FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ pitching staff has been dominant in 2013, carrying the nation’s top earned run average into its final home series of the regular season.
There has been one way for opponents to ensure success against the Razorbacks, though. Score five or more runs. Tennessee accomplished it Friday night.
The Volunteers beat Arkansas 8-3 in front of an announced crowd of 6,847 in Baum Stadium. Tennessee catcher Ethan Bennett led the way at the plate with three hits and five RBIs, while pitcher Zack Godley threw his fifth complete game.
“We didn’t do much of anything,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “We didn’t pitch very well. We didn’t do anything really. We didn’t hit well, obviously.”
Arkansas’ struggles on the mound were the biggest surprise Friday night.
The Razorbacks (32-17, 15-9 in SEC) had leaned on the talented group all season, staying in games because of a staff that rarely yielded anything to opponents. The eight runs and 13 hits allowed by five Arkansas pitchers were season highs Friday.
It also was the eighth time an opponent has scored five or more runs against the Razorbacks this season. Arkansas fell to 0-8 in those games.
Bennett caused the biggest problems, going 3-for-5 with 5 RBIs. He helped the Volunteers (20-26, 7-16 in SEC) score the game’s first run with an RBI single off Arkansas starter Barrett Astin (4-3) in the fourth inning. He did even more damage with Arkansas leading 2-1 in the sixth, hitting a two-run double to make it 3-2.
Bennett gave Tennessee a big cushion in the ninth with a two-run single.
“Getting a Friday night win is big, not only for record sake, but for confidence,” Bennett said. “Those guys have some nasty pitches and I struck out two times, too, but I saw the ball well and hit it. It worked out (Friday).”
The catcher — who has been battling injuries this season — had nine RBIs in 25 games before Friday’s big performance.
“He’s just hot,” said Van Horn, whose team’s ERA went from 1.77 to 1.88 after its struggles Friday night. “I think he’s gone in there and taken that job. They’ve moved him up there in RBI position in the lineup and he’s taking advantage of it.”
But Bennett was only part of Tennessee’s success. Third baseman Will Maddox went 3-for-5 with two runs scored. Outfielder Vincent Jackson also went 2-for-5 with a solo home run off Brandon Moore that gave the Vols a 5-3 lead in the eighth inning.
Tennessee also got an impressive performance from starting pitcher Zack Godley (5-6). The right-hander tossed his fifth complete game, limiting the Razorbacks to three runs on four hits. All five complete games have come in conference play.
The only real mistake Godley made came in surrendering a 2-out home run to Arkansas first baseman Dominic Ficociello in the fourth inning. The big hit, which came on an 0-2 count, gave the Razorbacks short-lived 2-1 lead.
“He was a warrior. He was real good,” said Ficociello, who went 1-for-4 with his third home run of the season. “I can’t think of any pitches really that he left over the plate. He really picked at the corners and had a good slider. It was real sharp.”
Godley didn’t relinquish the lead again after Bennett’s double in the sixth.
He allowed four hits, struck out eight and walked two.
“I just throw until (UT) coach (Dave Serrano) tells me not to throw anymore,” said Godley, who threw 120 pitches and topped the 100-pitch mark for the ninth time in 13 starts. “I’m glad he lets me go out there when my pitch count is high.”
Arkansas, which crept back into the NCAA Regional host conversation thanks to its road success, fell to 6-7 in SEC home games in Baum Stadium.
It’s also the fourth time this season the Razorbacks have fallen into a 0-1 series hole in SEC play (Ole Miss, LSU and Texas A&M). Arkansas did win the second game of the series each time, but only managed a series victory against the Aggies.
Arkansas will send right-hander Ryne Stanek (6-2, 1.87 ERA) to the mound to start opposite Tennessee right-hander Nick Williams (2-3, 4.94 ERA) tonight.
“We’ve got to find a way to win (tonight),” said Van Horn, whose team has won six of its eight SEC series this season. “Hopefully we’ll show up and play a little better.”