FAYETTEVILLE — Gage Wood was just a toddler when Darren McFadden was running wild for Arkansas, but Will McEntire is old enough to recognize the coincidence that unfolded Saturday night.
With a smile, he drew the connection between his teammate’s name and one of the All-American running back’s most famous moments after the freshman closed out the Razorbacks’ 6-3 series-clinching win over Tennessee — all while McFadden looked on from box seats behind home plate.
“I just thought it was funny because his thing’s like, ‘Bring the wood,’ and we’ve got Gage Wood on the mound,” McEntire said. “He brought it tonight.”
Wood certainly brought it against the Volunteers, notching his third save in as many appearances while recording a career-high six strikeouts. They did scratch out a run with two outs in the ninth thanks to three wild pitches, but that was it.
Over his last three outings, which have been series-clinch saves against Alabama, Ole Miss and Tennessee, Wood has allowed only two runs on four hits and three walks while striking out 11 in 7 1/3 innings. The last two of those saves were of the three-inning variety and all three were one-run games at some point while he was on the mound.
“I think he just mentally turned the corner, because we saw it in the fall,” Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said. “We thought this guy was going to help us as a freshman. He just seemed a little nervous the first couple, three times out, which is probably normal.”
All three of Wood’s primary pitches — fastball, curveball and, against right-handed hitters, slider — were working and he even “flashed the splitter” he’s been working on against Tennessee’s top hitter, Blake Burke.
He worked around a one-out single in the seventh, stranding the tying run on third by striking out Dylan Dreiling, and then had a lengthy layoff because his offense was giving him some insurance runs.
“I just kind of stayed on the bench, put a jacket on, stayed warm,” Wood said. “Then once they started changing pitchers, I went back into the tunnel and threw a plyo ball against the wall a few times just to keep my arm moving.”
It must have worked because he responded with a perfect 11-pitch inning in which he struck out Christian Moore and Burke before inducing a ground ball by Hunter Ensley.
Tennessee made things somewhat interesting in the ninth by drawing a leadoff walk that came around to score on the aforementioned wild pitches and a two-out walk that brought up the top of the lineup again. However, on his 60th pitch of the day, Wood got Jared Dickey to fly out to left to end the game.
This outing — and the two before it — have solidified the Batesville native’s spot in the back of the bullpen. Until Brady Tygart (UCL sprain) returns, which could happen by the end of this month, he and Hagen Smith can serve as closers for the Razorbacks.
“I love coming out of the pen (and) getting that feeling in your heart that it’s beating fast and adrenaline is running through your veins and the crowd is on their feet,” Wood said. “I love that kind of situation now. At first it wasn’t my best thing. I had to really adapt to it. But now that I feel like I’ve gotten my feet wet and been in so many situations, I like it more than starting almost.”
Will McEntire’s Outing
It didn’t exactly start out very pretty, but Will McEntire turned in another solid start for the Razorbacks, as he gave up just two runs — both earned on solo home runs — on six hits and three walks in six innings.
Just as he did the day before, Jared Dickey hit a home run in the first at bat of the game and Tennessee threatened for even more. McEntire then issued a walk and allowed a single sandwiched around a fielder’s choice ground out. Making matters worse, an error put those runners on second and third.
The redshirt junior got out of it with no further damage, though, with back-to-back ground outs — the first of which was a wild 5-2-5-4-3 fielder’s choice that involved all three base runners finding themselves in a pickle at some point.
“It was beautiful,” Van Horn said sarcastically. “I kind of joked about it, maybe we need to work on it more. Hey, they handled the ball, but I just wish our catcher would have just run the first runner all the way back to third, and maybe we could have tagged both of them.”
It wasn’t until the third inning that McEntire was in trouble again, putting the first two batters on base and prompting some movement in the bullpen. Luckily for the Razorbacks, John Bolton pulled off an unassisted double play to help move things along.
McEntire then needed only 23 pitches to get through his next two innings and got through the sixth with allowing only one more run, with Blake Burke adding a solo home run to start the inning.
“Those first two innings, I didn’t really have my best stuff,” McEntire said. “As the game went on, I started finding it more. You’ve just got to battle through those innings when you don’t have it. Once you find it, it gets a lot easier.”
His outing actually ended with a strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out situation, as Zane Denton went down swinging and catcher Parker Rowland made a perfect throw to catch Kavares Tears trying to swipe second.
“Any time you get a double play, whether it was a regular double play or something like that, it’s a huge momentum shift,” McEntire said. “You get the momentum on your side and take that to the dugout, and the offense does its thing.”
While the first at bat of the day for Tennessee proved to be fool’s gold, Tavian Josenberger set the tone for Arkansas with a tremendous battle against Chase Dollander to get things started in the home half of the first.
The Razorbacks’ leadoff man fouled off six pitches in an 11-pitch at bat that he eventually won by drawing a walk. It was exactly what Dave Van Horn said he had hoped his players would do against the projected top-10 pick.
“He’s got electric stuff, but we got his pitch count up and that was kind of one of our goals,” Van Horn said. “It started off with the very first hitter of the game. I think Josenberger saw maybe 11 or 12 pitches, something like that. Fouled off some 96 mph fastballs, maybe a little more. Just really got us off to a good start there.”
Two batters later, Jace Bohrofen crushed a 3-1 pitch to right-center that erased the deficit and gave Arkansas a 2-1 lead. The ball was smoked 105 mph off the bat and traveled an estimated 447 feet.
It’s the fourth straight game in which he’s homered, something he also accomplished earlier this season, and he’s now slashing .413/.541/.771 with 10 home runs and 32 RBIs.
“(Bohrofen is) arguably the best left-handed hitter (in the SEC), or one of them as I don’t know how you lined them up and no disrespect to anybody, but that guy is pretty good,” Tennessee baseball coach Tony Vitello said. “So it was a clash of titans in the first inning that didn’t go his way, but the rest of the time, he was fantastic.”
Even though the next two Razorbacks struck out, they not only had the lead, but force the right-hander to throw 27 pitches. That was the start of 11 consecutive Razorbacks retired by Dollander, who despite finding his grove on the mound, saw his pitch count continue to rise.
He doesn’t throw quite as hard as LSU’s Paul Skenes, but his fastball sat in the upper-90s and he maintained that velocity well into outing.
“Our coaching staff did a great job of preparing us for what we were going to see today,” Bohrofen said. “Seeing Skenes two or three weeks ago, it definitely prepared us to hit a high fastball like that. But he did a really good job tonight.”
Dollander should have retired 12 straight, but Caleb Cali’s 106 mph line drive to left was dropped by Jared Dickey to start the fifth. He ended up on second and scored when Ben McLaughlin hit the very next pitch up the middle for an RBI single.
“It was big because we hadn’t done much,” Van Horn said. “We had some quick innings, and we needed to get his pitch count up, but more than anything, we needed to score.”
McLaughlin’s hit was on the first pitch, but the next two Razorbacks saw a combined 15 pitches. Parker Rowland struck out before Bolton drew a walk. The latter of those came on Dollander’s 93rd pitch and was the end of the day for him.
Despite his lofty accolades, Arkansas chased him after just 4 1/3 innings. It managed two hits and two walks while striking out eight times.
Insurance Runs for Arkansas
It was still just a one-run game at the seventh-inning stretch, but Arkansas broke through with some insurance runs in the bottom of the inning — and it started with an unlikely source.
Shortstop John Bolton is the worst hitter in Arkansas’ lineup, with his overall batting average dropping to .180 after going 0 for 2 Saturday, but he was hit by a pitch to lead off the seventh. He then stole second and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Tavian Josenberger and another hit by pitch allowed Peyton Stovall to reach, putting runners on the corners.
Tennessee then tried several pickoffs in a row at first, forcing Stovall to dive back into the bag after getting hit in the knee. Following a mound visit by their pitching coach, the Volunteers tried one more pickoff at first and then did a trick play.
It backfired on them because Camden Sewell’s throw to third after spinning around got by the third baseman and Bolton was able to race home on the error.
“That was all a setup to try to run that play to pick at third, where the pitcher steps off the rubber, arm-fakes to first and then spins and throws,” Van Horn said. “It’s a really hard play. Now if he makes a good throw, he’s probably out. It’s risky. Sometimes you do that when you’re behind a run, you’re trying to keep it there in the worst way.”
Kendall Diggs and Caleb Cali ended up tacking on RBI singles before the inning was over, giving the Razorbacks a four-run lead entering the final two innings.
The Adventures of Kendall Diggs
An injury to Jared Wegner has forced Dave Van Horn to shuffle things around. Jace Bohrofen flipped from right to left field and Kendall Diggs moved from designated hitter to right field.
It’s been a bit of an adventure for Diggs, to say the least. A converted infielder who’s in the lineup for his bat, he is still learning the position — so, as the old adage says, the ball has found him.
Tennessee has led off each of the first two games of the series with a home run that just got over the wall in right and on Saturday, there was a line drive hit his direction that looked like it could be caught, but he let it bounce in for a single. Making matters worse, he then bobbled the ball to allow the runners to move up an extra base. There was also a pop up in foul territory that he nearly tracked down for a sliding grab, but the ball popped out of his glove.
However, it’s worth mentioning that the sophomore also made a couple of really nice defensive plays that potentially saved the Razorbacks from further damage by Tennessee’s potent lineup.
After Bohrofen and John Bolton let a shallow pop up fall in left for a cheap two-out double in the fifth, the Volunteers had the heart of their order coming up. Christian Moore followed with a fly ball into the right field corner that looked like it was going out of play, but Diggs ran over and caught it as he crashed into the wall to end the inning.
“The play down the right field line, that was a great play to not give their hitter another pitch,” Van Horn said. “The ball kind of started in the stands and then came back and he actually caught it maybe half a row in.”
The very next inning, pinch hitter Kavares Tears smoked a line drive to right that went off the wall. It looked like a double, but Diggs played it perfectly, immediately fielding it and firing it back in, limiting Tears to a single. It was a huge play because the inning ended on a strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out with the next batter at the plate — which wouldn’t have been possible if the runner was already on second.
“It’s just the game of baseball — you make an error or do something, the ball is going to find you back,” Bohrofen said. “Kendall is a tough kid and he’s going to be really good. He’s done a great job overcoming adversity like that, making that great play on the line and making a really good read off the wall there because that’s a double every single time, and Kendall played it perfect.”
Jared Wegner Injury Update
The reason Kendall Diggs has been forced to play right field is because of the injury Jared Wegner suffered during the midweek series against Little Rock.
Despite optimism that he might even be able to return to action this weekend, the Razorbacks’ starting left fielder is now expected to miss 3-4 weeks with a hairline fracture in his left thumb.
“I think what we’re probably going to do is we’re having a hand doctor look at it again,” Van Horn said. “I don’t know if we’re going to play him for a while. I think we’re going to let that thing heal.”
Wegner has been one of Arkansas’ biggest offensive threats this season, slashing .351/.486/.739 with a team-high 12 home runs and 44 RBIs.
Up Next for Arkansas Baseball
The Razorbacks have already clinched the series, but Dave Van Horn isn’t satisfied yet. He would like them to go ahead and finish off the sweep when they host Tennessee at 2 p.m. CT Sunday. The game will be streamed on SEC Network-Plus.
“It feels good, but it’s like I told the team, let’s not just be all happy about this,” Van Horn said. “I didn’t even mention that we had won the series because it is what it is and they know what we have, but it’s about we have another game tomorrow, and we need to do everything we can to try to win that thing.”
The Volunteers have by far the best pitching situation heading into Game 3.
Sophomore right-hander Drew Beam (2.52 ERA, 39 1/3 IP) will start and Chase Burns (6.10 ERA, 41 1/3 IP), who had been a weekend starter, is also available.
It’s not yet known who will start for Arkansas, which has used only four total pitchers through the first two games of the series.
“We’ve got some guys left who we’re going to pitch,” Van Horn said. “We’ve got some options, but at least we’ve got some guys with some fresh arms and we’re going to try to piece it together tomorrow.”
Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits
- For the second straight night, Arkansas baseball set a season high in attendance. Game 2 had an announced crowd of 11,076, which just edged out Friday’s crowd of 11,043. (That latter number was originally 10,562, but it has since been adjusted.)
- The Razorbacks haven’t lost an Arkansas vs Tennessee series since 2005. It’s been even longer since the last time the Volunteers took at least two of three in Fayetteville, last doing so in 1996 — just before Arkansas moved into Baum-Walker Stadium. That Tennessee team was led by future Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey.
- Arkansas has now won nine of its last 10 games against Tennessee, including eight of nine since former assistant Tony Vitello took over the program.
- Jace Bohrofen’s first-inning long ball — which had a 105 mph launch angle, 30.1 degree launch angle and traveled 447 feet — extended Arkansas’ streak to 31 consecutive games with a home run. The Razorbacks have also homered in 33 of 35 games overall.
- This is the second time this season that Bohrofen has homered in four straight games. That used to be a rare feat, as it didn’t happen at all between 2009-20, but it has now been done five times in three seasons. Matt Goodheart did it twice in 2021 and Cayden Wallace did it last year.
- An RBI single in the seventh inning extended Kendall Diggs’ on-base streak to 26 consecutive games.
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