FAYETTEVILLE — As Dave Van Horn settled in for his postgame press conference Tuesday evening, a team spokesman checked that the TV cameras were ready to start.
“I’m good,” one reporter responded.
“Glad somebody is,” the veteran Arkansas baseball coach quipped.
It was that kind of day for the Razorbacks, who had to rally from a five-run deficit to avoid their first ever loss to a SWAC opponent, beating Grambling 7-5 thanks to a pair of runs in the eighth inning.
Arkansas was riding high from a 2-1 showing at the College Baseball Showdown in Arlington, Texas, and facing a team that — on paper, at least — was clearly overmatched, but Van Horn has been around enough that he knew it wouldn’t be easy.
“We were concerned about this game — a little bit of a trap game,” Van Horn said. “Traveling back, getting back late, big tournament, lot of hoopla, big win on Sunday, yesterday we don’t have a team practice and you kind of just kind of think, ‘How is this going to go?’”
The deciding runs — much like the tying run in the seventh — came without the benefit of a hit. A walk, hit by pitch and wild pitch put runners on second and third with no outs, setting the table for the top of the lineup.
Tavian Josenberger delivered the go-ahead swing, crushing a ball to center that Van Horn said would have gone out of the park had it not been for a strong wind. It was even deep enough for the runner on second, John Bolton, to tag up on the play, too.
“It was a 3-1 count, base open, so there was kind of an idea in the back of my head that he might spin me something, but I was pretty dead-red on a fastball and I got one right down the middle to hit,” Josenberger said. “I hit it pretty well. I knew it wasn’t getting out today. Maybe the wind blowing out a little bit it might be off the batter’s eye, but I don’t know if I have power like that.”
The Razorbacks tacked on an insurance run when Peyton Stovall followed with a line drive that looked like it’d fall for a hit, but was instead caught by a diving Terry Burrell III in center, making it another sacrifice fly — fourth of the game.
That is how the tying run scored in the seventh inning, too. It came off the bat of Jace Bohrofen and drove in Jared Wegner, who walked, advanced to second on a walk by Kendall Diggs and moved to third on a balk.
The four sacrifice flies were Arkansas’ most since Feb. 24, 2016, when it also had four against another SWAC team, Mississippi Valley State.
“We did some little things that helped us win the game,” Van Horn said. “When you get behind four or five runs and the wind’s blowing in, it’s tough to hit home runs…so you’re just hoping maybe they kick a ball, boot a ball, make an error, and you’ve got to take your walks, because we actually lined out four or five times.”
The comeback was reminiscent the 2018 Arkansas vs Grambling matchup at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock. The Razorbacks found themselves in a 6-3 deficit — their largest against a SWAC team until Tuesday — but scored four runs in the eighth inning and Matt Cronin slammed the door on a 7-6 win over the Tigers.
This time around, Arkansas found itself down 6-1 after the top of the fourth and down 7-2 after the top of the fifth, but still found a way to win and avoid an embarrassing, RPI-killing loss.
“We definitely still had confidence,” Josenberger said. “I don’t think there was any doubt in our head that we weren’t going to come back.”
For the Tigers, on the other hand, it was another agonizingly close loss to a top-10 opponent. The Arkansas team they nearly beat five years ago went on to finish runner-up at the College World Series.
“We came here to win and we wanted to win this game and we wanted to show that we belonged on this type of stage,” Grambling baseball coach Davin Pierre said. “It’s a tough one when you’ve got the big boys on the ropes and you can’t win it.”
The Bad: Ultra Soft-Tossing Lefty
Something that definitely complicated matters for Arkansas baseball in Tuesday’s matchup was the fact that Grambling started a pitcher by the name of Jacorey Boudreaux.
A sixth-year super senior who began his career at Jackson State and spent some time at UTSA before making his way back to the SWAC, Boudreaux is probably the most extreme case of a soft-tossing lefty as the Razorbacks will ever seen.
None of his 67 pitches topped 75 mph and many of them didn’t even reach 70. For a team used to facing pitchers throwing 90-plus, it was a dramatic difference.
“This is some different type of pitching that we saw from that starter,” Van Horn said. “We’ve seen him before a little bit. We tried to work at it and train them for him today and a little bit yesterday. But until you get up there and see that thing floating around, it’s difficult when you’re going from 95 mile an hour, 93-95 every pitch to 72-78, it was a little deception.”
Just two days after scoring 18 runs in seven innings against No. 11 Oklahoma State, the Razorbacks didn’t score at all in the first two innings against Grambling. They did manage one in the third and a couple in the fourth, but those were the only three runs Boudreaux allowed.
“It is very difficult,” Josenberger said. “You have to be very disciplined. I think we did a pretty good job of buckling down and staying with the approach, which is staying up the middle and hitting it away — especially later in the game. It is just as hard as hitting somebody throwing 98 when he is throwing 78.”
In order to prepare for such slow pitches, Van Horn said they did three or four rounds of batting practice leading up to the game in which the focus was to hit everything up the middle or the way. He didn’t want his players to pull anything.
The strategy eventually worked, but it took some time. Arkansas had only one hit its first time through the order before getting three when they saw him for a second time.
“Tavian in his first at-bat, he kind of went out of the zone, but he saw it good and just tomahawked a ball up the middle,” Van Horn said. “Stovall hit a high ball up the middle, and that was a good job staying through the middle. If a guy’s throwing that slow, it doesn’t have to be in the zone maybe like normal because you can get on top of it.”
The Ugly: Veterans Struggle Out of the Pen
The Razorbacks gave several of their key arms some work Tuesday afternoon and it didn’t go well for their two most experienced guys.
Senior Zack Morris was first out of the bullpen and recorded only five outs — and one of them came on a sacrifice bunt. The left-hander was also called for a balk in addition to giving up five hits and a walk, leading to four earned runs in 1 2/3 innings.
He was replaced by redshirt junior Will McEntire, who promptly gave up an RBI single that scored the runner he inherited from Morris. He got out of the inning when Parker Rowland gunned down a potential base stealer, but managed to get just one out in the next inning.
All told, McEntire faced six batters and allowed five to reach. He was officially charged with one earned run in 2/3 of an inning, but was aided by Koty Frank inducing a double play to escape the bases-loaded, one-out jam he created.
It was the second straight rough outing for McEntire, who started Saturday’s game against TCU and failed to get through the second inning. After limiting opponents to a .198 batting average last season, they are now 9 for 14 (.643) against him in two outings this year.
Dave Van Horn said the issue for both pitches was that they struggled to put batters away. The first and last batters Morris faced hit singles in 0-2 counts, with the latter resulting in an RBI that made it 5-1.
While he didn’t do it Tuesday, McEntire did that a couple of times in his last appearance and also gave up a hit in a 1-2 count to the first guy he faced against Grambling.
“You’re going to give up some, but if you’re going to give up an 0-2 hit, it needs to be on a borderline pitch down in the zone, away or whatever the location is supposed to be,” Van Horn said. “I don’t know if that was the case tonight. I’ll have to go back and look at it.”
Van Horn also said there’s a good chance he’ll still start left-handers Hagen Smith and Hunter Hollan on Friday and Sunday, respectively, but will probably go with TBA for Saturday in this weekend’s series against Eastern Illinois.
The Good: Slamming the Door
It wasn’t all bad for the Razorbacks on the mound, as they got great outings from right-handers Koty Frank and Brady Tygart. The plan was for each to throw only an inning, but the score necessitated them throwing 2 2/3 and 2 innings, respectively.
After inducing the aforementioned inning-ending double play in the fifth, Frank allowed only one base runner over the next two innings. That came on a one-out walk in the seventh, but the Nebraska transfer responded with back-to-back strikeouts.
He also pitched twice in Arlington, Texas, and has yet to allow a run in five innings this season. He has only four strikeouts, but opponents are 3 for 17 (.176) against him.
“This is his third time out on the mound in four games, and that’s the kind of guy he is,” Van Horn said. “He likes to pitch. We could start him if we needed to because he’s around the zone and he’s experienced, and he can spin the ball and sink it…pop you a 91, 92 mph fastball. He’s very versatile.”
Tygart threw the final two innings and earned the victory, as he was on the mound when Arkansas finally took the lead. He flirted with danger, but didn’t give up a run.
In the eighth, he allowed a two-out single and then threw wild on a pickoff attempt, putting the go-ahead run just 90 feet away. However, Tygart got Trevor Hatton — who homered in the first inning and was 2 for 4 at the time — to pop out to end the inning.
He also gave up a leadoff single in the ninth, but slammed the door with a couple of strikeouts sandwiched around a fly out. He also hasn’t allowed an earned run yet and has seven strikeouts with no walks in 3 2/3 innings, with his other outing resulting in a save against Texas in the opener.
“His outing in Texas was the best I’ve ever seen him when you just talk about all of his pitches,” Van Horn said. “We’ve seen him dominate with the breaking ball… Friday night, he had them all working. Tonight, he threw a lot of fastballs, threw some good breaking balls. That top of their order, those guys aren’t scared, man. They go up there, and they take some borderline pitches, and they swing, and they swing hard.”
Up Next for Arkansas Baseball
Arkansas will continue its 18-game homestand — its longest since 1982 — with a three-game series against Eastern Illinois this weekend. First pitch of Game 1 is scheduled for 3 p.m. CT Friday.
The Panthers are 3-0 this season after sweeping Florida A&M on the road last weekend and do not have a midweek game.
Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits
- With the win, Arkansas baseball improved to 30-0 all-time against teams from the SWAC. Even with Tuesday’s two-run margin, the Razorbacks have won those games by an average of 9.3 runs.
- This is the third year in a row Arkansas was in danger of dropping its home opener. Last year, it actually lost to Illinois State for its first season-opening loss since 1994. Two years ago, the Razorbacks returned from a 3-0 trip to Arlington and had to score three in the ninth before winning 6-5 in 10 innings. Before last season, the last two times Arkansas lost its first home game of the season were in 1994 and 1981.
- Freshman right-hander Ben Bybee got the start for Arkansas baseball in somewhat of a surprise move. He pitched two innings and gave up two earned runs on two hits and two walks with three strikeouts. “He threw to a couple hitters the other day in Texas, did a pretty good job,” Van Horn said. “Couple of the other guys we put in that are young are that were probably gonna get a start didn’t do so well, so we thought, ‘Hey, we’ll start him.’”
- Creighton transfer Jared Wegner notched another couple of RBIs against Grambling and now has a team-high 10 RBIs through four games. Tavian Josenberger is second on the team with four.
Arkansas vs Grambling Postgame Interview
Arkansas vs Grambling Box Score
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