FAYETTEVILLE — Designated hitter Blake Baxendale was disappointed in his performance during Sunday’s season finale against Vanderbilt.
His eight-game hit streak ended with an 0-for-4 performance. Baxendale struck out three times as well. It stuck with him even though Arkansas won the series.
“Right after the game I couldn’t wait to play again to redeem myself,” he said.
He took care of it Tuesday night, leading Arkansas to an 8-1 win against Northwestern State in front of an announced crowd of 2,758 in Baum Stadium. The redshirt freshman went 3-for-4 with a double and two RBI, continuing a run of success that helped him become a regular in Arkansas’ starting lineup.
It helped the Razorbacks (26-16, 9-9 in SEC) win the first game of the two-game midweek series against the Demons (22-18). They meet again today at 3:05 p.m.
“He had a rough day on Sunday against Vandy, but I just really wanted to go back with him,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said of Baxendale. “I’m sure he was ready to go and he was excited when he saw his name in the lineup.”
Baxendale didn’t waste time, making an impact in his first at-bat Tuesday night.
After second baseman Brian Anderson drove in the game’s first run on a sacrifice fly off Northwestern State starter Brandon Smith (0-2), Baxendale made it 2-0 with a single that scored left fielder Joe Serrano from second base.
Baxendale later played a role in Arkansas’ three-run seventh, which gave the Razorbacks some breathing room after clinging to a 3-1 lead for three innings.
Arkansas got two-out singles from right fielder Andrew Benintendi, Serrano and Anderson — the latter drove in both runs — to take a 5-1 lead. Then Baxendale added the fourth with a double down the third base line, which made it 6-1.
“I think that inning kind of put a stamp on it,” said Benintendi, who went 3-for-4 with an RBI. “To get those two-out hits, four in a row, scoring three runs was big.”
Baxendale has had two or more hits in five of his past six games. Both of his RBIs came with two outs Tuesday. Anderson, who went 2-for-3 with three RBIs against the Demons, also drove in two runs with two outs.
Arkansas finished with 13 hits. Seven of its eight runs came with two outs.
“It got a little tight there,” Van Horn said. “For us to go out there and put together a couple of back-to-back innings and score runs with two outs … We were in control of the game then. We felt good about it.”
Said Baxendale: “We’ve been pretty clutch lately.”
The support became enough for a pitching staff that held Northwestern State to six hits Tuesday night. Although, it wasn’t always easy.
Starter Colin Poche breezed through three innings before running into trouble in the fourth, surrendering four straight hits before leaving the mound with the bases loaded. Arkansas reliever Jackson Lowery (1-1) came out of the bullpen and got the final out when first baseman Eric Fisher caught a foul ball off Edwin Gomez’s bat.
“I think it was big,” Lowery said. “That guy was battling. Fisher made a heck of a catch. Fisher is one of the best over there.”
Lowery got into a jam an inning later when he issued a pair of walks. It prompted a mound visit from pitching coach Dave Jorn, who got Lowery to settle down. The reliever struck out the final two batters of the inning to end the threat.
Lowery (1-1) earned the win after throwing 3 1/3 scoreless innings with 2 hits and 4 strikeouts. Jacob Stone retired the side in the eighth and Dominic Taccolini did the same in the ninth, running the bullpen’s scoreless streak to 21 innings.
“More than anything, they usually come in and throw strikes,” Van Horn said. “They all have good stuff and they know they’re only going to be in there whether it’s for two hitters or an inning, maybe two innings. They just come in firing. They don’t hold anything back and that’s what you want out of a reliever.”