No. 1 Arkansas Stays Undefeated With Another Late Rally
After seven innings Friday night at Louisiana Tech, No. 1 Arkansas was in trouble. The Razorbacks trailed the Bulldogs, 7-4, and while facing a true road game for the first time this season, they had to contend with an electric atmosphere as 1,000 fans packed into J.C. Love Field – a significant crowd by the standards of a season being played during a pandemic.
The Razorbacks, however, were unfazed. Three walks loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth inning and Zack Gregory was hit by a pitch to force in a run. That brought second baseman Robert Moore to the plate, and the Preseason All-American delivered a two-run single to tie the game. The second-year freshman has played just 27 games of college baseball but already may be the best clutch hitter in the country.
The game stayed tied through the ninth inning, but that wouldn’t last in extra innings. Charlie Welch led off the 10th with a pinch-hit double and Jalen Battles followed with a massive home run that hit the University Park Apartments past the fence in left-center field. The Razorbacks closed out the 9-7 victory to improve to 11-0 on the season, their second-best start in program history.
It was the latest thrilling victory for Arkansas, which has needed a late-game rally in four-straight weekend openers to begin the season. On Opening Day against Texas Tech in the State Farm Classic in Arlington, Texas, Arkansas scored five runs in the ninth for a 13-9 victory. On Feb. 25 against Southeast Missouri State, Arkansas scored three runs in the ninth to force extra innings, where it won 6-5 in 10 innings. Last Friday against Murray State, Arkansas scored two runs in the eighth for a 7-6 victory.
Coach Dave Van Horn said once a team starts winning in comeback fashion it gains belief in its ability to do so, which leads to more comeback wins. It's baseball's virtuous cycle.
“Once you start winning and coming from behind, you believe you can and you do,” he said. “It would be nice to play from in front more often. But it’s nice that we have enough firepower to win these games.”
It helps to have as deep and talented a lineup as Arkansas does. The first three hitters in its lineup Friday – Moore, center fielder Christian Franklin and DH Matt Goodheart – are as good as any in the country, but Van Horn is also able to mix veteran catcher Casey Opitz and Battles deeper in the lineup.
Opitz, a fourth-year junior hitting .353, on Friday hit sixth, with Battles following in the eight-hole. The effect is that there is nowhere in the lineup where a pitcher can take a breath and relax.
"We feel like we can score in any inning, it doesn’t taper off," Van Horn said. "I have tried to mix and match the lineup, left and right and not front load it."
Battles, a junior college transfer, is hitting .325 and has made real strides at the plate over the last six months, leading to his big moment Friday.
“He hits the ball hard,” Van Horn said. “He’s made a big move with the bat since he showed up in late August. He’s done a good job working hard, listening and he’s definitely a threat offensively for us.”
Arkansas collected nine hits Friday and five went for extra bases, including three home runs. It also worked six walks and drew five hit by pitches. Giving up that many free bases to a lineup that has as much power as the Razorbacks is a risky proposition, as the Bulldogs found out.
Eventually, needing a late rally every weekend may catch up to Arkansas. For now, however, the Razorbacks are finding all the big hits they need and playing some of the most entertaining baseball in the nation.