FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn wanted plenty of pitchers on the mound during his team’s final nonconference game of the regular season.
He got his wish Tuesday night.
Eight Arkansas pitchers combined to lead the Razorbacks to a 6-3 win against Missouri State in front of an announced crowd of 4,268 in Baum Stadium. Left-hander Randall Fant opened the night by throwing two innings, while closer Colby Suggs ended by striking out the only batter he faced in the ninth.
The group effort from the nation’s top staff helped Arkansas (30-15, 13-7 in Southeastern Conference) win its final nonconference game and fifth straight overall. The tune-up also was Arkansas’ ninth straight win against Missouri State (27-13) and helped the Razorbacks prepare for this weekend’s series at Kentucky.
“It went great,” Van Horn said of his pitching plan. “The pitchers all wanted to get in there. You could tell they all wanted to be out there. It wasn’t just a midweek game that didn’t mean a lot to them. These guys hadn’t pitched in awhile and they wanted to get on that mound. For the most part, I thought they all had good stuff.”
The eagerness from the staff came after Arkansas had two of its four scheduled games cancelled last week because of inclement weather. It included the series finale at Georgia last Sunday in a game Fant was scheduled to start.
So Fant stepped on the mound with a predetermined two-inning limit, opening the busy night for the Arkansas staff. Suggs, Trey Killian, Michael Gunn, Chris Oliver, Brandon Moore, Trent Daniel, Jalen Beeks all got in some work.
“It’s always fun when all your boys get to throw as well,” Moore said.
The first inning didn’t go as planned. Fant (4-1) allowed a run in the inning right away after leadoff hitter Tate Matheny doubled on a ball misplayed by outfielder Joe Serrano. Matheny scored from second one batter later when third baseman Brian Anderson committed a throwing error after fielding a ground ball.
It soon was forgotten. The Arkansas staff — which leads the NCAA in earned run average (1.78 ERA) — got plenty of help from an offense that manufactured three runs in the second off Missouri State starter Matt Hall (4-2).
Catcher Jake Wise and designated hitter Jacob Mahan each drew bases loaded walks to help the Razorbacks take the lead. Serrano drove in the third run with a sacrifice fly to make it 3-1 and the Razorbacks never trailed again.
Arkansas scored in the fourth inning on a two-out single by shortstop Brett McAfee to push the lead to 4-1. After Missouri State scored in the sixth, Arkansas got its fifth run on a groundout by Mahan to take a 5-2 lead. Then, Tyler Spoon drove in a run with a sacrifice fly in the seventh inning to extend the lead to 6-2.
“I thought we did a great job offensively of creating a couple innings of drawing some walks, laid down a couple of sac bunts,” Van Horn said. “We drove in a run with a hit-and-run. We had a slug bunt. … We did a few different things.”
Arkansas only managed seven hits, but put together one of its best run-scoring performances in the past few weeks. It was just the second time in nine games the Razorbacks scored more than three runs.
“Whenever Missouri State scored, the hitters always bounced back and scored one, three,” Moore said. “They really set the tone for the game. They gave us the lead and we were able to just go out and throw strikes.”
Jordan Farris went 2-for-3 with two runs scored, while Mahan had two RBIs.
Dominic Ficociello — who entered the game hitting .238 — went 3-for-4 with two runs scored Tuesday. It was Ficociello’s third, three-hit game of the season and a welcome sign for Van Horn and the Hogs after the junior’s season-long struggles.
“This game, it’s a lot about confidence,” Van Horn said. “There’s a lot of guys with a lot of ability, but if your mind’s not telling you you can do it it’s tough.
“To see him get three hits, I think that’s going to be a boost.”
Arkansas wrapped up the win some minor drama in the ninth inning.
Beeks, who started the inning, allowed a solo home run to first baseman Spencer Johnson and then a single by Travis McComack. Van Horn went to the bullpen for the final time, calling for Suggs with Arkansas leading by three runs.
Suggs caught Conor Smith looking at strike three to end the game and record his eighth save this season. It also pushed Arkansas to the 30-win mark with nine games remaining in the regular season.
“We expected to do it a little earlier this year, I think,” Ficociello said about reaching the 30-win mark. “But it’s good that we finally got there. Now we’ve got to get to 40.”