After dropping five straight games there were some in the lunatic fringe of Arkansas fans that were casting a pall of doom and gloom over the revenue sports’ best hope in recent years.
How bad was it? When Heston Kjerstad was thrown out in the first inning Saturday, some leather-lunged baseball genius in the right field bleachers kept hollering, “you gotta know your personnel, coach.”
You could hear it plainly above the groans after Friday’s 13-6 loss.
That came on the heels of some fans on social media ready to abandon all hope of any success in any of the major sports.
But for a fan base that is among the most bi-polar in all of college sports, all changed over the course of just nine innings Saturday as the Hogs rather handily subdued South Alabama, 15-2.
As former coach Norm DeBriyn and I were walking down the hall after the eighth inning we were discussing how “that’s baseball” in the change from one day to the next.
For current coach Dave Van Horn it appeared to be some pleasant relief Saturday as much as anything else.
Especially on offense, which had sorta been running like a car trying to run with a cylinder hit-and-miss at best.
“Well, I don’t think I could’ve predicted we’d hit the ball as hard as we did,” he said later. “We hit the ball hard all day.”
They needed to with a brisk wind coming out of the south that made it seem colder than the 65 degrees when you got out of the sunlight.
“You turn that wind around a little bit, we would have hit a few balls out of the park … a few more,” Van Horn said after the Hogs battered three Jaguars’ pitchers for 18 hits.
Curtis Washington, Jr., and Cole Austin both hit their first homers of the year.
“Really proud of our offense,” Van Horn said. “It was kind of relentless, getting the pitchers’ pitch counts up, fouling off pitches. Every inning we hit we were a threat and that was really good to see.”
The five-game losing streak was the third-longest of Van Horn’s time at Arkansas and nobody is really used to that.
“The stuff we’ve been doing the past couple of games is not Arkansas baseball,” starting pitcher Caleb Bolden said later. “What we did today is definitely Arkansas baseball.”
Bolden had his best outing since undergoing surgery that wiped out last season for the lanky right-hander.
He gave up back-to-back singles to start the game, the defense made some plays. First, Casey Martin gave up a run for the sure out, then Bolden snared a grounder back up the middle, looked the runner back to third and made the second out.
The Hogs ended up getting out of the opening inning allowing just one run.
“Once we got in that inning and only gave up one instead of two, that was big for us,” Van Horn said. “Mentally more than anything.”
Maybe the biggest part of that was Bolden’s play on the ball hit right back to him.
“That was a really good play,” Van Horn said. “That ball was hit hard back at him.”
If he doesn’t make the play, the Hogs are down 2-0 and who knows what happens after that.
Bolden responded by putting together a solid 90-pitch outing, going six innings. He struck out six, allowed four hits and walked three.
“He got them to swing … and they like to swing … and he got some quick outs,” Van Horn said. “More than anything, he just kind of pounded the strike zone mostly with fastballs.”
As much as Bolden’s performance, Will McEntire showed in a game what he’s capable of doing and maybe put himself in a mid-week starter’s role.
The freshman from Bryant threw just 19 pitches over two innings and retired the side in order, striking out four and getting Van Horn’s attention.
“Our plan going into the weekend was we may pitch him an inning here, but we’ll probably start him a game at midweek,” he said. “Now there’s no doubt.”
“It felt great to get some work in finally,” McEntire said after the game. “I’ve been waiting for it, but at the same time you’ve gotta understand that there’s upperclassmen who have proven themselves that got to work on their stuff early in the season, so finally getting some innings in feels great.”
Arkansas now will try to win the series Sunday, sending Kole Ramage to the mound in a game scheduled for a noon start after the time was moved up an hour earlier this week.