FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn was pretty surprised when he watched the ball sail over the left field fence last Friday.
Arkansas outfielder Tyler Spoon didn’t expect it, either.
But there’s no need to apologize to freshman Clark Eagan, whose first collegiate home run gave the Razorbacks a 1-0 lead in the series-opening win against Texas A&M. Eagan also considered it a rare and unexpected occurrence.
“I knew I hit it well,” Eagan said. “But I took off out of the box just because, I mean, not having hit one, it’s hard. Especially at Baum Stadium.”
The home run was the highlight of a big weekend for Eagan, who slid into the leadoff role and was Arkansas’ most productive player throughout the three-game series. The success should help him maintain a place in Arkansas’ lineup once again when the Razorbacks (32-21, 13-14 in Southeastern Conference) open another key series at last-place Missouri (20-30, 6-21 in SEC) tonight.
Van Horn said the left-handed hitter has been a problem for left-handed pitching all season. But Eagan, who is hitting .280 with 17 runs and 6 RBIs in 34 games, also has become a handful for anyone on the mound facing the Razorbacks lately.
“He’s a threat,” Van Horn said. “He can miss-hit a ball and beat it out. He’s showed that he can go out of the park, opposite-field, which was pretty fun to watch. … It’s good, building his confidence. He brings a lot of energy to the top of the lineup.”
Arkansas improved to 4-1 with Eagan batting in the leadoff spot after its series win against the Aggies. He set the tone of the final home series right away, singling in his first at bat last Friday. Then Eagan followed it with the opposite field home run.
He only had two more hits the rest of the series, but still produced.
Eagan finished 4-for-8 with a home run, double, 2 RBIs and 2 runs. He also walked three times and laid down three sacrifice bunts, two of which played a hand in Arkansas’ late rallies to win the first two games of the series.
“That’s kind of the player he’s been all year, too,” Spoon said. “He got his opportunity to lead off, and he just took advantage of it. He’s a guy that’s going to go up there and put the ball in play and give you a chance. … He played outstanding. He was on base for us a lot. He came through with some big hits and good bunts for us.”
Eagan got the nod because Blake Baxendale was sidelined with a hamstring injury. Baxendale had been sharing time with Eagan and KJ Wilkerson in the DH role until catching fire, providing a much-needed threat in the middle of lineup.
It left Eagan with fewer opportunities. But he was ready when called last week.
“I’ve had some chances where I haven’t come through this year,” Eagan said. “Like at LSU, I had a chance with the game on the line. Auburn. And it just really felt good this weekend to provide a spark for our team and just get us over the edge in that leadoff spot and help us get some wins.”
Eagan said he’s comfortable leading off after hitting there throughout high school.
He likes to jump on early pitches. It was evident in the final game of the series, when he clubbed a first-pitch double to the wall. It took time for Eagan to adjust to SEC baseball, like most freshmen, but Van Horn said his improvement is clear.
“He’s a kid from the north, played a couple-three months of baseball a year and that’s it,” Van Horn said. “Then he went into other sports. I think he’s really getting better. I see him getting better with his bunting and hitting and running, running the bases, all the parts of the game.”
Eagan is one of four players who have hit in the leadoff spot for the Razorbacks this season, joining Spoon (19 games), Andrew Benintendi (27) and Joe Serrano (2).
He has a chance to add three more games to his total this weekend as Arkansas tries to extend Missouri’s 12-game SEC losing streak and win its first conference series on the road this season. The Razorbacks need one win to qualify for the SEC Tournament, while two would ensure Arkansas of a .500 SEC record.
Eagan said just wants to do his part once again — whether it’s another home run, sac bunt, stolen base or clutch hit — to make sure it’s a successful series.
“You try to start to make a name for yourself and just show your teammates and the coaches that you’re worthy of being at a program like this,” Eagan said. “Being able to contribute in any way shows them that you’re ready to play at this level.”