FAYETTEVILLE — Dave Van Horn picked up his 800th win as the Arkansas baseball coach in dramatic fashion. Sort of.
Kendall Diggs hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh to invoke the mercy rule and give the Razorbacks a 13-2 win over Eastern Illinois on Friday.
The moment was a bit different than his three-run walk-off home run that beat Ole Miss last year, but it did cap Arkansas’ second six-run inning of the day and improve it to 4-1 on the season.
“In the at-bats earlier in the game, I was struggling to say back a little, so I was just telling myself to drive something through the middle or the other way,” Diggs said. “He left a fastball over the plate and I put a good swing on it.”
It was the first homer of the year for the Razorbacks at Baum-Walker Stadium, as their first six came at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, during the College Baseball Showdown. They failed to hit one in the midweek win over Grambling.
For Diggs to say he just put a good swing on it is probably downplaying just how well he hit the 1-0 pitch from Eastern Illinois right-hander Tarron Lawson. It left the bat with a 28-degree launch angle and 101 mph exit velocity, resulting in a towering 399-foot blast that got just over the wall in left-center.
“The ball hadn’t been traveling to left field today at all,” Van Horn said. “It didn’t in batting practice. The wind died down obviously, but he hit it a long way. That’s one of the deepest parts of the park and he hit it opposite field. He really stayed on the ball. He got his lower half involved and the ball floated out of the park.”
As for Van Horn reaching yet another milestone, he handled it about like he has when reaching other notable marks throughout his tenure with the Razorbacks — by shifting the credit elsewhere.
“I mean, I’ve had a lot of good players,” Van Horn said. “Hopefully, we can talk about it again in another 100. But yeah, that’s awesome.”
Small Ball Sparks Arkansas Baseball
The home run by Diggs is what most fans will remember, but the Razorbacks actually started the rout with some good old-fashioned small ball.
Eastern Illinois starter Blake Malatestinic cruised through the first two innings on only 24 pitches, but found himself in a bases-loaded jam just three pitches into the third.
The right-hander plunked Hudson Polk with the first pitch of the inning and then John Bolton and Tavian Josenberger perfectly executed back-to-back bunts.
“The pitcher, right-hander, 5-11, pretty quick out there, almost got to it, but he tried to rush and it got under his glove,” Van Horn said about the first of those bunts, by Bolton. “The way that works is if you get it by him, you’re going to get a hit. If you don’t, you’re probably going to get a sac.
“And then Tavian laid down a beautiful bunt for a hit. Kind of the same there. You get a sac or a base hit, and he couldn’t have hardly rolled it any better than where he put it.”
It was downhill from there for the Panthers. Malatestinic walked Diggs to bring in the first run and then Jared Wegner drove in two with a bloop single and Brady Slavens poked a single the other way for an RBI.
The fifth run scored on Ben McLaughlin’s double play and Peyton Holt capped it with the first of his two two-out RBI singles. That double play ball, though, kept things from getting too far out of hand.
“It could have been a 7- or 8-run inning with maybe just one more big hit,” Van Horn said. “We ended up hitting into a double play, probably kept them in the game a little bit there.”
EIU Makes Hagen Smith Work
Just a week after cruising to a five-inning gem against Texas, Hagen Smith found himself in a much different game Friday night.
Eastern Illinois really made him work, as eight of the 20 batters he faced managed to get into full counts. Those at bats were extended by a combined eight two-strike fouls. Even in his perfect second inning, Smith threw 17 pitches.
However, he never caved and gave the Razorbacks 4 1/3 scoreless innings. He’s yet to give up a run in 9 1/3 innings across two starts.
“I’m glad I battled through,” Smith said. “It could have been a lot worse than it was. I thought the defense played pretty good behind me and the runs scored a lot so it was pretty easy to pitch like that even though I struggled a little bit.”
Smith had to work around a pair of base runners in the first inning and also put guys on in the third and fourth innings, but he really wasn’t in trouble until the fifth.
It looked like he might get through the inning when he got Robby Taul to fly out and then struck out Lucas DiLuca, but both of them worked the count full, further driving up his pitch count. Lincoln Riley followed with a double and then he walked Ryan Ignoffo in yet another full count, marking the end of his night.
Smith was at 97 pitches. He threw only 68 the previous week and got one more out. Because he was still on a pitch count, Smith was credited with the win — only after Van Horn disagreed with the official scorer’s original decision to give it to Cody Adcock, who recorded the final out of the fifth.
“His stuff was good,” Van Horn said. “His command wasn’t as good as like last week, because last week everything was working, as far as throwing strikes and being around the zone. Today, it’s a lot different elements and first home game, probably hyped up a little bit. I just didn’t think that he commanded the ball like he can and will. But his stuff was really good.”
Eastern Illinois Coach Unhappy with Fans
One reason Eastern Illinois head coach Jason Anderson continually brings his team to Fayetteville for three-game series is because he has a healthy respect for Dave Van Horn and the Arkansas baseball fans.
It’s unclear if his opinion has changed after what apparently unfolded Friday night.
After making a pitching change in the bottom of the seventh inning, Anderson spoke with the umpires about his concern over multiple baseballs being thrown into center field from the Hog Pen. Eventually an announcement was made over the PA system asking for fans not to throw things onto the field.
“I think it had to do with balls rolling around the center fielder. I think he told the coaches they were getting the ball thrown at him. I don’t know. I never saw the ball thrown at him. I just saw the ball out there. I saw one launched back into the crowd and then two into the lake.”
Anderson also had a lengthy conversation with the umpires moments after the game ended.
Injury Updates on Stovall, Coll
The Arkansas baseball team was without a pair of middle infielders Friday afternoon, as starting second baseman Peyton Stovall and backup shortstop Harold Coll were out with injuries.
Although he didn’t leave the game, Stovall hurt his hand sliding into second in the third inning of Tuesday’s win over Grambling.
“It got better for a couple of days in a row, then from yesterday to this morning just felt like it stayed he same and was a little sore,” Van Horn said. “Had it X-rayed already and it was negative. Had it MRI’d and I’m waiting to find out in just a minute. We think he’s going to be good, but we just didn’t want to put him out there today.”
In Stovall’s place, newcomer Peyton Holt made his first career start with Arkansas baseball. The Greenwood native is a transfer from Crowder C.C. and made the most of the opportunity.
After grounding into an inning-ending double play with runners on the corners in the second, he delivered with two-out RBI singles his next two times up. Holt is now 3 for 6 with three RBIs in three appearances with the Razorbacks.
“I thought he did a great job,” Van Horn said. “Sometimes when you don’t really notice a guy as far as not doing anything wrong, he’s had a pretty good day. Got a couple of big hits.
“That was good to see. He’s a winner. He’s won in high school football. Did a great job over at Crowder. He likes to play. Guys like him a lot. He’s a tough kid and I’m glad he can help contribute.”
Coll, another JUCO transfer, is dealing with back tightness and Van Horn was uncertain about anything beyond that. Despite widely being projected as the starting shortstop in the fall, he has appeared in only two games after being beaten out by Austin Peay transfer John Bolton.
It’s also worth noting that right-hander Jaxon Wiggins had his Tommy John surgery this week.
Up Next for Arkansas Baseball
The Razorbacks will try to clinch the series on Saturday, with first pitch scheduled for noon CT. The game will be streamed on SEC Network-Plus.
Redshirt junior right-hander Will McEntire will get the nod for Arkansas and try to get back on track after a rough start to the season, while Eastern Illinois will counter with sophomore right-hander Tyler Conklin.
“We’ve got to show him a little confidence there,” Van Horn said about sticking with McEntire. “No. 1, I think he deserves another shot. I feel like Coach Hobbs and Mac figured out a couple things on his mechanics. I mean, the issue has been he’s been throwing the ball belt-high, and he can’t pitch there. He’s got to pitch around the knees with movement. And so we’ll see.”
Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits
- Another change in Arkansas’ lineup involved Brady Slavens moving over to third base. Although he played that position in junior college, it was his first start at third with the Razorbacks and he made a couple of nice plays. “I thought he did a good job,” Van Horn said. “That was a tough play. It was tough in between hop pick and he moved his feet and got the short hop and made a nice throw over there. I think once he did that, he was all good.”
- By moving Slavens to third, the Razorbacks were able to give JUCO transfer Ben McLaughlin his first career start. He played at first and went 0 for 3 before being pinch hit for by Caleb Cali in the seventh.
- Speaking of Cali, it was his first appearance since being benched in the second game of the season amidst an 0-for-8 start in which he struck out seven times and grounded into a double play. He actually reached base for the first time by drawing a walk and came around to score on a wild pitch, albeit with a close play at the plate. “He should have had a little better jump,” Van Horn said. “It wouldn’t have been that close. But I’ll talk to him about that later.”
- With two more on Friday, Jared Wegner now has a team-high 12 RBIs through five games. Diggs is second on the team with seven and no one else has more than four.
- Jace Bohrofen was officially just 1 for 1, but reached base in all four of his plate appearances by drawing a pair of walks and getting hit by a pitch. He leads the team with a .579 on-base percentage and is second with a .417 batting average. “He’s seeing the ball good, confident,” Van Horn said. “It’s good to see, you know. Our last game on that Sunday out there he had an outstanding game as well. So he’s swinging it really well.”
- Eastern Illinois star Ryan Ignoffo has enjoyed playing at Baum-Walker Stadium throughout his career. The super senior went 2 for 2 with a walk and hit by pitch Friday, improving him to 8 for 14 against the Razorbacks if you include his 2019 and 2020 games in Fayetteville.
Arkansas vs Eastern Illinois Postgame Interview
Arkansas vs Eastern Illinois Box Score
More coverage of Arkansas baseball from BoAS…