Chris Curry has seen big first innings at Baum-Walker Stadium before, but Tuesday night was probably much less enjoyable for the former Arkansas baseball assistant.
The Little Rock coach could only watch as his team imploded from the jump, giving up nine runs in the first inning of an eventual 21-5 seven-inning loss to the Razorbacks.
When the dust settled, Arkansas sent 14 players to the plate and all nine starters had scored. Three different pitchers combined to throw 65 pitches for the Trojans and only 30 of them found the strike zone, leading to seven walks. There were only four hits and all four were singles.
“I thought the offense did a great job of not trying to do too much,” Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said. “They passed it to the next guy. If they threw a strike, take a swing. But if they were in a hitter’s count, they let pitches go by that they didn’t like. We got in a lot of hitter’s counts.”
It was reminiscent of — but not quite as bad as — what Arkansas did to St. Louis in a midweek game back in 2010, when the Razorbacks’ first 14 batters reached and they batted around twice in a 14-run first inning of a 32-8 blowout. Curry, now in his ninth season at Little Rock, was an assistant coach for Arkansas at the time.
The Trojans actually retired Tavian Josenberger to start the inning, getting him to fly out to left, but then the next 11 Razorbacks reached.
Jace Bohrofen actually started and capped the scoring in the first, hitting an RBI single in his first plate appearance and then notching a sacrifice fly his second time up. In between, Caleb Cali and Peyton Holt had two-run singles, Hudson Polk had an RBI single, and Hunter Grimes and Mason Neville drew bases-loaded walks.
At that point, Arkansas could have just coasted the rest of the way and won easily, but it kept piling it on and scored its most runs since blowing out another in-state school, Central Arkansas, 21-9 on April 5 last season.
Van Horn Plots to Trick Umpire
Considering the blowout nature of the game, the highlight of the night was when it became apparent that Arkansas pitcher Sean Fitzpatrick might have to hit.
Making his second career appearance, and first since Feb. 18, the freshman left-hander relieved Ben McLaughlin in the top of the sixth inning. He gave up a hit, but then retired the next three in order.
In the home half of the sixth, three Razorbacks reached with one out, so they were threatening to get back to the clean-up spot, which was relevant because Jace Bohrofen — the designated hitter — had been replaced an inning earlier.
Dave Van Horn gave McLaughlin, an infielder who recently became a two-way player by adding pitching duties, a chance to hit as the pitcher in the fifth inning, essentially subbing him in for Bohrofen. That meant Arkansas sacrificed its DH for the rest of the game.
As the sixth inning continued, Fitzpatrick had to find a helmet, batting gloves and a bat in case the Razorbacks actually got to that spot. When the batter before him went to the plate, though, Van Horn had McLaughlin stand in the on deck circle.
Mason Neville ended up looking at strike three for the third out, but had he reached, it would have tested home plate umpire Matthew Martinez’s knowledge of the rulebook. Arkansas’ veteran coach was hoping to slip it by him and get McLaughlin another at bat, but knew it would have to be either Fitzpatrick or a pinch hitter.
“We were just going to see how the umpire handled it,” Van Horn said. “When I put McLaughlin in, I said, ‘He’s going to be my DH.’ … So we wrote his name in there and he wrote it down, but I’m pretty sure the way the rule reads, once he comes out of the game, he’s gone. So we were going to see if we’d get by with it. If not, we were going to have to figure it out from there.”
Naturally, as a pitcher, Fitzpatrick preparing to hit caused quite the scene in the dugout. His teammates quickly lost interest in what was happening on the field and instead watched the lanky, wide-eyed freshman get ready for what could be his first — and only — career at bat.
Van Horn was all smiles about the situation afterward and joked off-camera that Fitzpatrick “was scared to death,” so he was probably thankful when Neville struck out to end the inning. His teammates, on the other hand, were rooting for him to get a chance to hit.
Jace Bohrofen experienced a similar situation in a midweek game against UT Arlington his freshman year at Oklahoma. The Sooners had already burned their DH and didn’t want to take star closer Jason Ruffcorn out of the game, so they sent him to the plate and he struck out on three pitches.
“We were kind of hoping he’d get to just to see if they’d let him go up there and hit or not or if we’d pinch hit for him,” Bohrofen said. “That was kind of crazy. … They just told (Ruffcorn) to take, but I kind of wanted to see Fitzy hit, as well, but we didn’t get that opportunity.”
Fitzpatrick missed out on becoming the latest Arkansas pitcher to hit in a game. McLaughlin was hit by a pitch in his plate appearance an inning earlier, but he is a true two-way player.
He was the first pitcher to get a plate appearance since Nate Wohlgemuth, who was also hit by a pitch in a midweek game against UAPB in 2021. Before him, Kole Ramage had an RBI single against Dayton in 2018 and Cannon Chadwick walked and came around to score the game-winning run against Alcorn State in 2017.
Rough Day for Little Rock
Unlike four years ago, when it lost its first ever regular-season game against an in-state team 17-7 to Little Rock, everything went Arkansas’ way Tuesday night — mostly with help from the Trojans.
The Razorbacks benefitted from 15 walks and three hit by pitches, with 11 of those 18 free passes coming around to score. Little Rock pitchers also combined for more wild pitches (6) than strikeouts (4) and less than half of their total pitches — 92 of 204 — found the strike zone.
Those control issues quickly erased a 2-0 lead, as they greatly contributed to the aforementioned disastrous first inning for the Trojans.
“That’s the frustrating part and that’s the challenge every time we play against a quality opponent,” Chris Curry said. “I mean, let’s not give them anything. They are very good for a reason, but they don’t need any help. That was the frustrating and disappointing thing — how much we gave them.”
Little Rock wasn’t officially charged with any errors in the game, but it did have a defensive blunder in the fourth inning when third baseman Nico Baumbach and pitcher Lukas Friers ran into each other while tracking down an infield pop up by Kendall Diggs.
It should have been the final out of the inning, but instead fell on the mound for an RBI single that ultimately cost the Trojans two runs, as the next batter drew a bases-loaded walk — the fourth bases-loaded free pass of the game.
Jared Wegner Injury Update
Perhaps the most important long-term takeaway from the game is the status of Jared Wegner. The Creighton transfer walked and came around to score in his first plate appearance, but Mason Neville pinch hit for him the second time he was due up in Arkansas’ big first inning.
It looked like it might just be a move to give a veteran a day off without outright benching him, but Dave Van Horn revealed afterward that he actually hurt his thumb sliding into third base — a bag he took with heads-up base running, as he took off when the throw went to the plate on Jace Bohrofen’s RBI single.
The severity of the injury is not yet known, but Van Horn said they’re “just trying to be careful with him.” Despite that caution, he wouldn’t rule out starting him in Game 2 of the midweek series.
“You never know,” Van Horn said. “The kid is tough.”
Losing Wegner for any significant amount of time would be a massive blow to Arkansas’ lineup because he leads the team in home runs (12), RBIs (44) and slugging percentage (.739) and is second in batting average (.351).
Adcock Struggles in Start
It has been a very up-and-down season for Cody Adcock. Expected to be one of Arkansas’ top arms this season, he has now made a team-high 15 appearances — two more than Dylan Carter and Gage Wood — but owns a 6.37 ERA.
That ERA is actually 29 points lower than what it was entering the game because he allowed only two runs in four innings, but that doesn’t mean he had a particularly good day.
The JUCO transfer allowed eight base runners — five hits and three walks — and benefited from a couple of double plays that kept his pitch count from ballooning higher than the 70 pitches it required him to get through the fourth.
“We just need to get him going,” Van Horn said. “It didn’t go very good. We just wanted to him out there to throw the ball over the plate, see if he could get them out. He struggled the first inning, maybe even the second inning. He got a little bit better. It looked like he settled down.”
Arkansas’ offensive explosion was the only reason he was able to work through some of those struggles.
“To me, he’s a little jittery, he’s a little wound up,” Van Horn said. “He’s got to calm down, and we’re trying to get him there. But thank goodness our offense kicked it into gear and gave us an opportunity to leave him out there for a while. Because if we wouldn’t have scored, he wouldn’t have stayed out there.”
Up Next for Arkansas Baseball
The Razorbacks will try to complete the midweek sweep of Little Rock on Wednesday. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m. CT and the game will be streamed online on SEC Network-Plus.
Freshman right-hander Ben Bybee (4.41 ERA, 16 1/3 IP) is getting the nod for Arkansas, while the Trojans are starting senior right-hander Erik McKnight (0.00 ERA, 2 IP).
Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits
- Tuesday was the sixth time Arkansas baseball has won a game via run rule, which ends the game when a team leads by 10 or more runs in the seventh inning or later. It has also lost a game via run rule (at LSU, 12-2).
- Jace Bohrofen and Harold Coll each hit two-run home runs in the third inning, extending the Razorbacks’ home run streak to 28 games. They’ve homered in 30 of 32 games overall.
- Bohrofen’s home run had a 102 mph exit velocity and 23.1 degree launch angle, barely clearing the fence in left field for a 338-foot homer. Coll’s was a no-doubter, as it traveled 416 feet to left-center thanks to a 105 mph exit velocity and 22.1 degree launch angle.
- Arkansas had a player walk twice in the same inning (Hunter Grimes, first inning) and another player strike out twice in the same inning (Mason Neville, fourth inning).
- The two strikeouts by Neville were part of a 1-for-4 day in which he notched his second career hit and struck out three times. He also collected his second career RBI the same way he got his first, by drawing a bases-loaded walk. It’s been a tough year for the heralded freshman, as Neville is now just 2 for 15 with 10 strikeouts.
- Play-by-play man Phil Elson and analyst Bubba Carpenter called the UA radio broadcast of the game from the Hog Pen.
Arkansas vs Little Rock Highlights (Game 1)
Arkansas vs Little Rock Postgame Interviews
Arkansas vs Little Rock Box Score (Game 1)
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