Arledge, who entered in the late innings for Catron, did not reach base. Gassaway and Eric Cole had two hits apiece and Cole and Nomura walked two times each, as well. Nomura scored two runs.
The game lingered to 2:38 as after the seventh inning Van Horn asked Jaksa if he wanted to continue as the clocked on the scoreboard showed 2:30 p.m. Jaksa signaled for one more. Arkansas pitcher Hunter Hart, who made his team debut, pitched a final inning, striking out two, walking one, giving one hit and one run.
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Is This Something You Might Be Interested In?: Cole led off each of the three games in the series with a single for Arkansas. He is hitting .500, tops on the team, after the opening weekend. … Bernal’s double was the team’s first of the season. Arkansas had four extra-base hits on the weekend (Jake Arledge doubled in the opener, Gassaway tripled and Bonfield homered Sunday). … Twelve Arkansas players made their team debuts in the Central Michigan series. … Baum Stadium drew 24,032 people over the weekend, setting an opening-weekend record. … OF/1B Chad Spanberger did not play in the series because of a sore rib, Van Horn said.
Arkansas 9, Central Michigan 4
Central Michigan 000 030 01X - 4 7 4
Arkansas 000 123 3XX - 9 10 1
Leatherman, Wolfram (5), Gamble (5), Cole (6). Williams (7) and Greenman. McKinney, Dahl (5), Murphy (7)) and Pennell. W - Dahl (1-0). L - Gamble (0-1). HR - Bonfield (1)