Senior right-handed pitcher Zebulon Vermillion pumped both his fists with enthusiasm as he walked off the mound and greeted the Razorback dugout after a stellar eight-inning performance Saturday night. He picked up his second consecutive quality start as top-ranked Arkansas bested the Alabama Crimson Tide 9-1.
“We want him to get soft contact,” head coach Dave Van Horn said in a postgame press conference. “(Alabama) barreled up a couple balls but he did a good job of getting some pop-ups and some fly balls. He had three quick innings that really gave us a chance to get back up to the plate and also save his pitch count.”
Vermillion, who closed games for the Razorbacks in 2020, has seen a noticeable increase in productivity since he began pitching to contact. His first two outings saw him surrender four runs in seven innings, prompting Van Horn to remove him from the weekend rotation.
In his redemption game last Saturday against Louisiana Tech, he threw eight innings, yielding only three hits, three walks and one run. He doubled down in his first career SEC start by taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning.
“My first two starts, I had the same mentality as a closer, just trying to strike everybody out,” Vermillion said. “I just sat down with my coaching staff and they talked to me about how if I want to keep starting I’ve got to figure something out, start throwing more strikes, competing a little more.”
While Vermillion competed on the bump, the Razorbacks matched his energy at the plate. Eight different Arkansas batters recorded hits to bring home nine runs in a six-inning stretch.
The Hogs scored once in the third, fourth and fifth innings thanks to leadoff extra base hits in each frame. Senior catcher Casey Opitz launched a solo homer to open the scoring, then junior center fielder Christian Franklin and senior third baseman Cullen Smith came around following their doubles to left field.
“It was nice to get the lead,” Van Horn said. “That’s the first lead we’ve had all week.”
The Crimson Tide responded with a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning, but the Razorbacks responded with a three-spot. They smacked reliever Jacob McNairy around to the tune of four singles and a sac fly, with each of the bottom three hitters driving in a run.
The bottom of the order showed up again in the eighth inning with three more runs. Senior left fielder Braydon Webb led off with a double, just his second hit of the season, and took home on a throwing error by the first baseman. Opitz scored his third run of the night on a sac fly, and Smith scampered home following the second wild pitch of the inning.
After the eighth, Vermillion gave way to sophomore Zack Morris, who worked around a leadoff double to lock down the first Southeastern Conference victory of 2021.
Arkansas and Alabama are scheduled to square off a third time at 2 p.m. Sunday at Baum-Walker Stadium. Southpaws Lael Lockhart and Antoine Jean will duke it out on the mound for the Hogs and Tide, respectively, and the game can be seen on the SEC Network.
“(The players) came out and they took care of business,” Van Horn said. “They set it up for tomorrow to be a big-time game.”