FAYETTEVILLE — Big hitting has a tendency to cover some mistakes.
Arkansas’ miscues weren’t large or ruinous, but they were there, hidden by crucial hits from Van Buren redshirt sophomore Tyler Spoon and Eric Fisher.
Spoon’s three-run home run in the fourth inning broke a 2-2 tie and Fisher’s RBI single in the sixth was the game-winner as the Razorbacks took the second straight from Appalachian State, 7-6, in the middle game of the season-opening series at Baum Stadium.
Arkansas pitchers hit three batters, threw a wild pitch and a handful more to the backstop with no one on-base and had an error on a pick-off attempt. The defense committed three more errors on top of that. Coach Dave Van Horn chalked it up to a combination of early-season jitters and the 20-plus-mph wind.
“Two of the errors were … a couple of errors that should not happen. Probably a little bit of jitters. Nervous early. Hopefully something we can smooth out,” Van Horn said. “You’re playing on a windy day, a lot of things can happen. The wind is probably worse than the cold, especially the way the wind was blowing today, straight in from right.
“It moves you around a little bit. Sometimes tough to get your balance on the mound.”
Appalachian State didn’t need any favors from Arkansas to keep it close.
The Mountaineers pulled within a run after scoring three on Arkansas relievers Landon Simpson and Michael Gunn in the seventh inning. Tyler Zupcicled off with a double. Preston Troutman and William Head followed with singles and Dillon Dobson knocked an RBI triple to right field to make the score 7-5.
When Brian Anderson’s relay throw flew high trying to nab Dobson at third, the Appalachian State shortstop trotted to home to trim Arkansas’ lead further.
Gunn settled after Dobson, the first batter he faced, tripled. He hit Troutman with a pitch in the ninth to put the tying run on-base, but struck out William Head looking and fielded a dribbler in front of the mount from Jaylin Davis to earn the save on 2 1/3 innings of work.
Dobson and Troutman were the only two reach with Gunn on the mound.
“He did a good job. He didn’t panic. Just kept filling the zone up,” Van Horn said. “Obviously (the Head strikeout) was a huge out for us. They were one pitch away from having two on and one out and the top of the order up. Mike did a great job right there just finishing the game for us.”
Spoon’s homer came in the first Arkansas at-bat against reliever Taylor Thurber. Appalachian State starter Tyler Moore hit Andrew Benintendi then allowed back-to-back singles to Joe Serrano and Brian Anderson before being pulled. Spoon rudely greeted Thurber two pitches later.
Fisher provided the eventual game-winner off Thurber when he knocked in Anderson with an up-the-middle single in the sixth. The Arkansas first baseman gave the Razorbacks their first hit and run when he sent a hard liner over the wall to straight-away centerfield in the second inning. KJ Wilkerson scored later that inning on a Bernal groundout to make it 2-0.
Fisher finished 2-for-4 with the home run, two RBIs and a walk.
“Today obviously the wind was doing the total opposite of what it was yesterday, so it was definitely good to have the approach of going away with it,” Fisher said. “Whenever I was pulling the ball the wind was holding it up, but I was glad I was able to get those couple hits out of the way and get some RBIs.”
The middle of the lineup was Arkansas’ most dangerous part. Anderson had a game-high three hits and Spoon, Wilkerson and Fisher had two each. Brett McAfee and Joe Serrano collected the only other two for the Razorbacks.
The Mountaineers tied the game in the third when Head was hit by a pitch and took second on Chris Oliver’s errant pick-off attempt. McAfee couldn’t handle Kaylin Davis’ sharp single near second base and Andrew Benitendi fumbled the ball in centerfield, allowing Head to score. Dobson knocked in Davis with a double the very next batter.
It was Oliver’s only troublesome inning as he went five innings, giving up just the one hit and two runs — one earned — and struck out five.
He wasn’t surprised Appalachian State provided a stiffer challenge Saturday than they did in Friday’s 12-2 Arkansas win. The series opener was pushed back an hour Friday because of the Mountaineers were late arriving to Fayetteville thanks to winter storms in North Carolina.
“They actually got time. They got (batting practice). They took infield. They got to do their full stretch. One of them yesterday said they did half their stretch routine, took two rounds of (batting practice) and then played,” Oliver said. “So I expected them to come out a little bit better today and they did.”
Arkansas’ four errors were the most since Feb. 25, 2012, against Valparaiso.