If there were any lingering concerns about the way Brady Tygart ended last season and how he looked for Arkansas baseball during the offseason, he needed just one game to silence them.
The right-hander inherited a jam, but slammed the door shut by retiring all five batters he faced to seal the Razorbacks’ 3-2 season-opening win over Texas at the College Baseball Showdown in Arlington, Texas.
It was a refreshing sight after the heralded prospect who hit a wall in last year’s postseason. Ending the regular season as one of the country’s most dominant closers with a 2.12 ERA and eight saves, Tygart gave up eight earned runs in 3 2/3 innings across five appearances in the SEC and NCAA Tournaments.
Those struggles — which included plunking the only two batters he faced in Omaha — seemed to follow him into the offseason. In the public scrimmages viewed by the media, Tygart was very up and down. He was limited in the fall and then got knocked around in the three weeks leading up to the season.
Despite all of those issues, head coach Dave Van Horn still trusted him with the game on the line in the first game of 2023 and the sophomore delivered.
“I thought he did a tremendous job,” Van Horn said. “He got off to a little bit of a slow start this spring in our scrimmages. Tonight, he was back to what he used to be and I guess he caught up. Pitched great.”
Entering the game with one out in the eighth and the tying run in scoring position, not to mention the go-ahead run on first, Tygart struck out Dylan Campbell and Porter Brown — Texas’ 2- and 3-hole hitters who posted a 1.015 and .995 OPS, respectively, in Big 12 play last season.
He wasn’t fazed when he was assessed a ball for a delay of game before his second pitch of the night or when the runners stole second and third on a check swing that could have been the third strike.
The ninth inning was smooth sailing, as Tygart induced a couple of ground outs before striking out Mitchell Daly to end the game. During that final at bat, the broadcast caught him talking — either to himself or to catcher Hudson Polk — and he worked fast.
It was exactly the quirky behavior common for closers (see: Matt Cronin getting slapped in the face, Kevin Kopps drinking beet juice), but there’s no guarantee he’ll remain in that role.
Van Horn has openly discussed his vision of Tygart being a weekend starter for the Razorbacks and brought it up again in his postgame interview with FloSports.
“Everybody knows him for having a really good breaking ball, but he’s got a two-seamer now that really darts, throwing the ball 93, 94, 95 mph and he throws that breaking ball in there, plus he’s got a big breaking ball and got a slider and he’s starting to throw that changeup,” Van Horn said. “So it sounds like to me that he might be able to start for us one day.”
Of course, moving into that role this year would require one of Arkansas’ current starters being taken out of a rotation that Van Horn seems to be pretty confident in heading into the season.
Dominant Start for Hagen Smith
After the way he pitched Friday night, it’s probably safe to say that Hagen Smith’s position in that rotation is safe. In fact, the sophomore left-hander proved he’s capable of being an SEC ace in place of the injured Jaxon Wiggins (Tommy John).
Smith gave up just one hit and two walks while striking out eight in five scoreless innings against the Longhorns. Only once did he ever really get into trouble and he worked his way out of it.
“I thought Hagen was outstanding,” Van Horn said. “His stuff was amazing, big-league stuff — sitting in the mid-90s, left-hander with him throwing a cutter and pretty good breaking ball. Really pitched well and gave us a chance to get into the game.”
The lone hit Texas managed against him was actually a leadoff single by Eric Kennedy in the first inning. No one else made much hard contact and even Kennedy’s hit wasn’t exactly a rocket off the bat.
An error by Caleb Cali at third base also allowed the leadoff man to reach in the second, but Smith got a pair of double plays to erase both of them and move quickly through the first two innings. He was actually sitting at an incredibly efficient 48 pitches through four innings.
That’s when Smith finally ran into some trouble. He fell behind 3-0 and eventually walked each of the first two batter in the fifth, the second of which was squaring to bunt. Daly did get a sacrifice down for the first out, moving those runners to second and third.
Back-to-back strikeouts of Jared Thomas and Jalin Flores got him out of the jam unscathed, though. Despite still being at just 68 pitches, that was the end of Smith’s day. It’s not uncommon for Van Horn to have a smaller-than-normal pitch count for his starters early in the season.
Unfortunately for him, Smith earned a no decision for his efforts because Texas starter Lucas Gordon matched him with five scoreless innings of his own. The Razorbacks made him work more, as he threw 84 pitches, but he consistently got outs when he needed them the most.
“Their lefty, Gordon, didn’t give us anything,” Van Horn said. “It was like two boxers going at it, see how quick they can get back in the dugout.”
Kendall Diggs Delivers in Big 7th Inning
It wasn’t until the two teams went to their bullpens that either managed to get on the board and even then, runs were hard to come by.
Arkansas broke through first. Brady Slavens and Jared Wegner started the seventh inning with back-to-back singles off Lebarron Johnson, prompting another pitching change by the Longhorns. Reliever Chris Stuart then walked Jace Bohrofen to load the bases and set the stage for more heroics from Kendall Diggs.
Remembered for his walk-off home run to beat Ole Miss as a freshman last year, he delivered in the clutch again as the designated hitter in the first game of his sophomore campaign. Diggs smoked the 1-1 pitch through the third baseman’s legs to drive in the first two runs of the game.
Jalin Flores was playing in on the grass and the ball was 105 mph off the bat, so he had no chance to even get his glove down. It was ruled a two-run single.
“Well, he’s a really good hitter,” Van Horn said. “We’re kind of making him into an outfielder, but we like the three guys that are out there, so we have to get him in the lineup some way.”
The Razorbacks added an insurance run that proved to be the difference when 9-hole hitter John Bolton hit an RBI double into the left field corner.
It seemed like Arkansas had Texas on the ropes because Tavian Josenberger walked to load the bases again and Peyton Stovall got ahead in the count 3-1, but it let the opportunity slip. Stuart locked in and ended up striking out him and Caleb Cali — arguably the Razorbacks’ top two hitters during the preseason.
Missed Opportunities by Arkansas Baseball
That was actually the theme of the night for Arkansas offensively. It had excellent opportunities to score in six of the nine innings, but did so in only one and, as mentioned above, it could have been an even bigger inning.
The Razorbacks had twice runners on first and second with one out, only for Kendall Diggs and Hudson Polk to strike out to end the second-inning threat and Caleb Cali to ground into an inning-ending double play in the sixth.
In the third, John Bolton — who reached on a leadoff single — likely would have scored had Texas right fielder Dylan Campbell not made a spectacular running grab to rob Tavian Josenberger of extra bases.
Arkansas also didn’t capitalize on chances to add insurance runs in the final two innings, wasting Brady Slavens’ leadoff double in the eighth and letting the Longhorns off the hook for their two-out error and wild pitch in the ninth.
“It was a little different tonight offensively,” Van Horn said. “It wasn’t what we’ve been seeing, so just give Texas’ pitchers a lot of credit.”
Middle Infield Shines in New Era
Arkansas baseball fans were spoiled by arguably the best defensive double play combination in school history the last two years. Jalen Battles and Robert Moore are playing professionally now, but their replacements made them proud Friday night.
Sophomore Peyton Stovall slid over from first to his more natural position of second base and Austin Peay transfer John Bolton was the surprising winner of a battle with heralded JUCO transfer Harold Coll at shortstop.
Although neither made a play worthy of making SportsCenter, as their predecessors did numerous times, they were very solid in the field and converted every chance they had — even making a few difficult plays look easy.
They were tested early, with a double play in each of the first two innings. Stovall started the first and Bolton started the second, with both being turned smoothly.
In the sixth inning, Stovall saved a run by ranging to his right, sliding, back-handing the grounder hit by Jack O’Dowd, popping up and throwing a strike to first for the out. He and Bolton also each made similar plays on the move for the first two outs of the ninth inning.
Up Next for Arkansas Baseball
The Razorbacks will play the late game again Saturday night, with first pitch against No. 15 TCU scheduled for 7 p.m. CT. However, that start time is entirely dependent on neither of the first two games going over their allotted time, which is certainly possible. Friday’s game started about 10 minutes late.
Much like Arkansas, the Horned Frogs will enter the matchup with a 1-0 record after winning their first game at the College Baseball Classic. They pulled away from No. 8 Vanderbilt late, with a final score of 11-4. The Commodores actually lead 3-2 before TCU scored nine runs in the sixth and seventh innings.
Redshirt junior right-hander Will McEntire will start for Arkansas, while junior right-hander Cam Brown gets the nod for the Horned Frogs.
Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits
- Playing at Globe Life Field, the home of MLB’s Texas Rangers, the Arkansas vs Texas game drew an announced attendance of 15,721.
- With the win, Arkansas baseball has now won seven of its last nine matchups with Texas. That stretch began in 2012. Including matchups between 2004-05, all of which were in the NCAA Tournament, Dave Van Horn has a 8-5 record against the Razorbacks’ old Southwest Conference rival.
- Despite being charged with both runs Texas scored and pitching only one inning, Cody Adcock was credited with the win because he was on the mound when Arkansas took the lead. He was dominant in his first inning of work, striking out the first two hitters in the Longhorns’ order, but gave up a solo home run and double without recording an out in the seventh inning.
- No hitter for the Razorbacks entered the 2023 season hotter than Caleb Cali, who slashed an incredible .437/.500/.845 in 71 at bats in scrimmages viewed by the media this fall and preseason. Naturally, he notched a golden sombrero in an 0-for-5 performance against Texas. The only time he put the ball in play was in the sixth inning, when he grounded into a double play.
- Cali wasn’t the only hitter in the top-third of a lineup to strike out four times, though, as Texas right fielder Dylan Campbell also notched a golden sombrero. He did it in the 2-hole, while Cali hit third for the Razorbacks.
Arkansas vs Texas Postgame Interview
Box Score for Arkansas vs Texas
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