FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas' pitching staff is loaded with talented veterans who played a big role in the Razorbacks' success last season.
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ pitching staff is loaded with talented veterans who played a big role in the Razorbacks’ success last season.
But Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn needs to find first-year pitchers he can count on as well. So he gave plenty of them an opportunity Wednesday.
Five newcomers combined to lead the Razorbacks to a 6-2 win against Northwestern State in front of an announced crowd of 3,356 in Baum Stadium.
Freshman Greg Milhorn earned the start and, despite issuing three walks, held the Demons scoreless during his three-inning stint. Freshmen Mark Reyes, Chris Oliver, Michael Gunn and junior college transfer Ty Wright also were among the seven pitchers who contributed to the win, limiting Northwestern State to seven hits.
The performance wasn’t perfect, but the 7 1/3 combined innings helped the Razorbacks complete a two-game sweep of the Demons and improve to 5-0.
“I thought they all came out and did what they needed to do,” said sophomore pitcher Colby Suggs, who also was key in relief. “Greg did great, Reyes, Oliver, Ty Wright and Gunn. It’s tough being a first-year player, but they all did while they needed to do and we knew the could do it.”
Milhorn was the only Arkansas pitcher making his debut with the Razorbacks on Wednesday. The right-hander had to shake off some early nerves, too, walking the first and third batters he faced.
Two fly balls to center field ended the first-inning threat. Milhorn also got through the third inning after allowing a leadoff single to Jordan Buckley. Once again, the Demons (1-2) stranded the runners to help keep the game scoreless.
Milhorn allowed one hit and walked three in his three-inning stint, throwing 39 pitches.
“He threw real good to the right-handers, but the left-handers he struggled,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “They went left, right, left, right all the way through their batting order. So he’d get a guy on, get a guy out, get a guy on, get a guy out. But he started to get a little better.”
Said Milhorn: “At first I was a little nervous, but I knew my defense was going to back me up and get me out of anything that happened.”
Arkansas’ offense played a big hand in its second time through the order, too, helping the Razorbacks erase a 1-0 deficit after Reyes (1-0) gave up a run in relief in the fourth inning.
Leadoff hitter Bo Bigham opened the fourth inning by hitting Northwestern State starter Andrew Adams’ 1-2 pitch over the left field wall to tie the game at 1-1. Jacob Mahan followed with a single and, after reaching second, scored when first baseman Dominic Ficociello singled to left field. Third baseman Matt Reynolds finished off the big inning with his first home run, a two-run shot, over the left field wall to make it 4-1.
“The second time through the order everyone got more comfortable,” said Reynolds, who went 2-for-4 with a home run, double, two RBIs and two runs.
“He left a pitch up to Bo with two strikes and he hit it out of the park. Then he left one on the inner half on me on a 2-0 count and I hit it out, too. It’s just about hitting better pitches.”
The run support helped calm a pitching staff that leaned on newcomers through seven innings. After Milhorn’s start, Reyes, Oliver and Wright combined to allow two runs on six hits in four innings.
But with Arkansas leading 5-2 in the eighth, the Razorbacks finally needed some help from a veteran after two batters reached base to open the inning off Wright. Van Horn pulled Suggs out of the bullpen to help end the threat and the sophomore delivered, retiring two straight.
“It was a tough situation, but I knew could get out of it,” Suggs said.
Then, with runners on second and third, Van Horn tested Gunn in a tight spot. The left-hander struck out pinch hitter Ryan Westbrook to strand the runners and preserve the three-run lead.
“We could’ve left (Suggs) in there, but we’re trying to get Gunn ready for those situations,” Van Horn said. “At the time it would’ve been left on left with two outs, big situation in the game, they’re one base hit away from getting to within one run or hitting the ball out of the park and tying it. I thought they did a nice job.”
Arkansas added one more run in the eighth inning on outfielder Jimmy Bosco’s RBI single. The Razorbacks’ seventh pitcher, closer Nolan Sanburn, capped the win by retiring the side in the ninth.
Van Horn said his team — which trailed in both games of the mid-week series — learned plenty after an easy opening weekend. They’ll be back on the field Friday at 3:05 p.m., opening a three-game series against Valparaiso at Baum Stadium.
“Obviously, it was better competition,” Van Horn said about the Northwestern State series. “The competition this weekend is supposed to be good. … That’s what I told the team. The competition gets better, we’ve got to get better.”