NORTH LITTLE ROCK — On a crisp spring night, there were some familiar things about what has become the Arkansas Razorbacks’ annual visit to Dickey-Stephens Park.
The game drew another big crowd, 9285, and the Razorbacks recorded another close victory.
On Wednesday night, the Hogs (19-7) defeated Southwestern Athletic Conference member Mississippi Valley 2-1. It was Arkansas’ fourth straight victory in the Arkansas Travelers’ home park and the third by one run. The Razorbacks defeated Louisiana Tech in 2010 and 2012 by 6-5 and 5-4 scores, both in 10 innings.
“We had a chance to blow the game open early and we just didn’t do it,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “And the longer we played the game the more confident they got over there and they just kept running out with weekend starters. They didn’t play last weekend and they are pretty good. They threw the ball around the plate mixed it up and we weren’t very good.”
The Razorbacks were good enough to defeat the Delta Devils for the second straight day — they won 6-0 in Fayetteville — and claim their fifth straight victory.
The Hogs scored both of their runs in the second inning. Dominic Ficociello started things with a bunt single and reached third when shortstop Seth Milliron misplayed Jake Wise’s grounder. Nine-hole hitter Jacob Morris gave the Hogs a 1-0 lead on a sacrifice bunt and leadoff man Jacob Mahan’s opposite-field double made it 2-0.
In the third, a hit batter (Tyler Spoon) and two infield hits (Bryant Anderson and Matt Vinson) loaded the bases with no outs. But an infield pop out, a strikeout looking, and a grounder to third produced nothing.
The Razorbacks hit the ball better in the sixth, but a strong throw by Valley center fielder Edmund Cheatham and a nice catch-and-tag by catcher German Hays nailed Morris at the plate. Morris reached when he lined a one-out double down the third base line and tried to score on Mahan’s hard single to center, but the speedy Cheatham got the ball quickly and his long arching throw bounced once to Hays for the tag. The inning ended on Joe Serrano’s ground out.
“He was playing deep and he made a great throw, and their catcher did a nice job catching the ball,” Van Horn said.
Arkansas had another runner thrown out at the plate in the seventh. Matt Vinson’s opposite-field double to left put runners at second and third with one out. Anderson, who reached on a walk, was out at home on Ficociello’s grounder to third. The inning ended with Willie Schwanke’s fly to left.
“We just didn’t do a whole lot and that is what is disappointing,” Van Horn said. “I think the guys were excited to be here and they were excited to play. A lot of the guys I played yesterday did not play today. I figured we would get after it a little bit better than we did. When you play like that you almost wish you had played some of the younger guys and got them some experience. We won the game and that is the bottom line and we did not make too many mistakes in the field and maybe other than that we just didn’t do anything.”
Valley scored its lone run in the fourth. Cheatham reached on a bunt single, stole his 19th base of the year, and went to third on a wild pitch. German Hays, who had three of the Devils’ six hits, singled to left to drive in the run.
That was all the Razorbacks allowed, even though it did get a little tense for the fan base in the ninth.
With Prairie Grove sophomore Jalen Beeks on to close the game, Valley loaded the bases with three straight singles just five pitchers into his outing. He got out the mess with a strike out and an infield pop up.
Senior Tyler Wright, in just his fifth outing of the season, worked a scoreless first three innings. Freshman Landon Simpson worked the next two, and allowed the Delta Devil run. He gave way to sophomore Michael Gunn in the sixth. Gunn worked three scoreless, hitless innings and Beeks closed it for his second save.
Montana Killier started for Valley, worked three innings and allowed the two unearned runs. David Lostra worked two scoreless and Kameron Stady worked the final three. Arkansas had eight hits.
“I feel fortunate to win the game,” Van Horn said. “A win is a win and now hopefully we are mentally and physical ready to play Mississippi State this weekend.”