FAYETTEVILLE — Behind their third consecutive stellar pitching performances the Arkansas Razorbacks completed a 3-game SEC West sweep of the Mississippi State Bulldogs Sunday at Baum Stadium in the SEC series opener for both teams.
Razorbacks pitchers Josh Alberius, Kacey Murphy and Dominic Taccolini combined a 6-hitter to beat the Bulldogs, 6-1 Sunday following Arkansas 3-1 and 5-4 victories on Friday and Saturday night behind winning Friday starter Blaine Knight and relievers Kevin Kopps, Evan Lee and Cannon Chadwick, and winning starter Trevor Stephan and Chadwick closing Saturday night with a second consecutive save.
“You know, the pitchers just did a great job all weekend,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said Sunday. “What can you say? They one after the other just went out there and gave us a chance.”
The sweep ups Arkansas to 17-4 overall, 3-0 in the SEC before hosting New Orleans in a 6 p.m. Wednesday game at Baum before their Friday through Sunday SEC series at Missouri.
Coach Andy Cannizaro’s Bulldogs drop to 12-9, 0-3.
In his first ever SEC start, senior right-hand Alberius, declared the winning pitcher on official scorer’s discretion, shut out the Bulldogs on five hits through 4 2-3 innings while striking out three against a walk.
Sophomore lefty Murphy, turning around Mississippi State switch-hitting designated hitter-starting pitcher Jake Magnum to bat right-handed, struck out Magnum ending the fifth.
Taccolini took it from there. Other than hanging one curve that Bulldogs first baseman-right fielder Brent Rooker, hit into stratosphere for a sixth-inning solo home run, Taccolini was un-hittable. The senior right-hander earned 4-inning save striking out five against just one walk and the home run.
Friday and Saturday the Razorbacks scored everything off a home run. Luke Bonfield’s 2-run home run in the first and Grant Koch’s solo home run sufficed for the 3-1 triumph over brilliant Friday night starter Konnor Pilkington, a 4-hitter through eight complete innings with 13 strikeouts and one walk while Bryant native Knight struck out 11 against no walks and one hit, Ryan Gridley’s solo home run, through a career seven complete before Kopps and Bryant native Lee combined for a scoreless eighth and Chadwick threw a 1-2-3 night.
Saturday night Arkansas scored all its run in a 5-run second off Carson Shaddy’s 2-run home run and Chad Spanberger’s 3-run home run while Stephan, seven hits and four runs and a walk against eight strikeout pitched into the seventh before Chadwick retired the Bulldogs’ last eight batters.
Shaddy homered in Sunday’s seventh but it was just frosting on the small ball cake. Arkansas scored three in Sunday’s third with Spanberger’s sacrifice fly, a passed ball and a Shaddy RBI single supplying the runs. A hit batsman and Eric Cole sacrifice bunt preceded Jake Arledge’s RBI single in the fourth. A Jordan McFarland single, Cole sac bunt and Jax Biggers single netted a run in the sixth before Shaddy went yard in the seventh.
Biggers had slapped a key single off faking a bunt in the third and also turned in the game’s defensive gem throwing out Gridley from deep short just before Rooker’s sixth-inning blast making it a solo instead of 2-run home run.
“That was a great play and took away their momentum just as they were getting it,” Van Horn said. “Today we really played a lot of baseball. We didn’t just play home run derby. We had to bunt people around. Tried hitting and running and doing some things. We got some big two-out hits. It was really just a well played game by everybody. I’m happy for the team. Not just that we got the sweep but glad we played the way we did on a Sunday. We hadn’t played very good the last two Sundays. We kind of challenged them last night about that.”
For Alberius, a fifth-year senior from Little Rock Christian who commenced his Razorbacks career as a walk-on infielder, Sunday’s first SEC pitching start was historic and helped, he said, that Arkansas pitching coach Wes Johnson coached last year at Mississippi State.
“They have some of the best hitters in the country on that team, with Rooker and Mangum,” Alberius said. “You just have to pitch to them low in the zone, make them hit ground balls. You can’t try to do too much. It’s also nice having a pitching coach that was there last year to kind of help us out with the scouting reports and stuff like that, so he knows them pretty well. We came into this game with a pretty solid game plan and it worked.”
It worked from the start because of Knight’s Friday start, Alberius said.
“ Starting with Blaine Knight on Friday he set the tone for the weekend,” Alberius said. “I think him and then Trevor made it easier for me coming into today. Because obviously the game plan worked for them and I just had to follow the map and it worked.”