FAYETTEVILLE – Officially once, and unofficially twice, Zach Jackson saved the Arkansas Razorbacks winning their first SEC baseball series this season in three tries.
Swept in three games two weeks ago at Vanderbilt and losing two of three at home to LSU the following week, Arkansas beat the Ole Miss Rebels, 5-2, in Saturday afternoon’s rubber game of a three-game, SEC West series before 6,036 at Baum Stadium.
Arkansas won 10-3 Thursday night and lost 4-2 Friday night.
Though not logging Thursday’s save for winning starter Dominic Taccolini because Jackson didn’t pitch the ninth after Arkansas turned a 5-3 seventh-inning lead into a 10-3 rout, Jackson deflated the Rebels in their seventh with the bases loaded, striking out J.B. Woodman, Sikes Orvis and Tate Blackman.
Summoned Saturday with a 4-2 lead, two outs and runners at first and second in the seventh, Jackson struck out clean-up batter Colby Bortles.
Jackson struck out Kyle Watson starting Saturday’s eighth, allowed the tying runners to second and third on a walk and double, then stranded them, striking out Cameron Dishon, who hit a solo home run and two-run single Friday night. Jackson then retired pinch-hitter Holt Perdzock on a groundout.
Tyler Spoon’s eighth-inning home run gave Jackson the cushion for his 1-2-3 ninth and the save of middle reliever Jackson Lowery’s victory.
Spoon had Saturday’s lone home run, but Bobby Wernes’ run home was Saturday’s play of the day.
Trailing 2-0 in Saturday’s fifth, because Ole Miss capitalized on Arkansas throwing errors in the second and fifth, Rick Nomura started a two-out rally, getting hit by losing starter Will Stokes’ pitch.
Wernes singled and Michael Bernal walked, loading the bases for brand new Ole Miss reliever Jacob Waguespack vs. brand new pinch-hitter Chad Spanberger. Spanberger dribbled one that diving third baseman Bortles deflected but couldn’t corral before a run scored.
Bortles flipped the ball back to Waguespack. Neither them nor catcher Austin Knight realized that none had requested time out until Wernes continued to score ahead of a belated throw. Joe Serrano singled home Bernal for the inning’s third run. Bernal drew a sixth-inning, bases-loaded walk for the 4-2 lead as the Rebels never quite recovered from Wernes swiping home.
“I told our team that’s better than a three-run homer right there,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “With a three-run homer, you know what hit ya. They didn’t know what hit ’em. And, then, for us to hold that lead and get out of there.”
Wernes stunned Van Horn and third-base coach Tony Vitello with his heads-up theft.
“He (Bortles) threw it back to the pitcher (Waguespack) and he kind of dropped his head and he walked pretty far back past the mound and I saw the catcher’s head down, too. I asked coach, “Is time out?’ And he said, ‘No,’ and I just kind of rolled the dice a little bit and went and luckily it paid off.”
Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco waged no complaint.
“The ball’s not dead,” Bianco said. “There’s no reason that there should be called time unless the catcher calls time. Obviously, Austin thought there was time called, I guess, as to why he started walking to the mound.”
Arkansas did all the arguing Friday night.
Van Horn was ejected during the second inning, criticizing home plate umpire Rob Healey’s strike zone as starter Trey Killian, the Norfork native and Mountain Home High grad, fell to 0-2 on another tough loss.
Arkansas first baseman Clark Eagan was later ejected Friday night after he drew a strike zone with his bat and by SEC rules had to sit out Saturday’s game.
“There were some tight, close pitches that seemed one time it was and one time it wasn’t and very confusing to say the least,” Van Horn said Friday postgame.
The Arkansas coach was considerably happier after Saturday’s success raised the Razorbacks to 14-13, 3-6 in the SEC West going into Tuesday night’s nonconference game with Missouri State here. Ole Miss dropped to 14-14, 4-5.
The Razorbacks had played five games in five days in three cities, splitting a nonconference set with Memphis, losing Tuesday night in North Little Rock and winning Wednesday night in Memphis.
“Just really proud of the team,” Van Horn said. “This whole week has been a big-time grind for us.”
Ole Miss……..010 010 000 – 2 7 0
Arkansas……..000 031 01x – 5 7 2
Stokes, Waguespack (5), Short (6) and Knight; McKinney, Lowery (4), Alberius (7), Jackson (7) and Pennell, Shaddy (6), Gosser (8).
HR-Arkansas: Spoon (3).
W-Lowery (1-0); L-Stokes (0-2).
Ole Miss……030 110 000 – 5 4 3
Arkansas…….010 100 200 – 4 9 0
Bramlett, Weathersby (6), Short (9) and Lartigue; Killian, Alberius (6), Stone (7), Phillips (9) and Gosser, Shaddy (5.
HR-Ole Miss: Dishon (2), Bortles (3); Arkansas: Benintendi (7).
W-Bramlett (4-1); L-Killian (0-2).
Ole Miss…….002 001 000 – 3 5 4
Arkansas……101 030 32x – 10 15 0
Trent, Waguespack (6), Robison (8) and Knight; Taccolini, Jackson (6), Phillips (9) and Pennell.
W-Taccolini (5-2); L-Trent (4-2).