FAYETTEVILLE - Aided by a school-record nine home runs, the No. 15 University of Arkansas downed Grambling, 19-7, Friday in game one of the NCAA Fayetteville Regional at Baum Stadium. Brett Eibner became the ninth player in program history to hit three home runs in one game, while Collin Kuhn, James McCann and Andy Wilkins each posted two home runs. Arkansas' 19 runs are the second most scored by the program in an NCAA postseason game (20 vs. Eastern Kentucky, 1985).
"We came out aggressive offensively," head coach Dave Van Horn said. "We put up six in the first and jumped ahead of them. We basically got to work quickly on doing all the things we had been practicing during the week. We laid off a lot of borderline pitches and got into good hitting counts."
Wilkins is now tied with Jeff King with 42 home runs on Arkansas' career list, while Eibner now sits fifth with 41 home runs while wearing the Cardinal and White. Eibner's seven RBI are a career high and are the high mark for a Razorback this season. Eibner has 21 home runs this season, the third-highest total in program history. Arkansas' 17 hits are the most by the club since collecting 12 hits against Louisiana Tech on May 11.
Behind three home runs, Arkansas (41-18) jumped out to the early lead with six runs in the bottom of the first inning. Kuhn opened the scoring with a solo shot into the Razorback bullpen, his second leadoff home run of the season. Zack Cox, making his first start since May 21, singled up the middle and Eibner followed with a two-run blast to left field off Grambling starter Odingo Davila to give the Hogs a 3-0 lead.
With one down, Monk Kreder doubled and came around to score on a two-out RBI double by Travis Sample. McCann stepped to the plate and capped the Razorbacks' frame with his seventh home run of the season, a two-run dinger to left. The Hogs have now won 22 of the 24 games in which they've scored first this season.
Cox finished the day 1-for-2 at the plate and now has 93 hits this season. The hits total ties Jeff King for fifth on Arkansas' single-season list. Three players in program history-Matt Erickson (1997), Jeremy Jackson (1997) and Jim Kremers (1987)-are tied for second with 94 hits while Erickson holds the record with 97 hits during the 1996 season.
In the bottom of the second, Eibner picked up his second hit in as innings with a double to left. After a walk to Wilkins, Kreder lifted a fly ball to deep center field that was caught at the wall but Eibner motored around to score from second to push Arkansas' lead to seven runs. Bo Bigham knocked in the team's next run with a base hit through the left side of the infield; Wilkins scored on the play.
Grambling (22-31) broke through on the scoreboard with its first run of the ballgame in the top of the third. With one out in the inning, Chris Wolfe singled to left field off Arkansas starter TJ Forrest. Arthur Mazierski plated the Tigers' score with a double down the line in left field. Forrest struck out Milton Jeffery Barney to get out of the inning and limit the damage to one run.
Arkansas responded with three runs in its half of the third to move ahead, 11-1. After retiring the first hitter, Grambling reliever Eric Zagone hit Kuhn with a pitch and then walked Derrick Bleeker, who replaced Cox in the lineup. Eibner belted an opposite-field three-run shot.
After four strong innings on the mound, Forrest ran into trouble in the top of the fifth. He walked Wolfe on four pitches to lead things off and then surrendered a base hit to Anthony Clifton. Mazierski earned his second RBI of the day with a sacrifice fly to center. On the play, the Tigers' third baseman lined a shot toward the gap in left center but Eibner made a diving catch for the out but Wolfe did tag up from third to score. Alvin Simmons and Jeremy Shelby each had an RBI single as Grambling scored three runs to cut into Arkansas' lead.
"TJ Forrest came out for a few innings and did a good job of moving the ball around the strike zone," Van Horn said. "I'm proud of him. It's hot out there and that's hard on a pitcher. I'm just glad it's over."
Sam Murphy came in to record the final out of the fifth and in his first full inning of work, he allowed a run in the sixth. Grambling left the bases loaded in the frame but Simmons delivered another RBI single before Murphy pitched himself out of trouble.
The Razorbacks posted a three spot in the bottom of the seventh to stretch its lead. Kuhn drew a walk to lead off the inning and Eibner was hit by a pitch ahead of Wilkins. The Hogs' first baseman hit a monster shot over the scoreboard to give his team the 15-5 advantage. It was Wilkins' first home run since May 9 at Ole Miss
Grambling tacked on two runs of Hogs' reliever Jason Fuqua in the eighth. With runners on first and second, Barney doubled to left center past a diving Matt Vinson, who entered the game for Sample at the beginning of the frame. Fuqua hit the next hitter, Steve Kletke, but was the recipient of a double play for the first two outs. Mychal Roby fouled out to Bleeker to end the inning.
McCann led off the Hogs' half of the eighth with his second home run of the game. The two homers for McCann were his first since April 17 vs. Georgia and marked the first two-homer performance of his career. Later in the inning with a man on first, Eibner capped his power display with a two-run shot to center. Arkansas went back-to-back as Wilkins followed with the club's ninth long ball of the game.
"I felt great out there," Eibner said. "I hurt (my wrist) a little on that slide but that's just from moving around and putting my hand down on the ground. More than anything, I was just excited to be back out there. I was down after missing two games in the SEC Tournament but regionals are the most important thing and I'm glad to be back."
With the win, Arkansas moves into the winner's bracket and will play at 7:05 p.m. Saturday at Baum Stadium. The Hogs will face the winner of the Washington State-Kansas State game. Grambling will play in an elimination game on day two.