Bentonville Native’s Giddyup Had Him Back in Saddle Much Faster Than Expected + More from McNeese State Sweep

Dylan Carter, Arkansas baseball, Arkansas vs McNeese State
photo credit: Crant Osborne

It’s not often that the final two outs of a run-rule win are anything to get excited about, but that was the case for Arkansas on Sunday.

Just 10 months removed from Tommy John surgery, Dylan Carter returned to the mound and retired both batters he faced to put the finishing touches on an 18-5 seven-inning win that completed a sweep of McNeese State.

The crowd at Baum-Walker Stadium greeted the right-hander with an ovation as he jogged in from the bullpen with one out in the seventh. Carter responded by inducing line outs to right field and third base to end the game.

“I had chills all over my body,” Carter told Hogs+ afterward. “I was shaking a little bit because I had some nerves, but that standing ovation was awesome.”

Carter just being on the mound Sunday was remarkable in more ways than one.

At the micro level, he had warmed up extensively in the bullpen the day before, only for Kendall Diggs to hit a home run that invoked the run rule and eliminated the ninth inning. Head coach Dave Van Horn said he might not be able to pitch in the series finale and indicated his debut might have to wait until Tuesday’s game against Oral Roberts.

However, when he woke up and his arm felt good, Carter texted pitching coach Matt Hobbs and told him he was ready to go. The 13-run lead presented the perfect opportunity for that to happen.

“He didn’t want (me) to have to go out there and everything be perfect,” Carter said. “He just told me to let it rip and get my feet wet again. He uses the term ‘to rip the bandaid off.’ Now the bandaid is ripped off. It was time to get after it.”

Van Horn said Carter’s fastball is now 92-94 mph and his slider is 83-84 mph, both of which are harder than he threw last season before getting hurt.

That’s great news for the Razorbacks because he proved he was already capable of pitching in big moments, going 6-0 with two saves and a 3.65 ERA in 37 innings across 16 appearances on a team that won the SEC regular-season title.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anybody rehab as hard as he has and everything worked out,” Van Horn said. “He’s throwing the ball every bit as hard as he did last year and maybe even a little bit harder. He’ll end up being a big part of our bullpen.”

The fact that he’s part of Arkansas’ bullpen at all this year is what makes his story remarkable from a more macro perspective.

Carter suffered his torn UCL on April 27 and had Tommy John surgery to repair it about one week later on May 5. It typically takes a pitcher at least a full year to get back on the mound and even longer to get back to the point he was at pre-injury, so the common line of thinking was that he’d miss the 2024 season.

Initially, even Van Horn didn’t think Carter would pitch this year. What he couldn’t have anticipated, though, was just how hard the Bentonville native would work at rehabilitating his arm to significantly reduce that timeline.

“I did it every single day,” Carter said. “I didn’t take a day off — from the day I got out of surgery until today. It’s still rehab. It’s not a fun rehab. It’s mentally exhausting and physically exhausting. In the end, it is worth it.”

Throughout it all, Carter said he could tell that every aspect of his game was actually better than before. Not only was he throwing harder, but “my pitchability was better, my pitch sequencing was better, all my pitches in general were just better,” he told reporters Sunday.

Instead of missing the entire season, Carter missed only three weeks and is back in the fold as yet another key arm in a loaded bullpen before the start of SEC play.

“I pointed at a date and was like, ‘I’m going to be back by then. I’m just going to work to do what I can and at the 9- or 10-month mark, I’m going to do it,’ because this is the dream school,” Carter told Hogs+. “I love it here and just to play for the Hogs, put on for the state, it’s incredible and that’s what I want to do.”

Fifth-Inning Response

The final score may make it look like Arkansas dominated McNeese State on Sunday, which it eventually did, but not before getting pushed by the Cowboys.

The Razorbacks led 4-0 through three innings and 4-1 through four. They were seemingly in control when McNeese State popped them for four runs in the fifth inning to take a 5-4 lead – its first of the weekend.

All that did, though, was poke a sleeping bear, as Arkansas responded with six runs in the bottom of the fifth and added another eight in the sixth inning.

“It was good to see our team respond like that because we hadn’t had too much adversity where we blown a lead or made some mistakes that have cost us,” Van Horn said. “It’s like I told them after the game, it’s not going to be easy every game. You’re going to have to fight and come from behind. I liked the way that we didn’t panic.”

The fifth inning was critical and the Razorbacks came out swinging. Wehiwa Aloy crushed a 109 mph line drive to left that was caught on the warning track before Kendall Diggs and Ben McLaughlin followed with singles that left the bat at 102 and 104 mph, respectively.

Reminiscent of Game 2 on Saturday, though, Arkansas got a little bit of good luck involving McNeese State third baseman Gage Trahan to turn those hits into runs.

Rather than him getting hit by a would-be two-run single for the final out of the sixth inning like the day before, Trahan let a chopper by Jared Sprague-Lott get under his glove for an error.

It looked like it could have been an inning-ending double play ball or, at the very least, the second out of the inning. That means the Razorbacks would have left the bases loaded following a walk by Nolan Souza and strikeout by Hudson White.

Instead, Diggs raced home on the error to tie the score and then Arkansas really made the Cowboys pay on back-to-back swings.

The first was a two-run single by Ty Wilmsmeyer in a full count. The excitement had barely died down when Ross Lovich stepped to the plate and hit the first pitch he saw 360 feet over the right field wall for a three-run homer – his first with the Razorbacks after hitting only nine in three seasons at Missouri.

“Obviously, we got punched in the mouth right there,” Wilmsmeyer said. “The energy out of the dugout had the belief that we were going to win and punch back.”

Most of Arkansas’ damage on Sunday – and the weekend as a whole – came with two outs, as it scored 13 of its 18 runs when it was down to its last out. The Razorbacks went 8 for 14 (.571) with two outs in the finale.

Including Saturday’s doubleheader, Arkansas went 15 for 35 (.429) with 23 RBIs in those situations against McNeese State.

“It’s really good to see it because we hadn’t had that a whole lot this year,” Van Horn said. “We won some games, but you think about that 14-inning game against Oklahoma State. We had runner after runner after runner on base, and we could not buy a hit. So, sometimes it evens up a little bit.”

Another Four-Inning Start

Hagen Smith and Brady Tygart were lifted from their Saturday starts after throwing four innings, with pitch count being the main factor.

On Sunday, Mason Molina also pitched four innings for the Razorbacks, but his final line did not mimic the scoreless outings of his teammates.

The left-hander was charged with four earned runs on three hits, three walks and a hit batter while striking out only four.

“I would say Mason did not command his fastball at all,” Van Horn said. “Everything was up. He’s hard to hit when he’s up, but he’s got to be in the zone. But he had a lot of bad misses.”

Despite that less-than-glowing assessment from his head coach, Molina opened the game with 3 1/3 hitless innings and had allowed only one hit – a solo home run by Parker Stroh – through four.

His pitch count was at 39 through two innings, but he seemed to find his groove in the third inning. Molina threw only 22 pitches over the next two frames and seemed to be in position to get through at least five innings.

However, he left a couple of changeups up in the zone and allowed back-to-back hits to start the fifth. A walk of the 9-hole hitter loaded the bases and prompted a pitching change. All three runners eventually came around to score with Gage Wood on the mound, but Molina was responsible for them.

Poll Watching

When the new college baseball rankings come out Monday, there’s a very good chance the Razorbacks will be No. 1 in multiple polls.

That’s because the unanimous top-ranked team, Wake Forest, lost a rubber match with Duke on Sunday, meaning it lost two of three games this weekend.

The Demon Deacons won’t fall far because it was a tightly contested series and the Blue Devils are a top-15 team in their own right, but they’ll almost certainly drop some.

Arkansas baseball came into the week ranked No. 2 by both D1Baseball and Perfect Game, so it will likely move up to No. 1 in those polls. LSU held the No. 2 spot in the other three major rankings – Baseball America, NCBWA and USA Today Coaches Poll – and, after taking two of three against Xavier this weekend, will probably be No. 1 in those.

What could be on the horizon is an improbable No. 1 vs. No. 1 showdown, which Arkansas famously hosted in 2009. However, that was a two-game midweek series against Arizona State and the Razorbacks were No. 1 in only the Collegiate Baseball Poll and No. 12 by Baseball America.

If Arkansas takes care of business against Missouri and Auburn the next two weekends, and LSU doesn’t slip up against either Mississippi State or Florida, it’s almost guaranteed that the two schools will be consensus top-2 or top-3 and split the No. 1 rankings.

Up Next for Arkansas Baseball

The Razorbacks have one more tuneup before Missouri comes to town to start SEC play, welcoming Oral Roberts to Baum-Walker Stadium for a single midweek matchup Tuesday afternoon.

Despite coming off a trip to the College World Series last year, the Golden Eagles are just 8-8 so far this season. That includes losing 2 of 3 this weekend to UMass Lowell.

It’s unclear who Oral Roberts might start, as it has used four different starting pitchers in its four midweek games this season, but Arkansas will likely start freshman left-hander Colin Fisher (3-1, 1.59 ERA).

First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m. CT and the game will be streamed on SEC Network-Plus.

Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits

  • In beautiful baseball symmetry, Arkansas scored 18 total runs with each of its nine starters scoring two runs apiece.
  • Ben McLaughlin had himself a day, going 4 for 5 with three RBIs. His first three hits were singles with exit velocities of 103, 104 and 108 mph. He didn’t hit the ball quite as hard his final time up, but it found the left-center gap for a double. That also drove in a run for his 15th RBI, moving him just ahead of Wehiwa Aloy for the most on the team. The performance raised McLaughlin’s batting average to .364, as well.
  • Aloy briefly took over the team lead in RBIs when his seeing-eye single to center drove in a run in the third inning. He now has 10 RBIs over the last four games, giving him 14 for the season. Two batters later, McLaughlin tied him up with a two-run single. He then surpassed Aloy with his aforementioned sixth-inning RBI double.
  • The top of the first inning was quite eventful for McNeese State. Cooper Hext reached on a hit by pitch, stole second and was awarded third on a balk, then Chase Keeton walked and was picked off at first — albeit he was called out only after Arkansas challenged the play. All of that was sandwiched in between a pair of strikeouts by Mason Molina.
  • After drawing only five total free passes (four walks and one HBP) during Saturday’s two games combined, Arkansas’ offense drew 10 walks and was plunked once on Sunday. The Razorbacks also struck out only five times. That means they once again have more free passes (102 — 85 walks, 17 HBP) than strikeouts (98) this season.
  • Two of those strikeouts were by Nolan Souza, as the freshman struck out to start and end the third inning, but he also walked twice — including once with the bases loaded for an RBI. “He showed me something today,” Van Horn said. “He struck out twice in one inning and he left runners out there. His next two at bats, he wasn’t up there chasing hits and going out of the zone. … I really like that. It just shows a little maturity there at the plate.”
  • On the flip side, Arkansas pitchers combined for only seven strikeouts in seven innings. It’s just the third time in 15 games this season that they failed to reach double figures. In fact, it snapped a 10-game streak in which they had at least 11.
  • Gage Wood was charged with only one run himself, but he also inherited a bases-loaded situation and allowed all of them to score. After blowing the lead, the right-hander actually settled down and retired six of the last seven batters he faced. “They went out of the zone a lot, if you noticed,” Van Horn said. “They chased it. His fastball’s got carry on it. It looks good out of the hand where they were just guessing and they were just going all out. He’s hard to hit.”

Arkansas vs McNeese State Highlights (Game 3)

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Arkansas Baseball Postgame Interviews

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Arkansas vs McNeese State Box Score (Game 3)


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