FAYETTEVILLE — Even after blowing a ninth-inning lead and seeing its star closer leave the game with an injury, Arkansas baseball found a way to win Wednesday afternoon.
Some clutch pitching by Dylan Carter set the stage for more Kendall Diggs heroics, as the sophomore delivered a walk-off double in the 11th inning to lift the Razorbacks over Illinois State 10-9 at Baum-Walker Stadium.
That swing capped what Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn described as a “wild game” that the Razorbacks seemed to be in control of until Brady Tygart gave up a pair of runs in the eighth and ninth innings. Making matters worse, the right-hander exited with two outs in the ninth with what appeared to be an elbow injury.
“There was a lot of excitement that went into ‘oh no’ and then an injury,” Van Horn said. “But I thought we held it together, we stayed strong in the dugout and they fought.”
While Carter kept the Redbirds at bay, Arkansas finally broke through against Illinois State reliever Elijah Dale in the 11th inning. Peyton Stovall hit a leadoff double to put the winning run in scoring position, just as the Razorbacks had done the previous inning, and Diggs delivered.
With the outfield playing in to prevent Stovall from scoring on a single, Diggs got ahold of a 1-1 pitch and sent it to deep left-center. Like so many balls Arkansas hit Wednesday, it landed on the warning track, but this time, center fielder Blake Stenger — who had caught seven fly balls already — couldn’t get to it in time.
Even though he had to hesitate at second to make sure it wasn’t caught, Stovall scored easily. Diggs was almost to third when his teammate stepped on home plate, so he was officially credited with a double.
“I did see it, but I wouldn’t say it was part of my approach,” Diggs said about the positioning of the outfield. “But obviously, just trying to put a good swing on it and it carried a little bit. At first I wasn’t sure if he caught it or not.”
It was the second time Diggs has ended a game with a swing this season, but the first was a home run that secured a seven-inning run-rule victory. He also hit a true walk-off home run against Ole Miss last year.
Of course, things should have never come down to the Razorbacks needing a walk-off hit. They were up 8-5 through seven innings and 9-7 heading to the ninth. However, Greg Nichols started the ninth with an opposite-field home run that barely stayed fair and got over the fence.
Arkansas was still two outs away from victory, though, when John Bolton fielded a ground ball by Daniel Pacella and threw wildly to second. That brought in the tying run and put the go-ahead run just 90 feet away.
“We kind of made a bad decision on trying to get a force out at second,” Van Horn said. “The play was at first. It was kind of a hit and run and he got jammed. Not super fast. I think he had a lot better shot at getting the runner at first. And he threw the ball down the line and they tie it up.”
Despite the Razorbacks getting out of it with the tie intact, momentum had seemingly shifted to Illinois State’s dugout — at least to those outside of the Arkansas baseball program. The players and coaches remained confident even as things unraveled.
“Just keep going,” Diggs said about the vibe in the dugout. “Obviously, it was a couple of innings that didn’t go our way, but the next one is the one. Just keep pushing.”
Brady Tygart Injury
Kendall Diggs may have provided the highlight with a walk-off hit, but the story of day was Brady Tygart’s early exit with what appeared to be a right elbow injury — his throwing arm.
He left the game after throwing two pitches to the 11th batter he faced. However, the injury may have happened on the first pitch, as he was seen shaking his arm as he got the ball back from the catcher.
It was following that second pitch, though, that Tygart motioned to the dugout to have a trainer and pitching coach Matt Hobbs come out to the mound. During their chat, the right-hander pointed to his elbow, as if that was what was causing him pain.
After a little over a minute of conversation, Tygart walked off the field and was replaced by Dylan Carter. Asked if he had any update on his star closer’s health after the game, Dave Van Horn didn’t say much.
“I don’t have any idea what’s up,” the veteran coach said.
Tygart was in the midst of a tough outing for the Razorbacks after what had been a really strong start to the season. He plunked a batter before giving up a two-run home run in the eighth inning and then allowed a solo homer to start the ninth. The fourth run allowed was unearned because of the aforementioned John Bolton error, but the runner reached via a walk.
Prior to that outing, Tygart looked like the guy that earned Freshman All-America honors before struggling in the postseason. In three outings, he had allowed only one earned run on four hits and no walks while striking out eight in 4 2/3 innings.
He is widely viewed as one of the top closers in the country, with D1Baseball ranking him the fourth-best relief pitcher in college baseball before the season, so losing him — especially after already losing Jaxon Wiggins to Tommy John surgery — would be a devastating blow to a bullpen struggling to find its footing.
Help on the Way?
Following Sunday’s loss to Eastern Illinois, in which the Razorbacks’ bullpen imploded, Dave Van Horn told reporters there were only about “four and a half” pitchers he felt confident in at the moment.
Tygart was presumably part of that four, along with left-handed starters Hagen Smith and Hunter Hollan and right-handed middle reliever Koty Frank. After a solid bounce-back start against the Panthers, right-hander Will McEntire was probably the “half.”
Even before Tygart got hurt, Van Horn was looking for someone to step up. In a twist of fate, the injury might have given one pitcher the opportunity to he needed.
Right-hander Dylan Carter — who redshirted at Arkansas last season — stranded the potential go-ahead run on third when he came in for Tygart and got Dylan Swarmer to ground out.
Using a fastball, slider and changeup, the former JUCO transfer retired seven of the eight batters he faced, allowing only a one-out single in the 11th. Van Horn made it a point to bring him up multiple times during his postgame press conference and even Kendall Diggs brought up his performance when asked about his own walk-off hit.
“Shoutout to Dylan,” Diggs said. “We couldn’t have been in that situation without him, and he pitched his butt off.”
Earlier in the game, the Razorbacks also got an encouraging outing from right-hander Cody Adcock.
Once considered for a spot in the starting rotation, the JUCO transfer got hit hard in his first few appearances with the Razorbacks. Not only had he allowed six earned runs in 3 2/3 innings for a 14.73 ERA, but opponents were slugging 1.000 against him.
Those numbers improved dramatically Wednesday, as he threw two scoreless innings after Illinois State had scored five runs in the first five innings. It didn’t start out great, as he gave up a leadoff single in the sixth and a sacrifice bunt moved the runner into scoring position with the top of the order coming up, but Carter got out of it with a strikeout and groundout.
The only thing he allowed in his second inning of work was a two-out walk, which was disappointing because he had the hitter down 0-2, but Adcock was otherwise very good.
“He was good and he could’ve gone back out, but Brady (Tygart) wanted some work and we needed to get him out there,” Van Horn said. “We thought, ‘Let’s get Adcock out.’ He’s thrown a couple of good innings, get his confidence back where it needs to be and get him ready for the weekend.”
Depending on what comes of the Tygart injury, the emergence of Carter and reemergence of Adcock could be huge for the Razorbacks, who are still trying to sort things out before SEC play begins March 17 against Auburn.
“It’s not just one person — it’s everybody,” Carter said. “I want to be able to step up for the pitching staff of course, and I felt like I did that, and I want to keep doing that moving forward, but it takes all of us, not just one.”
While his final stat line may not jump off the page as overly impressive, right-hander Koty Frank turned in another solid outing for the Razorbacks.
The Nebraska transfer pitched four innings in relief Wednesday, allowing three earned runs on four hits and no walks while striking out three.
What stood out the most about his performance, though, was the fact that he once again helped Arkansas work its way out a jam created by his teammates.
Inheriting runners on the corners with no outs and the top of the order coming up, Frank got leadoff man Auggie Rasmussen to fly out to center. It looked like it would be a sacrifice fly, but Tavian Josenberger came up firing and made a perfect one-hop throw that allowed catcher Parker Rowland to turn and tag out Dylan Swarmer just in time.
The next batter, Luke Cheng, grounded out to shortstop on one pitch to end the threat. At that point, Frank had the unique distinction of getting three outs on just three pitches, but while facing only two batters.
“That’s one reason we went to Koty,” Van Horn said. “He’s got a lot of experience doing that and doesn’t get rattled. Mixes it up a little bit. We like giving him the ball when there’s some issues going on out there and he seems to handle it pretty well.”
It’s not the first time Frank has done that at Arkansas. Against Grambling, he needed only one pitch to get an inning-ending double play. In fact, only one of the six runners he’s inherited so far this season have come around to score, and that one scored only because of a wild pitch.
Zack Morris Struggles Again
In an effort to jumpstart his season, Arkansas baseball gave the ball to senior Zack Morris to start Wednesday’s game.
Much like Adcock, he was expected to be an integral part of this year’s pitching staff, but the left-hander has instead struggled to a 13.50 ERA and .417 batting average against him.
Unfortunately for Morris, the move didn’t work like the Razorbacks would have hoped. He gave up two earned runs on five hits and a walk in one inning. He was pulled after giving up three straight hits to start the second inning.
“Morris didn’t get off to a good start, so that was a little hard to swallow,” Van Horn said. “I wanted to give him the ball, give him the opportunity to get out there and start a game, get it going a little bit, and he got three outs, gave up five hits and it just wasn’t going good.
“Just couldn’t put people away, made a couple of mistakes with two strikes. Give them credit, they did a good job of getting hits, but we’ve got to get him going. If Tygart’s out for a while, or who knows what’s up, we’ve got to have some guys step it up.”
It’s a tough look for the Razorbacks because Morris had been one of their top bullpen arms last season and came through in a do-or-die situation against Ole Miss at the College World Series.
“Well, he’s a tough kid,” Van Horn said. “I know he’s confident, so I haven’t talked to him about how he’s pitching really,” Van Horn said. “Coach Hobbs will deal with that side of it. I think he’s going to be fine.”
Up Next for Arkansas Baseball
The Razorbacks’ 18-game homestand, their longest since 1982, will continue with a three-game series against Wright State this weekend.
Game 1 is currently scheduled for 3 p.m. CT Friday, but inclement weather in the area could force Arkansas to play a doubleheader Saturday.
Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits
- The Razorbacks hit back-to-back-to-back home runs Wednesday, with Peyton Stovall, Kendall Diggs and Caleb Cali breaking a 5-5 tie by taking Erik Kubiatowicz deep in the seventh inning. Not only had the right-hander not allowed a run in 6 2/3 innings entering the game, but he hadn’t given up a hit. Based on research by Best of Arkansas Sports, it’s the first time in at least 10 years that Arkansas hit three straight home runs.
- The last of those long balls was also the first hit of Cali’s career. He started the season 0 for 12 with seven strikeouts — a surprising start for the Razorbacks’ top hitter throughout the preseason. “That was awesome to see,” Diggs said. “From this fall and pre-spring, he is probably the most pure hitter I’ve seen in my whole entire life. He’s unbelievable. I’m really happy for him. It was maybe like a weight off his shoulders. Now, he can just sit back and do what he does.”
- Jared Wegner added to his team-leading RBI total by hitting a two-run home run and RBI single as part of his 3-for-5 performance at the plate. He now has 15 RBIs. The long ball came on a fastball in the first inning and traveled 433 feet with an exit velocity of 108 mph. “I think it was middle-in (and I) was able to turn on it,” Wegner said. “Pretty much got all of it, so I knew that one was going to go. It was a good feeling just to put the team up after we went down 1-0 in the first. “
- Corner infielder Ben McLaughlin, a JUCO transfer, will miss 3-6 weeks with a knee injury suffered in Arkansas’ last game. “McLaughlin’s going to have surgery on Thursday to fix that knee up a little bit. If it’s minor, it’ll be three weeks. If it’s a little more, it’ll probably be five or six weeks.”
Arkansas vs Illinois State Postgame Interviews
Arkansas vs Illinois State Box score
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