FAYETTEVILLE — In years past, Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn would not have hesitated to remove starter Randall Fant from a game in the fifth inning with trouble brewing.
In Saturday’s Southeastern Conference game against No. 6 Ole Miss, Van Horn stuck with Fant and the senior southpaw rewarded his coach’s confidence with a strong six-inning performance in the No. 15 Razorbacks’ 10-1 victory at Baum Stadium.
Fant (1-0) scattered seven hits in his six innings while allowing just one run striking five strikeouts and walking none.
“There’s a little bit of pressure but you can’t let that bother you,” Fant said of starting after a Friday loss. “You just have to make good pitches and get guys out. But today definitely was a good day for us. This was a big one. A good win today.”
After Friday’s 7-1 defeat at the hands of the Rebels, Van Horn said Fant’s performance was just what the Hogs needed.
“Randall Fant threw a lot of strikes and keeping them off stride a little bit,” Van Horn said. “Today, he threw 70 pitches in six innings. He did a good job. We needed that veteran, that senior to go out and have a good game and he did.”
Van Horn also was pleased not only with Fant, but with an offense that had 11 hits, and more importantly battled to the last out at the plate.
“We felt like we didn’t compete after we got down (Friday),” Van Horn said. “For three innings (Friday) it was a battle. Today, we just told them to compete. We’re pretty good when we compete. That was a good job by the offense today.”
Nothing optimized Van Horn’s compete mantra than Arkansas’ three-run seventh, when the Hogs scored all of their runs with two outs. Jacob Morris started the rally with a double. A dropped third strike and wild pitch plated one run. Joe Serrano RBI hit scored another and a wild throw brought home the final run.
“(It) started on a two-out hit. It just broke loose from there,” said Van Horn. “When the inning was about over, (Jacob) Morris stood next to me and I told him, ‘See what your double did. It scored three runs,’ and it did. You never know. That is why you swing the bat and make them try to get you out.”
Rebel coach Mike Bianco said he felt like what Van Horn did after Friday’s loss.
“I’m just disappointed in our effort,” Bianco said. “We didn’t compete well enough on the mound and defensively I was really disappointed. Once they got the lead we just didn’t play the same. Once it looked like we weren’t going to win the game we let it get out of hand and get ugly.”
Serrano paced the Hogs with three hits while Eric Fisher added two more.
The Hogs (14-6, 1-1 SEC) struck for a run in the bottom of the first inning. Jacob Mahan walked and would come around to score on an infield single by Alma’s Matt Vinson, beating the pitcher to the base after the first baseman dove to snag the grounder in the hole.
Arkansas scrapped for two more runs in the second inning. The hardest hit in the inning came from Mahan, who pushed a bunt past the pitcher for a run-scoring hit.
Eric Fisher started the second with a ground-ball hit through the hole in right and moved to second on a Morris bunt. Brett McAfee’s infield hit put runners on the corners before Mahan’s bunt plated Fisher for a 2-0 lead. Serrano’s infield single loaded the bases and Van Buren freshman Tyler Spoon just beat out a RBI fielder’s choice grounder to plate McAfee for a 3-0 Hogs lead.
The Rebels (19-2, 1-1 SEC) finally got on the board in the fourth. Three hard hits, capped by Sikes Orvis’ RBI hit to center, plated Auston Bousfield.
Fant also escaped a fifth inning jam, getting the first two runners on. A bunt was perfectly fielded by Fant, who threw to third baseman Brian Anderson to get the lead runner. After a fly ball to center field, Fant struck out cleanup hitter Stuart Turner to end the threat.
“Fant is really a good athlete on the mound,” Van Horn. “He got it glove hand side and flipped it to Anderson. Fant and Anderson communicated really well there. That could have turned into a bases loaded and no out. He wiggles out of the inning. We felt then, we had a chance to win. We score two and now it’s a 5-1 game.”
Arkansas put the game away by scoring a combined seven runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings to build a commanding 10-1 lead. The Rebels committed two errors that also helped the Razorbacks’ cause.
In the fifth, Spoon led off the inning when he was hit by a pitch while Anderson followed with a single. Vinson bunted to advance the runners, but Ole Miss starting pitcher Mike Mayers (2-1) made a wild throw to right field that plated both base runners for a 5-1 lead.
In the sixth, Spoon’s two-run double to right center increased the Arkansas lead to 7-1. Mahan walked and Serrano singled before Spoon chased them home with his only hit of the game.
The series rubber game will be at 1:05 p.m. today.