FAYETTEVILLE — After sustaining injury after injury throughout the regular season, still winning the SEC and earning the No. 3 overall season, Arkansas baseball finally ran out of magic Monday afternoon.
Facing elimination, the Razorbacks led through five innings, but TCU stormed back and pulled away for a convincing 12-4 win at Baum-Walker Stadium to clinch the Fayetteville Regional.
For the Horned Frogs, it capped a dominant 3-0 showing in which they outscored their opponents by a combined 44-13 and extended their winning streak to nine games. They’ve also won 16 of their last 17 games and are considered one of the hottest teams in the country.
“I just think they’re really good at every position and they have a lot of pitching depth,” Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said. “They’re playing really well right now and they’re playing with a lot of confidence. If they play like they did this weekend, they’re going to be hard to stop by anybody in the country. Maybe Wake Forest.”
It was a disappointing finish to what was otherwise a tremendous season for Arkansas baseball, which won 43 games overall and went 20-10 in SEC play. That latter mark was good enough to beat LSU for the SEC West title and tie Florida for the overall regular-season title.
The Razorbacks did all of that despite seeing seven position players and four pitchers miss time — some a significant amount of time — with various injuries.
“We’ve only got three of those (SEC titles) in my 21 years,” Van Horn said. “Those trophies are hard to get, so I’m super proud of the guys. With what we had in that locker room that’s not on the (injured list) all year, I think that we did all we could do, honestly.”
When asked how this year’s team would be remembered, Van Horn not only pointed out that achievement, but also the fact that Arkansas won the title despite having only one first-team All-SEC selection. For comparison’s sake, co-champion Florida had five.
Meanwhile, injuries to key players like Peyton Stovall, Jared Wegner and Tavian Josenberger forced backups like Peyton Holt and Ben McLaughlin into action — and the Razorbacks never skipped a beat.
“I don’t like to use the term ‘overachievers’ or any of that because I think they’re good players, but this is a team — and I’ve said it many times — they show up and they think they’re going to win,” Van Horn said. “They showed up and played hard for us all the time.”
Even before the season, Van Horn talked about how close this team was despite having so many newcomers. About two-thirds of the team came from JUCO, high school or the transfer portal, but hit it off immediately.
That’s why team captain Jace Bohrofen, who will likely hear his name called in this summer’s MLB Draft, had to visibly hold back his emotions when talking to reporters afterward.
“This is by far my favorite baseball season of my entire life I’ve ever played,” Bohrofen said. “This group of guys was special, coming from all over the place. You’ve got guys who really have never won in their college career, and them just coming here and getting to win is super special. It’s hard not to get emotional about it because I love every one of them. Them showing up and coming to work every day, really trying to work to that one common goal, it was special.”
Not Enough Offense
With a limited pitching staff, Dave Van Horn admitted to thinking his team needed to score somewhere around 8-10 runs to have a chance to beat TCU.
Things got off to a great start in that regard, as Tavian Josenberger was hit by a pitch to start the game and then Jace Bohrofen and Jared Wegner walked to load the bases with no outs.
TCU starter Cam Brown prevented the floodgates from opening, though, as Ben McLaughlin drove in one run with a sacrifice fly, but Kendall Diggs popped out and Caleb Cali struck out. Scoring just one run in a bases-loaded, no-out situation swung the momentum back to the Horned Frogs.
“That was very huge,” TCU’s Austin Davis said. “Going out there and limiting them to one run, that was huge. That was big momentum for us.”
The Razorbacks got a couple more free passes with two outs in the second, but it wasn’t until the fifth inning that they broke through with their first hit against Brown.
“Cam Brown gave us that inning to get him (and) we only scored one,” Van Horn said. “It wasn’t deflating because we had the next inning against him. We didn’t know he was going to come out and kind of turn it around, which he did.”
Bohrofen broke up the no-hitter with a monster two-run home run to dead center, hitting off the batter’s eye. According to TrackMan, it was a 427-foot blast that left the bat with a 107 mph exit velocity.
IBUBOHROFEN FOR WHEN YOU’RE IN PAIN pic.twitter.com/wqGjZMe3Mr— Arkansas Baseball (@RazorbackBSB) June 5, 2023
“Bohrofen worked his count to a 3-1 count and just did an incredible job of getting to a hitter’s count and got a pitch he could handle and he hit it right where it was pitched — out over the plate and hit it to dead center, got every bit of it,” Van Horn said.
It was Bohrofen’s team-high 16th home run of the season. Finishing right behind him was Wegner, who hit his 15th long ball immediately after his teammate. It was an opposite-field shot that hit near the top of the Hunt Center for a 379-foot home run.
HOGS AIN’T DEAD FOLKS pic.twitter.com/bx8YHlOlau— Arkansas Baseball (@RazorbackBSB) June 5, 2023
“Then Wegner came up and actually hit a pretty good pitch that was away, but just hit it where it was pitched and the ball was really flying to right field that last couple days,” Van Horn said. “Right when he hit it, you’re thinking, ‘I hope it gets out of here.’ Then halfway there, you’re going, ‘That’s way out of here.’”
It was the fourth time the Razorbacks had back-to-back home runs this season and it gave them a 4-2 lead, but Van Horn said he knew that likely wouldn’t be enough.
“We had a two-run lead, but we also knew we were running out of bullets, so to speak,” Van Horn said. “We needed to keep scoring and we didn’t.”
Ultimately, those home runs were two of Arkansas’ three total hits in the game. The team went a combined 3 for 28.
Hagen Smith Bounces Back
Just a day after turning in the worst start of his career, Hagen Smith was back on the mound Monday afternoon. The Razorbacks turned to him first out of the bullpen, bringing him in with runners on second and third and one out in the second inning.
For the left-hander, the moment couldn’t have come soon enough.
“I was ready as soon as I got pulled (Sunday),” Smith said. “Just go out there and try to compete. I felt like I lost the game for us yesterday, so I wanted to go back out.”
It wouldn’t be fair to pin the entire 20-5 shellacking on him, but Smith did give up eight earned runs in one-plus inning. The silver lining to getting chased that early was that he had thrown only 42 pitches.
That enabled the Razorbacks to bring him back in a must-win situation against the same TCU team that had just roughed him up. Dave Van Horn said they felt like they could get 60-70 pitches out of him and he gave them 67 — bringing his two-day total to 109.
Smith said nothing was really working Sunday afternoon and that the was missing arm side with his fastball. On Monday, it looked like the Horned Frogs might pick up where they left off when he gave up a single to the first batter he faced, Austin Davis, to drive in the runners he inherited.
After that, though, Smith was much more like the pitcher that earned first-team All-SEC and All-America honors. He struck out the next four batters and allowed only one earned run on three hits and two walks in 3 2/3 innings.
“Coming off getting ready for a game mentally, pitching yesterday…he just pitched lights out,” Van Horn said. “I think he’d probably tell you he made one mistake, and that was on the 0-2 pitch on the hitter that singled up the middle. Other than that, he was awesome.
“Really talented guy, and we’ve got to take care of him. He probably could have gone another inning or two, but we didn’t feel like that would be very smart on our part.”
Smith finished with six strikeouts, giving him 109 on the season. That was just shy of cracking the UA’s all-time single-season list, but he did so in just 71 2/3 innings. That averages out to 13.7 strikeouts per nine innings — a higher rate than even Kevin Kopps in 2021 (13.1).
One of those strikeouts was against TCU’s hot-hitting third baseman, Brayden Taylor, who was 8 for 11 in his first two games against Arkansas.
“He had a really good slider I thought and commanding that fastball into our right-handers and throwing that slider underneath their barrel, kind of back-footing it a little bit, and the same thing to the lefties,” TCU baseball coach Kirk Saarloos said. “He threw some of the best sliders that Brayden has seen this year, especially in that first at bat. Brayden kind of chuckled on the way back to the dugout and said ‘I am not sure what I am supposed to do with that.”
That’s About It
Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, Hagen Smith was their only effective pitcher Monday afternoon.
The other four pitchers who saw the mound combined to give up 10 earned runs on nine hits and three walks with only three strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings.
Right-hander Cody Adcock got the starting nod, but lasted only 1 1/3 innings because he struggled to get ahead of hitters. With him battling each batter, Van Horn opted to turn to Smith when Adcock had thrown just 36 pitches.
When Smith tapped out, left-hander Zack Morris was next out of the bullpen and that’s when the wheels fell off.
One of the two outs Morris record came on a sacrifice bunt that wasn’t really necessary, as Austin Davis followed with a go-ahead two-run home run. An error by Caleb Cali at second base would have ended the inning with that being all the damage, but instead kept things going and Cole Fontenelle made Arkansas pay with an RBI single.
Despite ending the season with an ugly 7.64 ERA, Morris had been one of the Razorbacks’ best relievers down the stretch. In his last four outings leading up to the NCAA Tournament, he had allowed only one earned run in 13 innings. Against the Horned Frogs, though, Morris gave up five earned runs in 1 2/3 innings across two outings.
It only got worse from there, as the Razorbacks were forced to use their freshmen.
Right-hander Gage Wood retired five of the first six batters he faced, with the only one he failed to get being a leadoff home run by Kurtis Byrne in the seventh. However, he ended up allowing a two-run double to Fontenelle to end his outing.
Right-hander Christian Foutch finished it out by getting the final two outs, but not before giving up back-to-back home runs to Tre Richardson and Byrne.
“Honestly, we ran out of pitching,” Van Horn said. “If we would have won the game, I don’t know who we would have thrown or how we’d have gone about it. We’ve been battling this all year.
“We knew everything had to be just right for us to get through a regional. We felt like we had a better chance to win a super regional than a regional because of our injuries and lack of pitching depth and experience. We were either going to really have to hit or our starters were going to have to give us a lot of innings, and unfortunately the teams we played didn’t give us that opportunity.”
Fayetteville Regional MVP
That last home run by Tre Richardson sealed his case as the MVP of the Fayetteville Regional.
In three games, the TCU second baseman went 9 for 15 (.600) with four home runs and 14 RBIs. The four homers were particularly impressive considering he had just two in the first 60 games of the season.
Van Horn was already aware of Richardson and even looked into him when he entered the transfer portal from Baylor last offseason. The book on him was that he could drive in runs — usually with singles or doubles — and had a lot of speed. The power was a surprise.
“When he got here, man, he was something else,” Van Horn said. “You could say, ‘Oh, he flipped a couple balls over the right field fence, the ball was carrying,’ but he hit that last ball off a 96 mph fastball over 400 feet dead center. So there’s some legit pop in there and I hope somebody signs him professionally.”
TCU took up seven of the nine spots for position players on the Fayetteville All-Regional team, with Arkansas’ Tavian Josenberger (outfield) and Santa Clara’s Eammon Lance (designated hitter) being the lone exceptions.
Arkansas also had a pair of pitchers on the team, with Brady Tygart one of two starters and Will McEntire one of two relievers.
With the loss to TCU, the Razorbacks are officially eliminated from the 2023 NCAA Tournament. They finish the year 43-18 overall, but miss out on a fifth straight super regional appearance and return trip to the College World Series.
Dave Van Horn’s focus will now shift to the 2024 Arkansas baseball team, as he has to deal with the MLB Draft, the transfer portal and other things as he molds next year’s roster this offseason.
Be sure to check Best of Arkansas Sports throughout the week for coverage of what lies ahead for the Razorbacks.
The Horned Frogs, meanwhile, will move on to a best-of-three showdown with No. 14 overall seed Indiana State in the super regionals. Despite being a 2 seed, D1Baseball’s Kendall Rogers has reported TCU will host.
Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits
- The announced attendance for the Arkansas vs TCU finale was 10,475. That brought the six-game total of the Fayetteville Regional to 63,736 — an average of 10,623.
- By going 2-2 in the regional, the Razorbacks finished the season with a 32-6 record at Baum-Walker Stadium. Not including the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, that .842 winning percentage is their second-best ever since moving into the venue in 1996, topped only by the 2018 team going 34-4 (.895) at home.
- Tavian Josenberger swiped a pair of bases, making him 13 of 16 on stolen base attempts this year. That was the most stolen bases by an Arkansas baseball player since Trevor Ezell had 19 in 2019.
- The Razorbacks ended up hitting 92 home runs as a team this season. That tied the 2010 team for fourth on the school’s single-season list. Of the top six teams on that list, five of them have been the last five seasons.
- Arkansas also drew 321 walks, which tied the 2019 team for seventh on that single-season list, and struck out 531 times, which is the fourth-most in school history. The 77 times it was hit by a pitch also cracked a UA top-10 list, checking in at No. 7.
- On the mound, the Razorbacks finished with 552 strikeouts, which ranks eighth on the UA’s all-time list. They had broken the single-season record each of the previous two seasons.
- Even with three errors in the Fayetteville Regional, Arkansas still had a .981 fielding percentage this season. That is second in school history, behind only last year’s team that posted a .982 fielding percentage.
Arkansas vs TCU Postgame Interviews
Arkansas vs TCU Box Score (Fayetteville Regional)
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