FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas struggled to give pitcher Jalen Beeks much support in two straight starts, managing two runs in losses to San Francisco and Florida.
The Razorbacks found ways to score more against Alabama on Friday night.
But the Crimson Tide battered Beeks and the Arkansas pitching staff.
Alabama opened the series with a 17-9 win in front of an announced crowd of 4,403 in Baum Stadium. The Crimson Tide (15-6, 3-1 in Southeastern Conference) collected 15 hits, eight for extra bases, to snap Arkansas’ three-game win streak.
Alabama designated hitter Wade Wass and first baseman Austen Smith each went 2-for-3 with a home run, double and 4 RBIs. Second baseman Kyle Overstreet went 2-for-6 with 3 RBIs.
The 17 runs were the most Arkansas (11-8, 1-3 in SEC) had allowed since a 19-8 loss to Texas on June 5, 2005.
“It was pretty ugly,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “I guess every now and then this happens. It was just kind of disappointing that it happened (Friday).”
Alabama did most of its damage after taking a 1-0 lead into a 53-minute weather delay Friday night. The delay ended Beeks’ night after just 3 1/3 innings, but the junior had allowed four hits – three of them doubles – during his outing.
When the teams returned, the Crimson Tide unloaded on the bullpen. The first big hit came when Zach Jackson (1-1), who stepped on the mound with two runners on base after the delay, surrendered a double to Chance Vincent to score both runs.
The Razorbacks weren’t overwhelmed by the 3-0 deficit, though. In fact, Arkansas took the lead in the bottom of the inning when outfielder Tyler Spoon hit a grand slam off Alabama reliever Geoffrey Bramblett.
It was the second grand slam of Spoon’s career.
“It felt like we got a lot of momentum on our side,” said Spoon, who has a team-leading 18 RBIs. “Unfortunately, just things happen.”
Alabama scored five runs in the fifth – including a three-run home run by Wass – to regain an 8-4 lead. The big hit came after Arkansas shortstop Michael Bernal booted a potential inning-ending double play ball, which allowed two runs to score.
“The double play ball gets us into the dugout with a 4-3 lead, but it didn’t happen,” Van Horn said. “We score four, they score five. That’s not good. We had a chance for it to be we score four, they don’t score any and it didn’t happen.”
Arkansas struck back for two more in the bottom of the inning to close the gap to 8-6, but the Crimson Tide got seven more in the sixth. The inning was highlighted by Smith’s three-run home run off Arkansas reliever Dominic Taccolini to make it 15-6.
Arkansas’ young bullpen, which carried a 1.80 ERA into the game, allowed 14 runs on 11 hits in 5 2/3 innings Friday. The Razorbacks walked six batters and hit five more. Jackson, who hadn’t allowed an earned run in 15 1/3 innings of relief this season, gave up five runs, four earned.
The run support was more than enough for Alabama’s pitching staff, which wasn’t at its best either on Friday night. Arkansas found a way to put seven runners on base off Alabama starter Spencer Turnbull in his three innings, but the right-hander found a way to get out of each jam before his night ended with the rain delay.
“That was a little bit disappointing because their starter is very good,” Van Horn said. “We got his pitch count up, fouled a lot of pitches off, took some pitches. We knew going into the fourth that win or lose we were going to get him out of the game because we had done a good job. We just couldn’t get that big hit. Give him credit.”
Bramblett didn’t enjoy the same success. He allowed each of Arkansas’ six runs in his inning of work, but it didn’t matter. Jay Shaw (1-1) replaced him in the fifth inning and held the Razorbacks scoreless the next four innings, while Mitch Greer surrendered three runs in the ninth before finally wrapping up Alabama’s win.
Spoon went 1-for-5 with the grand slam to lead Arkansas at the plate. Third baseman Bobby Wernes went 3-for-5 with an RBI.
The 26 combined runs surrendered Friday was a surprise considering Alabama (1.77) and Arkansas (1.82) were ranked fourth and fifth in the NCAA in ERA entering the weekend series. The Razorbacks suffered most of the damage, surrendering five doubles, a triple and two home runs in the series opener.
“It was kind of one of those weird games,” Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard said. “Two teams that had been dominant on the mound were really erratic at best.”
Arkansas will need a better pitching performance when the teams meet for the second game of the series at 2:05 today. Right-hander Trey Killian (0-3, 3.06 ERA) will start for Arkansas, while Alabama will send LHP Justin Kamplain (2-2, 3.67 ERA) to the mound with a chance to win the three-game series.
“Hopefully they get better because of it,” Van Horn said about his pitching staff after its worst outing this season. “Hopefully it won’t go the other way. Time to grow up. Just go do it. It’s just baseball. That’s all it is.”