FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas turned in its best performance of the season last Saturday, beating top-ranked South Carolina to win a crucial three-game series.
It followed the performance with an ugly outing three days later.
The Razorbacks struggled through a 10-7 loss to No. 20 UNLV in front of an announced crowd of 1,853 in Baum Stadium, dropping the first game of the midweek series. Most of Arkansas’ problems came on the mound, where four pitchers combined to walk seven batters and surrender four unearned runs.
The pitching problems came after Arkansas (20-13) had limited South Carolina to three runs during its weekend series. It also came a day after coach Dave Van Horn said the Razorbacks needed more help from a staff that has relied on a handful of pitchers — including its three weekend starters — this season.
“We got off to a bad start,” Van Horn said. “They hit a lot of balls hard and got a couple big hits with two outs and jumped on us. We held them in the first and then the second, third it just seemed like they had runners all over the bases. …
“Somehow we managed to hang in there and made a game of it late, but it just wasn’t a very pretty game at all.”
Arkansas’ struggles began with starting pitcher Colin Poche, who surrendered two runs in the second inning. The second run was unearned after an error by shortstop Michael Bernal. It was one of three Arkansas errors in the loss.
But Bernal made up for the mistake in the bottom of the inning when he hit a three-run home run off UNLV starter Kenny Oakley (3-2). It was the first home run of Bernal’s Arkansas career and the Razorbacks’ first to clear the outfield wall since outfielder Tyler Spoon’s grand slam against Alabama on March 21.
“Any time stuff like that happens for our offense it’s big,” Bernal said. “We were behind right there, so that gave us a little bit of momentum.”
It wouldn’t last.
UNLV (23-9) tied the game in the third inning after Landon Simpson replaced Poche, who allowed three hits and two runs in two innings Tuesday. But Arkansas responded once again in the bottom of the inning, taking a 4-3 lead when Joe Serrano scored from third base an error by third baseman T.J. White.
It was the last time Arkansas led.
Simpson, James Teague and Jackson Lowery combined to surrender seven runs over the next three innings. The damage included White’s two-run double off Simpson in the fourth inning, which gave UNLV a 5-4 lead. Edgar Montes added a solo home run off Simpson in the fifth inning to push the Runnin’ Rebels lead to 6-4.
UNLV scored four more in the sixth. The first came on White’s RBI single. Lowery walked in the second run, the third scored on a catcher’s interference on Blake Baxendale, who had to leave the game after being hit on the hand. Jake Wise, who was left out of the starting lineup because of a stomach illness, replaced Baxendale behind the plate and Lowery walked in one more run before the inning ended.
“It’s been a little up and down come Tuesday and Wednesday,” Van Horn said of Arkansas’ midweek pitching. “We’re just looking for a couple guys to come out of that bullpen and kind of establish themselves. I thought Lowery did a good job once he settled down a little bit the last two innings. … He just didn’t come in and do that right away. And Simpson was just behind in the count the whole time. Then a couple times he did get ahead, give credit to their hitters. They went down and they hit some pitches that maybe were a little too good for the count.”
Meanwhile, Arkansas’ offense struggled to get much more off Oakley. He retired the Razorbacks in order for three straight innings before Arkansas managed two runs in the seventh to cut the deficit to 10-6. Brian Anderson made it 10-7 with a two-out home run in the ninth inning, but it was as close as Arkansas could get.
Oakley allowed six runs on six hits in 6 1/3 innings, while the UNLV bullpen held Arkansas to one run over the final 2 2/3 Tuesday. The Razorbacks finished with six hits with Bernal going 2-for-4 with three RBIs and two runs scored.
White went 2-for-4 with three RBIs and two runs to lead UNLV.
The teams will meet for the second game of the series tonight at 6:05 p.m. Arkansas will send right-hander Alex Phillips (2-0, 2.25 ERA) to the mound, while UNLV starts right-hander Cody Roper (1-0, 7.88 ERA).
Arkansas will try to make amends for its struggles Tuesday night.
“You’ve got to show up every day and you’ve got to put out a good effort and be ready to play mentally,” Van Horn said. “It just didn’t feel that way to me (Tuesday).
“I may be wrong, but it just didn’t seem that way.”