DVH Pushes All the Right Buttons With Scuffling Lineup + More from Game 2 vs Murray State

Dave Van Horn, Ross Lovich, Arkansas baseball, Arkansas vs Murray State
photo credit: Craven Whitlow / Baumology

FAYETTEVILLE — With the Arkansas offense sputtering out of the gates, Dave Van Horn has continued to tinker with his starting lineup.

On Saturday, the veteran coach seemed to push all of the right buttons and the Razorbacks cruised to an 11-1 run-rule win to clinch their series against Murray State at Baum-Walker Stadium.

Three of the four non-regulars Van Horn inserted into the lineup accounted for half of Arkansas’ RBIs and played a key role in blowing the game open after a slow start. That made him much happier than the day before.

“Yesterday we chased a lot of balls down and hit a lot of weak balls to the middle that was frustrating,” Van Horn said. “Today not so much, better job. Some different guys in the lineup and I thought they did a really nice job.”

Making his third career start, freshman Nolan Souza — whom Perfect Game ranked as the No. 70 overall recruit in the 2023 class — delivered the biggest hit of the game, according to Van Horn.

The Razorbacks had just taken a 1-0 lead thanks to a bases-loaded walk by Jayson Jones and Murray State ace Jacob Pennington was in the game out of the bullpen. The Racers had clearly pushed all of their chips to the middle of the table in an effort to win Game 2.

The right-hander was a strike away from getting an important strikeout, but Souza hit his 1-2 pitch back up the middle for a single that drove in two — the first RBIs of his young career.

“Just really good to see because he’s very physical for his age and he can really run and he’s got a lot of power, so he’s a guy that if you’re a scout, you’re saying, ‘Hey, he’s got a lot of tools,’” Van Horn said. “Sometimes guys with tools, they still have to learn how to play baseball and he’s doing a really good job. He’s slowed the game down a little bit in his head and the moment wasn’t too big for him.”

That swing made it 3-0 and the Razorbacks tacked on one more that inning, as a run scored when Ryder Helfrick grounded into a double play.

In the fifth inning, it was Ross Lovich’s turn to contribute. The Missouri transfer smoked a line drive that the first baseman got a glove on, but it was hit hard enough that it just deflected off the glove and rolled down the right field line for an RBI double.

Starting as the designated hitter, Lovich finished 2 for 4 with a hit by pitch and two doubles. The second of his doubles actually ended the game, as it was a line shot to the right-center gap that allowed Jared Sprague-Lott to score from first to invoke the run rule in the eighth inning.

“I’m just up there trying to have quality at-bats, not trying to do too much,” Lovich said. “Really just kind of have fun and enjoy this atmosphere. It’s a lot different from where I came from.  It’s pretty cool and it makes makes playing baseball really easy and a lot of fun.”

JUCO transfer Will Edmunson started in center field and hit leadoff. He also went 2 for 4, but both of his hits were singles. The second of those came in a full count and drove in a run, capping the scoring in Arkansas’ big fifth inning.

All three players have made a strong case for more playing time so far this year, as each of them is hitting over .300 in a small sample size. The trio of newcomers has actually combined to slash .368/.520/.500 in 50 plate appearances.

With second baseman Peyton Stovall still a couple weeks away from returning from his broken foot, Lovich and Souza are particularly important because they hit from the left side.

“It’s nice to have a left-handed hitter like Lovich swinging the bat, because we need that,” Van Horn said. “Then Souza as well, I think he’s playing with confidence. At least he looks like it when he’s in the box for the most part.”

Jayson Jones Turning Into Mr. RBI

It was initially believed that Will Edmunson and Ross Lovich were part of a three-man competition for the starting job in left field, but they might be working their way into the lineup in other spots because Jayson Jones has seemingly solidified himself there by stringing together consecutive productive days at the plate.

The sophomore homered twice against Grambling on Tuesday and then delivered the big two-run double on Friday, doing so with the huge exit velocity numbers he’s known for.

On Saturday, though, Jones drove in runs without hitting the ball particularly hard. He showed patience with the aforementioned bases-loaded walk that broke the scoreless tie in the fourth and then, with the bases juiced again, he blooped a single into center for another RBI in the fifth.

This is the third straight game in which Jones has notched multiple RBIs, a stretch in which he’s gone 4 for 11 (.364) with eight RBIs. He had been just 2 for 15 (.133) with two RBIs prior to that.

Through 10 games, Jones has a team-high 12 RBIs — three more than McLaughlin, who’s in second.

“That’s what we need him to do, especially since we’re hitting him down there 7 or 8 in the order,” Van Horn said. “You kind of need some guys to pick up some RBIs down that way.”

Tygart Joins the Strikeout Fun

It’s been somewhat overshadowed by the dominance of Hagen Smith, but right-hander Brady Tygart has been just as — if not more — effective through three starts this season.

Against Murray State, the junior from Hernando, Miss., retired the first 11 batters he faced and eventually allowed only one run on three hits and one walk while striking out 10.

“I think he was just pounding the outer half to the right handers with that fastball and he got ahead of them,” Van Horn said. “His breaking ball today was the best it’s been all year. So I would just say the location of the fastball and then the breaking ball, man, it was really nasty.”

The 10 strikeouts were perhaps the most impressive part of Tygart’s stat line, as he had surprisingly pitched to contact more in his first two starts despite having a reputation as a strikeout pitcher.

It was evident early on that he was back to striking people out Saturday because he opened the game with three straight. In fact, he notched seven strikeouts his first time through the order.

“The difference is just precision with how I’m executing my pitches,” Tygart said. “I felt like today I could put it really wherever I wanted to so it was easier for me to change planes and change sides of the plate. (It was) harder to hit.”

The most trouble Tygart experienced came in the fifth inning. He gave up a leadoff home run to Carson Garner, but bounced back with back-to-back strikeouts. That third out was a little bit tougher to get, though. Ethan Krizen reached on a two-out single and then Logan Bland drew a walk, bringing up the top of the order.

However, they were stranded on first and second when Drew Vogel grounded out to short. That came on his 76th — and final — pitch of the game. As he has with all three of his starters, Van Horn pulled him earlier than he probably had to.

“It’s that time of the year that if we can save these guys an inning here or there, that’ll help us later, and that’s kind of what we did,” Van Horn said. “We could have sent him back out. Pitch count wasn’t way up there. He could have at least got us another couple outs, maybe three, but we just felt like we’re going to need that down the road.”

Although fans may get annoyed with the quick hook, the pitchers seem to be okay with it because not only do they see the big picture aspect of it, but they seem to trust the guys coming in behind them.

“I think I would be fighting the coaches if I didn’t have confidence in our bullpen,” Tygart said. “But those guys are so good. I really don’t have a problem handing to ball off to them. I know they’ll finish it.”

Efficient Work From the Bullpen

Arkansas’ bullpen needed only 26 total pitches to get through the remaining three innings, which is an average of only 8.7 per inning.

Right-handers Will McEntire and Cooper Dossett faced the minimum over that stretch, with the former throwing the first two innings and the latter closing it out.

“Really good job of just coming in and filling up the zone with a lead,” Van Horn said. “That’s what we ask our guys to do. We’ve been getting our strikeouts and we haven’t been walking that many and that’s a really good combination if you can field.”

The sixth inning featured vintage McEntire, as he sandwiched a first-pitch fly out and two-pitch line out around a three-pitch strikeout. That gave him a six-pitch frame.

Making that inning even more impressive is the fact that he was warming up during the entire bottom half of the fifth inning, which took a while because the Razorbacks scored five runs and forced Murray State to make a couple of pitching changes.

“You always wonder how that’s going to go, when you get hot and it takes a long time for you to get in, but I thought he did a great job,” Van Horn said.

Even when the Racers’ leadoff man reached in the seventh because of a dropped pop up, the Bryant product wasn’t fazed. He got the next hitter to ground into a double play, erasing the error, and then struck out Dan Tauken.

Having thrown just 16 pitches and with a 9-1 lead, Van Horn got McEntire out to preserve him for Sunday’s game, if needed. He turned to Dossett in the eighth.

It was the second appearance of the season for the Springdale Har-Ber graduate. He didn’t strike out the side like he did against Grambling, but he did throw another perfect inning with strikeouts sandwiched around a ground out.

Arkansas’ bullpen has now combined for six scoreless innings in which it has allowed only one hit and one walk while striking out 12 against Murray State.

Starters Continue to Dominate

Brady Tygart’s gem is just the latest for Arkansas starting pitchers.

Over the last seven games, the Razorbacks’ starters have combined to throw 34 innings in which they’ve allowed only two runs on 13 hits and seven walks while striking out 60. Incredibly, both of those runs came on solo home runs.

That means Tygart, Hagen Smith, Mason Molina and Colin Fisher actually have a lower ERA (0.26) than WHIP (0.59) in those starts, all while racking up 15.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Tygart said. “We’ve had really good pitching staffs over the past two years that I’ve been here and this is a whole other animal. We just have guy after guy either at 95 (mph) who locates everything or has four-pitch mixes.”

Up Next for Arkansas Baseball

The Razorbacks will go for the sweep Sunday afternoon, hosting the series finale against Murray State at 1 p.m. CT. Like the first two games of the series, it’ll be streamed online on SEC Network-Plus.

Left-hander Mason Molina (1-0, 2.08 ERA) will make his third start in an Arkansas baseball uniform, while the Racers will counter with right-hander Ryan Fender (0-0, 3.52 ERA).

Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits

  • Kendall Diggs hit his first home run of the season Friday afternoon, smacking a 340-foot leadoff blast off the Hunt Center in the fifth inning. It had a 104 mph exit velocity and 29.2 degree launch angle.
  • As a team, the Razorbacks now have a 2.39 ERA and 0.90 WHIP with 147 strikeouts to only 28 walks in 90 1/3 innings. That’s an average of 14.6 strikeouts per nine innings and a 5.25 strikeout-to-walk ratio. They’re also holding opponents to a .169/.259/.239 slash line.
  • In the Murray State series alone, Arkansas pitchers have struck out 34 of the 62 total batters they’ve faced through two games. That’s 54.8%.

Arkansas vs Murray State Highlights (Game 2)

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Arkansas Baseball Postgame Interviews

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Arkansas vs Murray State Box Score (Game 2)


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