An impressive series-opening win by Arkansas baseball was quickly overshadowed by the disappointment of a loss in Friday’s nightcap in Oxford, Miss.
The Razorbacks cruised to an 11-2 win over Ole Miss in the first game at Swayze Field, but a coaching decision by Dave Van Horn came back to haunt them in a 7-4 loss to cap the doubleheader.
By splitting the two games, which was necessitated by rain that postponed Thursday’s opener, the two teams are on a collision course for a rubber match in Saturday’s finale.
It may have been overlooked by a casual observer, but Van Horn made a peculiar move in the first game by bringing in arguably his best reliever, Dylan Carter, despite Arkansas leading 9-0 in the seventh inning.
The right-hander inherited a two-on, no-out situation and escaped it with the shutout intact before allowing a two-out, two-run home run in the eighth inning. Austin Ledbetter closed out the win with a scoreless ninth inning, but the damage was done — Carter threw 33 pitches and was likely unavailable for the game that started an hour later.
The nine-run margin with nine outs to go against a team hitting .230 in SEC play would normally be a situation that calls for a young or struggling pitcher who wouldn’t be used in a high-leverage situation later in the series, but Van Horn defended his decision by hearkening back to the philosophy he’s used all year while managing a banged up pitching staff.
“One game at a time, man,” Van Horn said succinctly.
Whether he wants to admit it or not, it backfired in Game 2. When the Razorbacks decided to pull starter Hagen Smith in a 3-2 game with a runner on first and no outs in the sixth inning, they had to go to their next-best option: right-hander Cody Adcock.
While Adcock may have better raw stuff than Carter, he has been far less consistent. He has been great at times, such as in a start against Auburn and and a relief outing against Alabama last week, but has also allowed multiple earned runs in six of his 14 appearances, leading to a 5.84 ERA entering the weekend.
That’s a stark contrast to Carter, whose solid 3.91 ERA was drastically inflated by one disastrous outing against LSU. Take out that game and he had a 2.28 ERA in 23 2/3 innings across 10 appearances.
Sure enough, Adcock’s up-and-down season continued with a rough performance Friday night. His defense didn’t help him — more on that later — but he promptly gave up a single to Kemp Alderman, allowed the inherited runner to score on a wild pitch, walked Anthony Calarco and then gave up a three-run homer to Ethan Lege, which proved to be the difference.
Who knows how it would have played out if Carter was able to pitch in that situation — he gave up a home run to Alderman in Game 1 after all — but it was a head-scratching decision by a legendary coach.
To say that coaching decision was the sole reason the Razorbacks didn’t sweep the doubleheader would be foolish, though. They shot themselves in the foot at the plate and in the field, too.
It was tied 1-1 heading to the bottom of the fourth and Hagen Smith was in control of the game when Arkansas botched a pop up in shallow right-center.
Second baseman Peyton Stovall, center fielder Tavian Josenberger and right fielder Jace Bohrofen converged on the high fly by Kemp Alderman and Bohrofen appeared to be calling for it, but pulled his glove back at the last second to let it fall to the ground.
Alderman ended up on second with what was scored a double because no one touched it. Two batters later, Ethan Lege delivered a two-out RBI single that put Ole Miss up 2-1. Dave Van Horn was still frustrated by the play several hours later when he met with reporters via Zoom.
“That’s ridiculous,” Van Horn said. “That’s all I have to say about it.”
In the Rebels’ big sixth inning, Cody Adcock actually induced a pop up in foul territory on his first pitch. Catcher Parker Rowland and first baseman Brady Slavens converged on it with the latter eventually calling for it, but the ball popped out of his glove and fell to the ground. Given new life, Alderman singled and eventually scored on Lege’s home run.
At the very least, only four runs should have scored that inning, but getting a quick out may have settled Adcock in a little faster, as he did end the inning by retiring three straight.
Even with all those mistakes in the field, Arkansas could probably make a case that it still should have won. However, it stranded 11 runners on base by going just 3 for 19 (.158) with runners on, including 1 for 9 (.111) with runners in scoring position — a drastic drop-off from Game 1, when it went 5 for 16 (.313) with runners in scoring position.
The worst case of that happened in the second inning. The Razorbacks loaded the bases with no outs and got one run on an RBI single by Slavens, but Rowland flied out to shallow right and then John Bolton and Josenberger struck out to leave them loaded.
“Had a chance to really, really break it open in the second and didn’t take advantage of it,” Van Horn said. “We scored one run. I think that probably ended up costing us the ball game.”
Game 1: Arkansas 11, Ole Miss 2
In the first game, it was Arkansas who directly benefited from a mistake by Ole Miss.
A leadoff error by second baseman Peyton Chatagnier extended the second inning and Caleb Cali made the Rebels pay by launching a two-out, opposite field home run that put a pair of unearned runs on the board.
However, it wasn’t until the fifth that Arkansas blew things open. With his pitch count climbing, Ole Miss starter Jack Dougherty retired only one of the seven batters he faced in the inning.
After Peyton Stovall and Jace Bohrofen drove in runs with an RBI ground out and single, respectively, to double the Razorbacks’ lead, Brady Slavens doubled it again by hitting a grand slam into the right field bullpen.
“That was a big swing on an 0-2 count,” Dave Van Horn said. “Fastball kind of up and in, just short, quick to the ball and hit it out of the park. Just a really good swing.”
It was essentially over at that point, but Jared Wegner added an RBI single in the sixth and Arkansas was threatening to invoke the mercy rule by loading the bases with one out, but Kendall Diggs grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Ole Miss did get on the board with the aforementioned two-run blast by Kemp Alderman, but the Razorbacks got those runs back in the ninth. Diggs got a dose of redemption by hitting an RBI triple and then scoring on Slavens’ sacrifice fly.
That was plenty of run support for starter Hunter Hollan, who improved to 5-1 and lowered his ERA to 3.00 by throwing six scoreless innings in which he scattered three hits, three walks and two hit batters.
“I think the biggest thing was I executed big pitches when I needed to, like a 3-1 changeup, a 2-0 changeup that rolled a double play ball,” Hollan said. “Really just not letting them getting anything going. I kind of put myself in some trouble, but I made big pitches to get out of it.”
Game 2: Ole Miss 7, Arkansas 4
As mentioned above, Arkansas struck first with a run in the second inning, but left more out there by leaving the bases loaded. Ole Miss used the opportunity to respond with a run in the home half of the frame and the Razorbacks never led again.
It was briefly tied again in the fifth inning with Kendall Diggs hit a two-out RBI double, but he was stranded on third as the potential go-ahead run.
Even though he had allowed a couple of runs, Hagen Smith was pitching really well through five innings in his first SEC start of the season. He had given up only two real hits and was at 66 pitches when he hung an 0-1 pitch to Ethan Groff to open the sixth. Groff deposited it in the seats beyond the left field wall, giving Ole Miss a 3-2 lead.
Smith’s next pitch hit Calvin Harris in the back and, despite being at just 69 pitches, Van Horn made the call to the bullpen. That runner eventually scored, meaning he was charged with four earned runs on four hits and two walks while striking out seven in five innings.
“I though his outing, for Hagen, was average,” Dave Van Horn said. “That first inning looked pretty good, second inning just okay. Fought it a little bit, fought his command, didn’t have all of his pitches going. Had a little trouble throwing fastball for a strike when he needed to. Threw a couple of four-pitch walks to lead off innings and that was costly. Cost him a lot of pitches.”
The aforementioned implosion then unfolded in the sixth, which gave the Rebels a 7-2 lead.
Arkansas made things interesting in the ninth when Peyton Stovall hit a two-run home run that made it 7-4, but the potential tying run never made it to the batter’s box. However, it did force Ole Miss to bring in its closer, Mason Nichols, who had to throw 15 pitches to earn the save.
Veterans Get it Going Offensively
Entering the series, Brady Slavens was hitting just .167 (5 for 30) in SEC play and then things got off to an inauspicious start Friday when he fouled a pitch off the inner part of his right knee before striking out in his first at bat of the day.
Luckily for the Razorbacks, the super senior quickly turned things around and ended up going 5 for 8 with six RBIs in the doubleheader. In addition to his fifth-inning grand slam, he also had a sacrifice fly in Game 1. Slavens then notched a pair of infield singles in Game 2 and an excellent play by shortstop Jacob Gonzalez robbed him of a third.
“Lot of confidence there, battled a little bit,” Dave Van Horn said. “It was really good to see him swing the bat well and get some big hits for us.”
The home run was just the third of the year for Slavens, who now has 33 during his time with the Razorbacks, which is one shy of tying Jake Dugger for 10th on the UA career list.
Not only did the performance raise his batting average 28 points to .294, but it could be the kind of outing that leads to better offensive production during the second half of the season.
“It definitely helps,” Slavens said. “Sometimes you just kind of wait around for it to happen, and it can kickstart the rest of the season.”
Sophomore Peyton Stovall hadn’t been much better in SEC play, hitting just .176 (6 for 34) over the first three weekends, but he also had a big day at the plate.
He didn’t have a hit in his first three at bats, but his third trip at least resulted in an RBI ground out. That seemed to get him going, as Stovall walked his next time and then had a hit in four of his last six plate appearances — with the last one being a two-run home run.
“He’s been working hard trying to get it going again on the offensive side,” Van Horn said. “Defense has been incredible all year. It was good to see him get three hits in the second game. … Usually when your one- and two-hole hitters are hitting, you’re scoring a lot of runs. That was good to get him going a little bit.”
Freshman Unfazed on the Mound
As good as Hunter Hollan was in Game 1, the most encouraging outing on the mound for Arkansas baseball was probably in the final two innings of the night.
With a five-run deficit, Dave Van Horn turned it over to freshman Christian Foutch in the seventh inning and the right-hander was excellent, further solidifying himself as a reliable arm out of the bullpen.
He did finally give up a hit after throwing three hitless innings to start his career, but both of them were cheap hits.
Jacob Gonzalez led off the seventh with a blooper that fell between left fielder Jared Wegner and center fielder Tavian Josenberger, but Van Horn said it was hit off the end of the bat and the outfielders didn’t get a great read on it. Ethan Groff followed with a grounder up the middle for a sure double play, but the ball deflected off the second base bag for an infield single.
With two runners on, Foutch buckled down and retired the next three batters in order with a pair of fly outs and a ground out.
He issued a leadoff walk in the eighth inning and Ethan Lege then stole second and took third on a wild pitch, but Foutch again didn’t let the situation faze him. He struck out the next two batters and ended the inning with a pop up in the infield.
“He got through it,” Van Horn said. “He didn’t let it bother him, kept making a couple good pitches and getting some outs. They just didn’t square him up very good, hit some fly balls. That was good to see.”
Armed with a mid-90s fastball and splitter that Van Horn has described as “almost unhittable” and “nasty” in the past, Foutch could become a key reliever for a pitching staff plagued by injuries. He has yet to allow an earned run in five career innings.
Up Next for Arkansas Baseball
For the fifth straight year, the Arkansas vs Ole Miss series is coming down to a rubber match. The Rebels won the decisive Game 3 in 2018 and 2019, but the Razorbacks have won it in 2021 and 2022.
First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m. CT Saturday and the game will be televised on the SEC Network.
Redshirt junior right-hander Will McEntire (5.77 ERA, 34 1/3 IP) is expected to start for Arkansas, but he had battled the flu throughout the week. Dave Van Horn mentioned that he “looked a lot better” Friday and that he’d “probably be ready to go” for the finale.
Ole Miss is countering with right-hander JT Quinn (5.79 ERA, 28 IP). A big 6-foot-6 right-hander, he has a really high ERA, but is coming off a solid outing in which he worked into the sixth inning against Texas A&M.
“I think he is prepared and I think he is ready, especially after his performance last week,” Ole Miss baseball coach Mike Bianco said. “I think he knows he belongs. We are going to need it. They is a really good offense over there in the Arkansas dugout.”
Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits
- The Arkansas vs Ole Miss series is now tied 13-13 since 2017. In addition to the last four regular-season series being decided by a rubber match, the Razorbacks also took two of three in the 2019 Fayetteville Super Regional and the Rebels took two of three in the 2022 College World Series.
- With long balls by Caleb Cali and Brady Slavens in Game 1 and a ninth-inning blast by Peyton Stovall in Game 2, Arkansas has now hit at least one home run in 26 straight games and 28 of 30 games overall. It has 51 homers on the season.
- The Razorbacks had just two stolen bases in their first nine SEC games, but had three in Friday’s doubleheader. That matches their total from the previous 17 games combined. John Bolton, Jace Bohrofen and Brady Slavens notched the stolen bases.
- His sixth-inning single gave Jared Wegner his 44th RBI of the season, which leads the team. He’s followed by Kendall Diggs, who now has 35 after notching an RBI triple in Game 1 and RBI double in Game 2.
Arkansas vs Ole Miss Highlights (Game 1)
Arkansas vs Ole Miss Postgame Interviews
Arkansas vs Ole Miss Box Scores
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