FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas pitching staff was battered in the series opener against Alabama, surrendering the program’s most runs in a game since 2005.
Trey Killian made sure it didn’t carry over with his complete-game performance to even the series Saturday afternoon. Chris Oliver and Michael Gunn made sure it continued Sunday, pitching the Razorbacks to a series win.
Arkansas beat Alabama 1-0 in front of an announced crowd of 3,987 in Baum Stadium, capitalizing on a second straight strong effort from its pitching staff.
Oliver threw seven scoreless innings during the best outing of his career, while Gunn recorded the final six outs Sunday. The duo made sure a run-scoring groundout by third baseman Bobby Wernes in the second inning held up as Arkansas came back from Friday’s 17-9 loss to win its first conference series.
“We got thumped pretty good and there was a lot of chirping going on and I think our guys didn’t like that at all and I appreciate the effort,” Van Horn said. “They kept their mouths shut and they took care of it on the field and that was good.”
The Razorbacks (13-8, 3-3 in Southeastern Conference) recorded their third shutout — and first in SEC play — during the series finale. It came a day after Killian held Alabama to one run in a complete-game win and the pitching success continued.
The Crimson Tide — which started the weekend with a bang by collecting eight hits for extra bases on Friday night — did not score in the final 15 innings of the series.
Oliver believes there was a reason for it: Alabama had Arkansas’ signs Friday night.
“It’s a little different when you don’t know what’s coming to you,” said Oliver, who added he was certain of it. “So, I think that showed the last two days.”
Oliver (2-2), who was one week removed from a shortened start at Florida, was in a groove against the Crimson Tide (15-8, 3-3 in SEC). He allowed four hits, struck out six and walked one batter during the longest outing of his career.
“It was frustrating last weekend because I know I’m better than that,” Oliver said about his Florida performance. “I only had one pitch last weekend and it was a fastball and it was up in the zone. And even throwing mid-90s you just can’t live with that. I learned it last weekend.”
Oliver spent most of his outing pitching with the lead after Arkansas’ winning run came off Alabama starter Jon Keller (4-1) in the second inning.
Keller’s only mistake came on a one-out fastball Arkansas designated hitter KJ Wilkerson clubbed to the outfield wall for a triple. Wilkerson scored one batter later when third baseman Bobby Wernes grounded out to second base.
It was the first time Arkansas scored the opening run in the series. And it held up.
“I had a 3-2 count, so I wasn’t trying to do too much,” Wilkerson said of his triple. “Fortunately, I got a good pitch to hit and I put a good swing on it.”
Arkansas, which came from behind to win 2-1 on Saturday, only managed five hits in the series finale. But it was enough thanks to solid pitching and strong defense.
Oliver made the first big play when he made a sliding catch on a foul ball to end the third inning. He allowed a leadoff single in the fourth, but Arkansas turned a double play to quickly end the threat. Another single to start the second didn’t lead to a run, either, after first baseman Eric Fisher fielded a grounder and fired the ball to second base for the second out. Oliver then picked off the runner at first to end the inning.
Alabama never advanced a runner to second base Sunday.
“It’s frustrating, when you swing the bat as well as we did Friday night and then struggle,” Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard said. “But it’s the old adage, good pitching always beats good hitting. And I thought Killian and Oliver both were just really sharp and made a lot of quality pitches. They just kind of beat us up.”
It helped Arkansas improve to 4-6 in one-run games this season.
The Razorbacks have won three straight one-run games, too, after struggling earlier in the year. Van Horn said he was especially proud of his team for recovering from the series opener to notch a pair of one-run wins to take the series.
“It doesn’t seem to be fazing us,” Van Horn said. “I don’t see anyone over there panicking or getting uptight about it. It’s just kind of the way it is. You go back to last year playing so many close games that the kids who were here last year, you know it’s just kind of the way it is. And we have handled it.
“We lost our share, maybe it’s turning a little bit. But we’re making plays. We haven’t been giving anybody any extra at bats the last couple of days and it’s paying off.”