By the time ESPN2 switched over to the game, Arkansas baseball was already well on its way to clinching the series at Mississippi State.
The Razorbacks racked up seven runs during the 2.5 innings the channel missed while airing the men’s volleyball national championship match. Luckily, they went ahead and scored seven more for the national audience as they cruised to a 14-2 run-rule win over the Bulldogs on Saturday.
Those who couldn’t pull it up on the ESPN app and had to sit through UCLA taking down two-time defending champion Hawaii in four sets missed out on a pair of dominant innings by Brady Tygart and some defensive mistakes by Mississippi State that contributed to the game getting out of hand early — leading to the Bulldogs effectively throwing in the towel.
“Today, as we fell behind, there wasn’t great life in the dugout,” Mississippi State baseball coach Chris Lemonis said. “That’s the hard part for us right now… It’s frustrating. Our job as ball players or ball coaches is to show up and give our best effort every day. Be mentally in the moment, be ready to play and prepare myself.”
It could have been even worse than it was, as Kendall Diggs led off the game with the first of his three hits, but he was stranded on third. The Bulldogs wouldn’t be so lucky the rest of the night.
They nearly worked around a leadoff walk by Caleb Cali and Mason Neville’s hit by pitch, only for John Bolton to take a close pitch that just missed for a two-out walk that loaded the bases.
Diggs delivered a two-run single that should have been all the damage, but after a walk by Jace Bohrofen that loaded the bases again, the Razorbacks scored two more. They came in when Colton Ledbetter didn’t get a great jump on Ben McLaughlin’s blooper and the ball popped out of his glove on what would have been a sliding catch.
Arkansas ended up leaving the bases loaded, but was up 4-0 and had chased starter Landon Gartman, getting into the Bulldogs’ struggling bullpen.
Ledbetter didn’t get an error on that play, but he was assessed one in the third. Already with one run in thanks to Neville’s leadoff double on which the left fielder appeared to mistime his jump near the wall and Peyton Holt’s subsequent RBI single, Diggs appeared to hit a sacrifice fly to left-center.
However, there was a near collision on the track and Ledbetter dropped the fly ball. Instead of only one run scoring, two came in on the error and made it a 7-0 game.
“They gave some of those runs, didn’t make some plays, ran into each other,” Van Horn said. “We had some things go our way, but at the same time, we did a really good job on the offensive end.”
Mississippi State gave fans a taste of what they missed in the fourth inning when shortstop David Mershon ran into second baseman Amani Larry, who was camped under a pop up by Brady Slavens. The error put Slavens on second and he scored on Holt’s second RBI single of the game, making it 8-0.
That was more than enough for Arkansas to clinch the series, but it tacked on another six runs with a trio of long balls — a solo shot by Slavens, a two-run homer by Diggs and a three-run blast by Cali.
The latter of those put the Razorbacks up by double digits and enabled them to end the game via mercy rule in the seventh, which they did to avoid burning another arm for the final two innings.
“Everyone knows about the rule subconsciously,” Diggs said. “Obviously, I don’t think really anyone mentioned it, but we know what’s at stake. It’s always huge saving arms, especially on a three-game weekend series going into Sunday. It’s always going to be a battle, so we need everything we can (get).”
Assessing Brady Tygart’s 2nd Start
Making his second career start, Brady Tygart had an expanded pitch count this week, but still threw only 20 pitches against Mississippi State.
He doubled his innings, though, as he gave Arkansas two scoreless innings after throwing just one last week against Texas A&M. After walking the leadoff man, Tygart induced a double play ball for the first of five straight Bulldogs retired.
“Today he was throwing his fastball for a strike,” Van Horn said. “He kept the ball down. I just thought he threw the ball well both weekends. I don’t really look at the velocity. I just look at the location more than anything. I’m going to guess he was 92-93, good breaking ball and pitched well.”
After falling behind 2-0 to three of the four batters he faced last week, Tygart worked ahead this time around, throwing first-pitch strikes to four of six batters and getting ahead 0-2 three times. One of those ended up in the aforementioned walk, but the other two resulted in a double play and strikeout.
That strikeout was the last batter he faced, as he froze Bryce Chance with this nasty pitch to end the second inning:
“That was the best I’ve pitched in a long time,” Tygart said. “Mainly just throwing everything for strikes. Now I have four pitches (and) throwing ‘em all for strikes is really tough for a hitter.”
Tygart needed only 12 pitches to get through the first inning and eight in the second, which put him well short of the 35-40 he was expected to throw. Rather than send him out in the third inning, though, Arkansas had him finish his day in the bullpen.
What made his eight-pitch second inning even more impressive is that it came right after Arkansas took a 4-0 lead and he was able to quickly get his offense back on the field.
“Coach (Matt) Hobbs preaches when we have a big inning, pitchers have got to answer,” Tygart said. “We’ve got to go right back out there and give them a quick inning, keep the momentum on our side. That’s all I was thinking about after the first, go out there and keep momentum on our side and just execute pitches.”
Another Solid Outing for Will McEntire
Just as they did last week, the Razorbacks piggybacked Brady Tygart’s start with right-hander Will McEntire, who came out of the bullpen and was expected to give them starter innings.
For the second week in a row, he did just that. McEntire actually threw the final five innings to earn the save — his first of the season and the second of his career. (Tygart earned the win because he was on a set pitch count that prevented him from going the five innings usually required.)
He was particularly effective early, striking out four of the first six batters he faced and retiring eight of the first nine. Mississippi State started to figure him out some later on, but still managed only two runs and those came on a 460-foot home run by Dakota Jordan.
That was one of seven hits McEntire scattered across five innings. He also walked one and had four strikeouts.
“I thought he threw the ball really well,” Van Horn said. “He came in and spots his fastball, throwing that slider/cutter, changeups to lefties. Kept the ball down for the most part.”
Brady Slavens Climbing the Record Book
For the second night in a row, Brady Slavens homered for Arkansas baseball. This one wasn’t as important as his go-ahead blast on Friday, but it was still an impressive opposite-field shot.
His long ball in Game 1 moved him ahead of Heston Kjerstad, Rodney Nye and Greg D’Alexander on the UA career list and into seventh place by himself. That’s where he still is, but his 37 home runs are approaching Brian Kirby’s 39 for sixth on the list.
Slavens also now has 157 career RBIs, which is two shy of matching Jake Dugger’s total of 159 that ranks 10th in school history.
“He’s been a steady left-handed hitter for the most part,” Van Horn said. “He’s become a threat and teams know about him. He’s older and even if he’s not going good, he still puts a lot of pressure on the other team’s pitchers just with his presence and what he’s done. They know that if they make a mistake, he can hurt them.”
Production at Bottom of the Order
Coming into the weekend, Mason Neville and Peyton Holt had combined for just one SEC at bat this season, while Parker Rowland and John Bolton were hitting a combined .189 in conference play.
Needless to say, they don’t exactly make up a scary end to the lineup and that was on display Friday night, as they went 0 for 12 with three walks, a sacrifice bunt and five strikeouts.
That group turned it around in Game 2 of the Arkansas vs Mississippi State series, though.
Neville hit a double off the wall for his first collegiate extra-base hit, Holt had a pair of RBI singles and even Bolton managed to go 1 for 1 with a pair of walks and a sacrifice bunt.
Together, the quartet went 4 for 11 with five free passes (four walks, one HBP), a sacrifice bunt and only two strikeouts.
“That was really, really good to see, because we knew there were going to be some runners on base when they came up,” Van Horn said. “They needed to advance runners, maybe bunt somebody in, bunt somebody around, maybe drive somebody in. … Everybody chipped in up and down the lineup. It was a really good effort up and down the lineup, all nine guys.”
Up Next for Arkansas Baseball
The Razorbacks will go for a rare road SEC sweep when they conclude their series against Mississippi State at 1 p.m. CT Sunday. The game will be streamed on SEC Network-Plus.
“What I always tell them is it’s hard to sweep anybody, especially on the road,” Dave Van Horn said. “We’re playing a team that’s kind of fighting for their life trying to get into the conference tournament. I just expect us to do what we do. We show up and play hard, and if we play well, we’ve got a good chance to win.”
Junior left-hander Hunter Hollan will be on the mound for Arkansas. He’s looking to bounce back from a couple of tough outings against Georgia and Texas A&M, in which he’s also battled what Van Horn has described as shin splints. That injury is what led to him getting a couple of extra days to rest before starting Game 3 instead of his usual Game 1.
Van Horn added that freshman Gage Wood wouldn’t be available to pitch in the finale, but Cody Adcock could potentially make his second appearance of the weekend after throwing just 13 pitches in Friday’s win.
Left-handers Zack Morris and Parker Coil, as well as right-handers Austin Ledbetter, Ben Bybee and Christian Foutch, also haven’t pitched this weekend and would be available.
“Well, it’s a better feeling than knowing you don’t have very many options, obviously,” Van Horn said. “But we’re hoping that Hunter has a good outing, good start tomorrow and we score him some runs, play good defense and we’ll go to the next available guy depending on the situation.”
Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits
- Arkansas baseball has now won 10 of its last 11 games against Mississippi State, with the one loss coming in 12 innings and in Game 3 of a series it had already clinched.
- In addition to his three hits, Kendall Diggs notched a career-high five RBIs in Saturday’s win. He had previously recorded four RBIs on four different occasions — against Little Rock last year and then against Eastern Illinois, Auburn and LSU earlier this season.
- With a leadoff walk in the second, Caleb Cali extended his on-base streak to 18 games. That is tied for the third-longest such streak for the Razorbacks this year.
- Will McEntire is the ninth different Arkansas pitcher to earn a save this season. They have combined for 16 total saves, which leads the SEC and is already tied for ninth on the UA single-season list.
- For 13 2/3 innings, the only Mississippi State player with a hit in the series was Colton Ledbetter, who had three. Until a two-out single by Luke Hancock in the fifth inning Saturday, the rest of the Bulldogs were 0 for 35.
Arkansas vs Mississippi State Highlights (Game 2)
Arkansas vs Mississippi State Postgame Interviews
Arkansas vs Mississippi State Box Score (Game 2)
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