FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ only extra-base hits provided all of the fireworks for the Razorbacks in the eighth inning on Saturday afternoon.
Michael Bernal’s two-out bloop triple cracked a tie and Brian Anderson added a three-run homer to lead Arkansas to an 8-3 win against Eastern Illinois before 5,286 at Baum Stadium.
Arkansas (5-0) will go for its second straight weekend sweep today against Eastern Illinois at 1:05 p.m. Alex Phillips will start for Arkansas against Christian Slazinik.
Saturday, Arkansas’ bullpen blew a 3-0 lead in the top of the eighth when Eastern Illinois scored three times.
“We stayed pretty calm there,” Anderson said. “With the pitching staff we have, we know they’re going to keep us in the game. If one guy doesn’t have it, we’ll go to the next one. Our offense started off a little slow, but we know we have potential to score runs.
“I think when you have that in the back of your mind, you don’t worry about them scoring a few runs to tie it up because we’re playing in front of the best crowd in college baseball so we’ve got them behind us as well.”
In the home half of the inning, Wise singled to deep short after two were out. Bernal then lofted a fly ball down the right-field line against a stiff 15-mph wind. Eastern Illinois right fielder Trey Russell had to spring a long ways toward the line and finally dived for the ball, which squirted past him. Wise, who was running on contact with two outs, scored all the way from first.
“You can’t plan for stuff like that,” Bernal said. “The whole day, the wind’s been blowing. Playing in this stadium, you know the wind’s going to blow. Coach said it himself, sometimes it hurts us and sometimes it helps us. That time it helped us, definitely.”
Bernal thought the whole time that it may fall in.
“I did,” Bernal said. “The whole at-bat, and the whole game, I saw the outfield playing far. They were shading to the left maybe because of the wind or they just thought we hit to that part of the field. Anything to that part of the field was going to be hard for them to get to. On top of that there are two outs so we’re running.”
Several balls hit by the Razorbacks were turned into routine fly balls with the stiff wind blowing from center to left especially by Eric Fisher, whose hard fly ball to deep center was knocked down and caught in the fourth, so the wind-aided triple was a welcomed relief.
“That wind’s killed us many a swing,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “Ask Fisher, he’d probably have three or four home runs if wasn’t for that wind the first five games. It was good to see it help us. It got up there with the back swing and he thought he had it under control.
“We were screaming from the dugout. We thought he was going to have trouble with it. That thing got blown back 30 feet.”
After Bernal’s triple, Andrew Benintendi was hit by a pitch before a wild pitch scored Bernal and allowed Benintendi to go all the way to third. Joe Serrano walked and Anderson belted his first homer of the season.
“Our guys did a good job before me that inning,” Anderson said. “We started a rally pretty quick. Jake came up and got down 0-2 count and two outs and did a good job getting on base and got things rolling. That set the tone, and I was able to get the pitch I was looking for and put a good swing on it.”
Michael Gunn, who came on with two outs in the eighth, retired Eastern Illinois in order in the ninth to earn the win.
Eastern Illinois touched Arkansas relievers Colin Poche and Jackson Lowery for three runs in the top of the eighth and tie the game.
Poche walked Mitch Gasbarro, and Lowery gave up a single to Montana Timmons and a run-scoring double to Caleb Howell. After Lowery struck out Brant Valach, Frankie Perrone lined a single to right to score Timmons and Howell.
It cost Arkansas starter Chris Oliver the win. Oliver threw six shutout innings, albeit a bit shaky.
“He pitched well for us,” Van Horn said. “In the first and the second, he walked the leadoff guy, which is a no-no but he pitched through it. He gave up a leadoff single in the third and they didn’t score so he worked out a few jams. He had pretty good stuff, and obviously his velocity is good.”
Oliver allowed base runners all six innings and constantly pitched out of the stretch.
“I made some mistakes,” Oliver said. “I wasn’t as aggressive as I usually am with the fastball. I was a little scattered. After the third or fourth inning, I got told of it.”
Oliver walked Gasbarro on a full-count to start the game, walked Brant Valach to begin the second inning, and allowed a leadoff single to Jacob Reese in the third inning.
Valach also doubled with two outs in the fourth inning, Adad Casson singled with two outs in the fifth inning, and Caleb Howell singled with two gone in the sixth.
Oliver pitched around all of it, though. He picked Gasbarro off in the first inning and Razorback shortstop Brett McAfee started an inning-ending double play in the second. After Casson sacrificed Reese into scoring position in the third inning, Oliver retired the final two batters.
In the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, Oliver retired the next batter after two-out hits.
Arkansas managed lone two-out singles by Anderson in the first inning and Clark Eagan in the second inning before scratching across two unearned runs in the fifth.
Wise reached on an error with one out, and Bernal followed with a sharp single. Both runners moved up on a wild pitch, and Benintendi’s ground ball scored Wise. Serrano slapped a single to right to score Bernal for the 2-0 lead.
Consecutive singles by Bernal, Benintendi and Serrano upped Arkansas’ lead to 3-0 in the seventh.