FAYETTEVILLE — South Alabama pitcher Matt Bell looked like he was going to get out of the first-inning jam Friday, retiring the heart of Arkansas’ order – second baseman Brian Anderson and outfielder Tyler Spoon - with two runners on base.
The right-hander couldn’t get the third out, though. And it started Arkansas’ rout.
The Razorbacks beat South Alabama 12-1 in front of an announced crowd of 6,833 in Baum Stadium on Friday afternoon, getting key two-out hits to jump on the Jaguars and improve to 7-0. Arkansas got four runs in the first after their top two RBI men were retired by Bell, getting timely hits by designated hitter KJ Wilkerson and shortstop Brett McAfee to jump on the Jaguars (3-5).
“Any time you can get two out hits it’s unbelievable,” Arkansas outfielder Joe Serrano said. “To extend the inning, that’s what crushes teams.”
Serrano played a big role in the success, going 4-for-4 with 3 doubles, 4 RBIs and 2 runs scored. He got on base in the first inning with a double down the right field line and later scored on Wilkerson’s single. Serrano also collected a two-out double with the bases loaded in the third, driving in three runs to help Arkansas build a 9-1 lead.
But Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said the first inning was key. First baseman Eric Fisher was hit by a pitch with two outs, then Wilkerson drove in two runs with a single in his first game back from a hamstring injury. McAfee followed with a double, scoring two more to give the Razorbacks a 4-0 lead.
“It was just huge for our team and kind of set the tone for what we were going to do the rest of the day and that was we stayed through a lot of pitches,” Van Horn said.
Arkansas scored eight of its first nine runs with two outs Friday. Bell (1-1) was pulled after allowing 9 runs on 7 hits in 2 2/3 innings. He also walked four batters.
“It’s demoralizing if you are on the other end of it and we have been on both ends of that obviously,” Van Horn said. “You are just one pitch from getting out of an inning and next thing you are down two, you are down four or whatever it ended up being. We did a good job of just battling at the plate, worked the counts for the most part and finally guys got pitches they could handle and they did a good job with them.”
The two-out hits were more than enough for starting pitcher Jalen Beeks (3-0), who battled through a chilly outing to grab another Friday win.
The junior’s consecutive shutout streak ended at 15 1/3 innings when South Alabama’s Adam Ballew drove in Cole Gleason with a single in the second inning to cut Arkansas’ lead to 4-1. But it was all Beeks would surrender.
Beeks allowed one run on three hits, struck out six and walked three in six innings before turning the game over to Arkansas’ bullpen.
“We’re playing the game and it’s 30 something degrees, but he’s still bringing it,” South Alabama coach Mark Calvi said. “I’m sure his fastball is in the upper 80s, maybe touched 90, 91. He’s got a good changeup.
“He looked good today, and I’m sure he’ll get even better moving forward.”
Arkansas has outscored its opponents 30-5 in Beeks’ three starts.
He has allowed one run in 17 2/3 innings this season.
“I see a lot of places where I could get better and that’s how I try to look at it,” Beeks said. “That’s how (pitching) coach (Dave) Jorn looks at it. His philosophy is don’t look at the positives, but look at how you can get better.”
Arkansas feels good about its start at the plate, equaling its season-high in runs scored (12) and setting a season-high for hits (14).
Serrano set his career high with four hits and the three doubles were the most for an Arkansas player since the 2007 season. Wilkerson, McAfee and third baseman Michael Bernal each collected two hits as well.
The teams will play a doubleheader today because of winter weather expected to move into the area late tonight and into Sunday. The first game begins at 12:05 p.m.
“I feel like we’ve started off the season real hot,” Serrano said. “I mean, obviously, 7-0 is a great start. Anybody would take it in the country. I think we’re just doing the little things better this year than we did last year.”