FAYETTEVILLE — Dave Van Horn is hopeful a trend isn’t beginning at Arkansas.
For the second straight day, the Razorbacks needed a late-game rally to overcome Eastern Illinois.
Brett McAfee’s sacrifice fly gave Arkansas the lead in the seventh and the Razorbacks added four insurance runs in the eighth to dispatch the Panthers 8-3 in the final of a three-game series at Baum Stadium on Sunday.
“It almost got us yesterday. It almost got us today,” Van Horn said. “That would concern me if they were just being lackadaisical, but I didn’t see that. What they did show me is when we get down, they don’t panic. I don’t think last year’s club came back too many times. This was good to see.”
Brian Anderson tied the game at 3 in the seventh inning when he singled home Andrew Benintendi and sent Joe Serrano to third. McAfee sent a flare to right a batter later and Serrano plated the game-winner.
Eastern Illinois had taken the lead the inning before. The first two Panthers batters reached on bean-balls and Cameron Berra was safe at first when Anderson dropped the ball covering the bag on Berra’s sacrifice bunt attempt. Arkansas picked up the first out on a force play from a grounder, but a bases-loaded walk and two-run single from Marshawn Taylor propelled Eastern Illinois to three runs and a 3-2 lead.
The Razorbacks’ bats were quiet, mostly, through six innings. Other than Benintendi’s two-run home run in the third, Arkansas was only forcing Eastern Illinois to labor through walks.
And despite those free passes not biting early, once the shadows crept over the stadium in the late afternoon, they began to haunt Arkansas.
Van Buren sophomore Tyler Spoon was intentionally walked before McAfee’s sac fly. Anderson was intentionally walked the next inning to load the bases for Spoon, who cleared them just as quickly with a three-run double to the left-center field gap.
“I think he wanted that situation,” Van Horn said of Spoon. “We knew that they were going to intentionally walk Brian with first base open so did (Spoon). Nobody had to say anything to him. It was just great to see him come through. Big for his confidence.”
Spoon had gone 1-for-9 the previous two days but reached base three times Sunday, going 2-for-4 with a walk, three RBIs and a run.
Arkansas used six pitchers to get through Sunday. Starter Alex Phillips lasted just two innings after allowing three walks. Only Dominic Taccolini, who allowed two of Eastern Illinois’ three runs, didn’t walk a Panthers batter. Razorbacks pitchers ultimately surrendered eight walks.
Part of the usage, Van Horn said, is because Arkansas is still seeking continuity and the ironing out of roles both in the bullpen and starting rotation. Suspended pitcher Trey Killian is scheduled to return next week and Van Horn is leaning toward using the sophomore as a starter Sunday.
“With Killian and (Colin) Poche back, getting to where they can start possibly, it’s obviously going to take away some innings from some guys, but it’s also going to give us more experience on the mound,” Van Horn said.
Arkansas’ first five hitters in the lineup Sunday combined to reach base 13 times in 24 plate appearances. All five reached or produced run in the seventh after Beintendi and Serrano walked with one out in the seventh before Anderson’s game-tying single.
The Panthers had several chances besides the big one in the seventh. Eastern Illinois had the bases loaded in the second inning before Phillips induced a fielder’s choice and a fly ball to right field to escape. They had runners on the corners with one out the next innings but consecutive strikeouts allowed Arkansas to get by unscathed again.
Missed chances, Eastern Illinois coach Jim Schmitz said.
“I don’t know if it’s frustration as it is that everything a learning point. You’ve got to get better,” he said. “I think our hitters left (13) guys on base. We get guys on. I think we got more guys on base than they did today. You do that and then you learn to knock them in.”
Benintendi’s home run was the first of his career. He turned on a first-pitch fastball and sent it on a line over the wall in right field. The freshman finished 2-for-4 with a walk, homer, two RBIs and a three runs. Anderson and Eric Fisher also collected two hits apiece for the Razorbacks, who finished with a total of 10.
Designated hitter Krisjon Wilkerson didn’t play in the three-game series against Eastern Illinois as he dealt with a pulled hamstring. Van Horn said the injury is mild and Wilkerson is expected to return to the lineup when Arkansas plays against South Alabama for a three-game set next weekend.