FAYETTEVILLE — It didn’t take long for Jim Schlossnagle to realize it wasn’t his team’s night. Unfortunately for him, and hilarious for Arkansas baseball fans, that realization unfolded while he was live on national television Friday.
The veteran Texas A&M coach was in the midst of an interview on ESPNU when Brady Slavens chopped a leadoff triple that sparked a three-run inning in a game Arkansas eventually won 10-4 in front of a rowdy Baum-Walker Stadium.
Rather than getting an easy first-pitch out, Schlossnagle watched — with a hot mic — as the ball took an unexpected hop over first baseman Jack Moss’ head and kept rolling down the right field line in foul territory.
“Oh Jesus,” Schlossnagle said with despair. After an audible sigh, he added, “Oh baby.”
In separate interviews after the game, both head coaches — Schlossnagle and Dave Van Horn — gave similar, yet different eight-word responses when asked about the play.
Schlossnagle: “Sometimes that’s just how things go. That’s tough.”
Van Horn: “Sometimes you’ve just got to be lucky, man.”
Of course, the Razorbacks still had to do something with it and that play was just the beginning of the Aggies’ misfortunes that inning.
After a walk by Hunter Grimes put runners on the corners, Van Horn dialed up some of the small ball he was once known for and Parker Rowland delivered — with some help from Texas A&M.
His squeeze bunt down the first base line was a beauty, but it appeared to be destined to roll foul. Instead, pitcher Evan Aschenbeck reached down and fielded it in the dirt, just inches from the line.
Not only did that score a run, but Rowland reached because Moss wasn’t covering first. The next batter was also asked to bunt and John Bolton did just that — albeit with two strikes.
Kendall Diggs followed with a sharp grounder to first that Moss fielded, but he tried tossing it to Aschenbeck instead of taking it to the bag himself and his pitcher was to slow getting there, so Diggs reached. A run would have scored anyways, but because no out was made, it set the stage for Peyton Stovall’s sacrifice fly to make it 4-1.
“We laid down a couple of bunts, we advanced some runners, we got a sac fly…the old-school small ball,” Van Horn said. “I’ve had teams that played that a little bit. It’s been a while. Especially down in the order there, we needed to play it — those guys are more defenders than they are offensive guys — and turn it over to the top (of the order).”
Unlike in Game 1 of the series, the Razorbacks never relinquished that lead. They added to it thanks to a two-out wild pitch the next inning, but it wasn’t until later in the game that Van Horn got the same feeling as his counterpart in Texas A&M’s dugout.
It was just a two-run game in the seventh when designated hitter Ben McLaughlin provided some insurance in the form of a two-run home run that had a launch angle of just 18.2 degrees.
“I’m thinking in my head, ‘Man, this guy doesn’t have a home run yet. This would be a perfect time for it,’” Van Horn said. “And he hit a wall-scraper — a line drive that just got out. That was big. That’s when as a coach you start thinking, ‘Okay, maybe this is our night.’”
Sure enough, Arkansas ended up adding two more runs in the eighth to make the final score look much different than how it went much of the night, helping it clinch the series.
Wood Slams the Door
Before scoring those last four runs, though, Arkansas baseball was in serious danger of blowing yet another lead.
Will McEntire was pulled after issuing a two-out walk in the seventh inning and his replacement, Christian Foutch, promptly gave up a two-run home run to Jordan Thompson. That cut the Razorbacks’ lead in half. The Aggies then got the tying runs on base with back-to-back walks and Dave Van Horn had seen enough.
He brought in another freshman: Gage Wood. The right-hander plunked the first batter he faced to load the bases, but then struck out Trevor Werner on three pitches to escape the jam unscathed.
“If they get a hit there to tie it or take the lead, it’s two nights in a row we’ve got that feeling again like ‘Oh, man. This is unbelievable,’” Van Horn said. “But Wood came through and made some good pitches, some breaking balls there. He’s got a little bit of a high-carry fastball that’s pretty effective. We felt like six outs was what we really wanted him to get at the most. He ended up getting seven, but it worked out.”
Given some breathing room with the Ben McLaughlin home run, Wood threw up a quick zero in the eighth — striking out two and inducing a ground ball.
Things were a bit interesting in the ninth, as he loaded the bases with a walk, hit by pitch and single, but he had a six-run lead to work with and ended up getting Werner to ground into a game-ending fielder’s choice.
That finished off what was Wood’s fourth save of the season — all of which have clinched an SEC series.
“Kind of just expect that out of him now,” teammate Will McEntire said. He’s come up in a lot of big situations for us, a lot of jams, so yeah, I kind of have that expectation for him to get out of stuff like that for us.”
McEntire Solid Out of the Pen
A weekend starter for much of the season, Will McEntire made his second relief appearance Friday night — and it went much better than his first.
He recorded just two outs and gave up four hits and a walk in a midweek outing against Grambling way back on Feb. 21. Two months later, after a rough start at Georgia a week earlier, McEntire gave the Razorbacks a solid 5 2/3 innings out of the bullpen against Texas A&M.
It wasn’t a traditional relief appearance, as the right-hander knew all along that he’d be entering the game in the second inning following a one-inning start by Brady Tygart, but Van Horn acknowledged that the coaching staff likes him coming out of the pen.
“Some guys, maybe you think about it all week and the night before you don’t sleep much and come out and pitch,” Van Horn said. “You come out of the pen, it’s a little different feeling. He knew he was going to come in today, but hey, maybe just a different feeling for him. At the end of the first, jogs in, pitches.”
McEntire issed a walk, gave up a single and allowed a run on a sacrifice fly to Ryan Targac to start the outing, but then settled in nicely. The sac fly was the start of a stretch in which he retired 10 of 11 batters — with the only base runner getting thrown out trying to steal.
“His first inning — which was the second inning — he was okay,” Van Horn said. “After that, I thought he was really good. It’s like he got looser and better and had some good innings there in the middle.”
A two-out home run by Max Kaufer in the fifth ended that stretch, but he responded by retiring the next six batters — including four via strikeouts. He nearly struck out the side in the seventh, but walked Targac on four pitches with two outs. That’s what prompted the pitching change.
There were some complaints by fans about not letting him finish the seventh, especially after Christian Foutch came in and gave up the home run, but Van Horn said he felt like McEntire was out of gas and that he didn’t fight him much about coming out of the game.
“I think that was on me,” McEntire said. “I struck out the first two guys. I kind of had a feeling that was going to be my last inning and I got a little riled up and was going to strike out the side and pitch outside of my abilities.”
McEntire was charged with three earned runs on two hits and three walks while notching a season-high eight strikeouts. That was enough to earn his sixth win, improving him to 6-2.
Analyzing Tygart’s Return, Future Role
Making his first appearance since March 1, when he suffered a UCL sprain against Illinois State, Brady Tygart received a standing ovation as he began his warmup pitches Friday.
Known as one of the game’s best closers last year, it was the right-hander’s first career start after 28 relief appearances. Of course, everyone knew going into it that he wouldn’t be out there long.
“Just wanted to see him go out and compete and kind of get his feet wet again,” Van Horn said. “Kind of give us a little bit of hope, honestly.”
Tygart ended up throwing 20 pitches in a scoreless inning of work, with just half of his pitches being strikes. He threw 12 fastballs that sat 93-95 mph and averaged 94 mph, while also mixing in several breaking balls.
His biggest issue was getting behind in the count, as he was down 2-0 against three of the four batters he faced. He managed to fight back each time and get them to ground out, though. The only time he threw a first-pitch strike, he followed it with four straight balls to walk Trevor Werner.
Results aside, Tygart was just glad to get back on the mound again.
“I was scared to death when it first happened because I’ve never felt anything like that in that part of my arm before,” Tygart said. “Our staff, our trainer Corey (Wood), everybody worked really hard to get me back, and I’m very appreciative of them. It was very rewarding to get back tonight.”
Of course, as soon as he was back in the dugout, speculation began about how the Razorbacks might use him moving forward.
For the time being, as he continues to work his way back from the injury, it sounds like Tygart will remain in the “opener” role, with his workload gradually increasing.
“Next week, maybe he’ll go two, maybe he’ll go three (innings),” Van Horn said. “Maybe he’ll go 35 pitches or something. We’ll see how it goes. Any time we have an opportunity to get him out there, we’re going to, but tonight we just did not want him coming in in relief, to get up and get down. He needed to know he was pitching — come in and get his 20 pitches and get out of there.”
Whether or not Tygart remains in the starting rotation after his pitch count is built up to a point where he could actually work deeper into games will be dictated by the development of some younger pitchers.
If guys like Gage Wood and Christian Foutch prove to be reliable in the back end of the game, Van Horn said it’d open the door to Tygart sticking as a starter — something he has said several times over the past two years that was in his future.
Unhappy with Umpires
After dealing with a wildly inconsistent strike zone from home plate umpire J.J. January in Game 1, neither team was particularly fond of the umpires again Friday.
In the top of the fourth particularly, Dave Van Horn came out of the dugout to protest a balk call on Will McEntire and didn’t seem satisfied with the explanation he got. A few minutes later, it was Jim Schlossnagle’s turn to argue.
It’s unclear what he was upset about, but he eventually returned to the dugout without incident.
“There is a lot riding on these games,” Schlossnagle said postgame. “Sometimes I wonder if umpires understand that. We all know what separates teams in this league from a regional to making the tournament to hosting a regional.
You are always just on the bubble of something. One pitch can change an at bat and on at bat can change the game. The games count. This ain’t summer ball.”
Up Next for Arkansas Baseball
The Razorbacks will go for the sweep in a rare regular-season game that starts in the morning, as first pitch is scheduled for 11 a.m. CT and will be televised on the SEC Network.
Much like the day before, neither team has officially announced a starting pitcher for the finale, but Jim Schlossnagle said the Aggies would “likely” start freshman left-hander Justin Lampkin (7.52 ERA, 32 1/3 IP).
The only clue Van Horn gave for Arkansas was the fact that it wouldn’t be freshman Ben Bybee. The only other option who’s pitched a lot on the weekends is junior right-hander Cody Adcock (5.59 ERA, 38 2/3 IP).
UPDATE: As expected, Arkansas has officially announced Adcock as the starting pitcher for Game 3. However, Texas A&M has decided to start left-hander Will Johnston, who has a 5.18 ERA and 1.33 WHIP with 38 strikeouts in 24 1/3 innings this season.
Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits
- With the win, Arkansas baseball improved to an incredible 27-3 at Baum-Walker Stadium this season. That is its best home record through 30 games since 2018.
- Freshman Mason Neville made his first career SEC start — and just fourth overall — Friday, but was lifted for a pinch hitter before his first at bat. It was a move Van Horn made simply because of matchups.
- Caleb Cali extended his hitting streak to 12 games with a seventh-inning single. It was part of a second straight 1-for-2, three-walk performance. During his streak, he is hitting .475 (19 for 40) and has raised his overall batting average by 110 points to .310.
- Kendall Diggs collected a couple of singles Friday night, extending his on-base streak to 34 games.
- He struck out in his only two official at bats, but shortstop John Bolton did successfully lay down two sacrifice bunts that led to runs. He now has four sac bunts this season, which is twice as many as the rest of the team combined.
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Arkansas vs Texas A&M Box Score (Game 2)
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