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UA uses small ball for sweep

Alberius, Taccolini quiet Bulldogs’ bats

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Photographs by Jason Ivester

Arkansas' Jordan McFarland slides past Mississippi State catcher Dustin Skelton Sunday, March 19, 2017, for a run at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- The Arkansas Razorbacks completed a sweep of Mississippi State on Sunday afternoon and they didn't have to rely on home runs to do it.

The Razorbacks (17-4, 3-0 SEC) scored their first five runs without the aid of a home run before Carson Shaddy hit his second of the series, and three pitchers combined to hold the Bulldogs at bay in a 6-1 victory before an estimated crowd of 5,202 at Baum Stadium.

Arkansas outscored the Bulldogs (12-9, 0-3), the defending SEC champion, by a 14-6 margin in the series. All of the Razorbacks' runs in their 3-1 and 5-4 victories in the first two games came via home runs.

"Today we really played a lot of baseball," Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. "We didn't just play home run derby or try to beat you with the home run. We had to bunt people around, tried hitting and running and doing some things. We got some big two-out hits."

Josh Alberius (1-3) was credited with the victory after allowing no runs on five hits, all singles, and striking out three in 4 2/3 innings. Alberius credited Arkansas pitching coach Wes Johnson, who held the same position at Mississippi State last year, with formulating a crafty game plan.

"They have some of the best hitters in the country on that team, with [Brent] Rooker and [Jake] Mangum, and you just have to pitch them low in the zone, make them hit ground balls," Alberius said. "We came into this game with a pretty solid game plan and it worked."

Kacey Murphy retired Mangum, the only batter he faced, on a pop-up in the fifth inning, and Dominic Taccolini notched a four-inning save, his first.

The only run allowed by Arkansas was Rooker's solo home run in the sixth inning off Taccolini.

"He was sitting on a breaking ball, and yeah, he smashed that," Taccolini said.

"I think this is my first year that we've won a series on the SEC opening weekend."

The Razorbacks had not swept a conference-opening series since March 16-18, 2012, against Alabama.

Arkansas pitchers struck out 35 batters and gave up four walks against the Bulldogs.

"The pitchers just did a great job all weekend," Van Horn said. "What can you say? They, one after another, went out there and gave us a chance."

Shaddy, who suffered a sprained right ankle last Sunday and was questionable heading into the series, went 4 for 9 with two home runs and four RBI while playing all three games.

"Getting the sweep is huge because you look back at your first weekend, there's three wins that you can sit on for a while," Shaddy said.

"The small ball and how we played was just awesome. We manufactured some runs just beautifully. It was a great team win and a great job on the pitcher's side."

The Razorbacks got all the runs they would need with a three-run third inning off Mangum (1-1), a left-hander who also bats leadoff and plays center field.

Eric Cole started the rally with a single to center field, snapping an 0-for-24 slump. A single by Jax Biggers and a walk by Jake Arledge loaded the bases and sent Coach Andy Cannizaro to the mound with a hook for Mangum.

Chad Spanberger greeted reliever Tyrsten Barlow with a sacrifice fly for the game's first run. After Luke Bonfield reached on a fielder's choice, Biggers, who had failed to tag up on Spanberger's fly ball to medium-depth right field, scored on a passed ball. Grant Koch drew a walk, then Shaddy hit an RBI single to right field for a 3-0 lead.

Jordan McFarland singled to lead off the Arkansas fourth, moved up on Cole's sacrifice, and scored on Arledge's single for a 4-0 lead.

Arledge, whose 14-game hitting streak was snapped Friday, has a hit in 16 of his past 17 games.

Shortstop Biggers made two sterling defensive plays on ground balls, including one to retire Ryan Gridley by a half-step just before Rooker's home run.

"I'm going to have to maybe pay for his dinner or something because that was a great play," Taccolini said. "He's my roommate and he's one of the hardest workers on the team."

Arkansas answered in the bottom of the inning, with Jordan McFarland hitting a leadoff single and scoring on Biggers' single after Cole's sacrifice bunt.

Shaddy's fifth home run, a solo shot over the left-field wall against Graham Ashcraft, pushed Arkansas' SEC-leading total to 30 and expanded its lead to 6-1.

"You have to keep punching in runs and that's what we did today," Van Horn said. "We had a 3-0 lead, but they're still right there. But we score that fourth run with a runner at second and got a big hit. You ask any pitcher or any coach, and a four-run lead instead of three seems like a lot more. It helped to play that type of game today."

Sports on 03/20/2017

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