After Exploding vs SEMO, Hogs’ Bats Have 2 Potential Paths Moving Forward + More

Hudson White, Arkansas baseball, Arkansas vs SEMO, NCAA Tournament, Fayetteville Regional
photo credit: Craven Whitlow

FAYETTEVILLE — One eight-run lead wasn’t enough for Arkansas in its opening game of the 2024 NCAA Tournament.

After seeing Southeast Missouri State completely erase their early 8-0 lead, the No. 5 Razorbacks went to work again and still won by that margin, beating the Redhawks 17-9 in a slugfest at Baum-Walker Stadium to advance to the winner’s bracket of the Fayetteville Regional.

“We’re up eight, it’s tied and we end up winning by eight,” Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said. “It didn’t feel like that, but it was a really good job of continuing to play the game and have good at bats.”

Playing in a light drizzle for much of the game, Arkansas’ scuffling offense picked up its usually dominant pitching staff by pounding out 16 hits, including a season-high six home runs.

“I’m just proud of the way we competed at the plate,” catcher Hudson White said. “We’ve been working hard all season. I felt like we were kind of due for a game like that. I’m proud of the group.”

Considering the stage, it was the biggest offensive explosion of the year. Coming into the game, the Razorbacks were hitting just .268 and had been even worse in SEC play with a .243 batting average. They ranked in the bottom four or five of the league in almost every offensive category.

Against the OVC champions, though, Arkansas looked much more like some of its previous teams that could slug their way to wins.

“I want to talk to whoever said Arkansas couldn’t hit,” SEMO baseball coach Andy Sawyers said with a laugh to open his postgame remarks. “That was the narrative kind of coming into it — it was one of the best pitching staffs in the country, but had struggled offensively.”

Of course, now the question is whether the Razorbacks can sustain that level of success or if they’ll revert back to the offense that Sawyers was told about.

Getting hot in the postseason wouldn’t be entirely unheard of for Arkansas. In fact, the last time it hit at least six home runs in a game was two years ago in the 2022 Stillwater Regional, when it hit seven in a 20-12 win over Oklahoma State.

That year’s team was hitting .269 entering the postseason and then hit .307 in 11 NCAA Tournament games, reaching the College World Series semifinals.

There have also been plenty of instances of Arkansas struggling to score after big outbursts. The legendary 2021 team put up 21 runs on North Carolina State in the first game of the Fayetteville Super Regional, but scored just seven total runs on eight combined hits over the next two games.

The Razorbacks are hoping for more of the former than the latter, starting Saturday against the Louisiana Tech-Kansas State winner.

Double Dinger Day (x2)

No one is swinging a hotter bat for the Razorbacks right now than Hudson White. It took just one plate appearance for him to extend his hitting streak to 14 games on Friday and he continued his recent power surge.

In the first inning, the Arkansas catcher got just enough of Haden Dow’s 1-1 pitch to send it over the right field wall for an opposite-field solo home run that opened the game’s scoring.

He also capped the game’s scoring by launching a three-run blast to left-center in the eighth, giving the Razorbacks a little bit of breathing room heading into the final inning. Throw in a sacrifice fly and White went 2 for 4 with five RBIs.

Those were the seventh and eighth homers of the year for White and seven of them have come in the past 11 games. Prior to that, he hadn’t homered since Opening Day.

During his current hitting streak, White is now 20 for 48 (.417) with two doubles, seven home runs, 19 RBIs, nine walks and only eight strikeouts.

“He’s swinging the bat with a lot more bat speed, not so tied up,” Dave Van Horn said. “Obviously he’s really confident, but he’s been hitting the ball a lot better ever since we played Kentucky on the road, that’s when it started.”

Not to be outdone by his teammate, Ben McLaughlin also sent two balls out of the ballpark and made hard contact all game for the Razorbacks.

Both of the senior first baseman’s home runs were three-run shots — in the second and seventh innings — and both were no-doubters, traveling 385 and 413 feet, respectively. They also left the bat with exit velocities of 104 and 103 mph.

In addition to the long balls, McLaughlin also ripped a double into the right field corner in the sixth inning and narrowly missed hitting a double in his first at bat.

Although he was robbed of one against Kentucky at the SEC Tournament, he hadn’t homered since April 16 and had only two total extra-base hits in his last 20 starts.

“I’ve just been staying consistent with my work and what I do,” McLaughlin said. “For me, I’m just keeping the same approach and if it goes out, it goes out, but stacking ABs is all I’m trying to do.”

Kendall Diggs Sighting

When he met with reporters after Thursday’s practice, Kendall Diggs said he was “feeling better than ever” and that he believed things would soon turn his way.

Those words may have rung hollow to Arkansas baseball fans, who saw him hit .189 in SEC play and go just 2 for 24 with nine strikeouts over the previous three weeks. However, the team captain backed up that statement against SEMO.

Diggs looked much more like the preseason All-SEC version of himself than the one that had struggled most of the year.

“That’s the first time I’ve truly felt like myself as whole in a while in the box,” Diggs told Hogs+ afterward. “It’s a process. This game’s super-duper hard, hitting’s really hard. I just have a great support system around me, the best teammates I’ve ever had. It’s been a grind, but it was definitely a good day and I’m just going to look to build on it and there’s no better time to do it than now.”

His 2-for-3 stat line doesn’t even tell the whole story. After being hit by a pitch in his first plate appearance, Diggs roped a line drive right at the second baseman. It was an out, but it left the bat with a 107 mph exit velocity.

He reached base his next three times up, hitting a home run and single sandwiched around an impressive walk in which he fouled off five two-strike pitches.

“Kendall and I have had a couple of talks,” Dave Van Horn said. “We talked at our first practice back and I called him over in the outfield and…I told him where I wanted to hit him against righties and I told him where I was going to hit him against left-handers and that he needed to be in the middle of driving in runs and that’s what he did.”

The home run was also extremely timely.

After the Redhawks tied it up at 8-8 in the top of the fifth, Wehiwa Aloy put the Razorbacks back on top with a two-out solo home run in the bottom half of the inning. That also chased SEMO reliever Collin Wilma and his arsenal of pitches that ranged from 66-91 mph, which seemed to frustrate Arkansas hitters. He had retired nine of the previous 10 Razorbacks, with only an error mixed in.

Logan Katen came in to face Diggs, who sent his third pitch the other way and got just enough of it to clear the left field fence. It was his seventh home run of the season, but first since March 28 against LSU.

“We all know if we want to go where we want to go, Diggs is going to be right at the front of it,” McLaughlin said. “We weren’t worried at all. He’s a great baseball player. It was good to see him get some knocks today and it’s really going to help this team.”

Pitching Situation Moving Forward

If Friday afternoon was an audition for Trevor Ezell to eventually return to Arkansas as a hitting coach, which SEMO head coach Andy Sawyers hinted at the day before, his team gave him one heck of a glowing letter of recommendation.

The Redhawks went just 9 for 35 (.257), but five of those hits went for extra bases and they were 4 for 13 (.308) with runners in scoring position. That resulted in nine runs, which is tied for the third-most Arkansas has allowed this season.

A major key to SEMO’s success was drawing walks, which was partly because of the Razorbacks struggling with command, partly because of a wildly inconsistent strike zone by home plate umpire Jake Uhlenhopp and partly because of the Redhawks’ game plan going into the game.

“We have struggled at the top of the zone a little bit this year,” Sawyers said. “We figured they were going to try to pitch to that and so we’ve spent a ton of time on that this week. I don’t know if it was something that we noticed in their pitchers, they were going to spray it, but we just spent a lot of time trying to get locked back in and controlling the strike zone.”

Arkansas ended up having to use five of their top arms to get through nine innings against SEMO and now the biggest question is their availability moving forward in the Fayetteville Regional.

Left-hander Mason Molina looked good for two innings, but things unraveled in the third and he was pulled after just 2 2/3 innings and 61 pitches. That was one fewer pitch than right-hander Gabe Gaeckle.

Typically the Razorbacks’ closer, he entered the game in the sixth inning with Arkansas leading 10-8. Gaeckle was able to settle things down and allow only one run in three innings, but he wasn’t particularly efficient.

“We forced them to use their piece,” Sawyers said. “I didn’t think they wanted to use Gaeckle, so when they got him hot, I said, ‘Well, they think this is a real game.’”

Van Horn said Gaeckle probably could have pitched the ninth inning, too, but they let right-hander Jake Faherty close it out with the hope of having Gaeckle available again on Sunday or Monday. That’s probably when Molina would be available again, too.

Right-handers Will McEntire (30 pitches in 1 2/3 innings), Christian Foutch (21 pitches in 2/3 of an inning) and Faherty (17 pitches in 1 inning) could each conceivably pitch Saturday night.

Same High School, Opposite Ends of the Lineup

They didn’t quite overlap, but Arkansas’ Ty Wilmsmeyer and SEMO’s Brooks Kettering each attended Glendale High in Springfield, Mo., and – with their former coach in the stands – both of them delivered for their team.

Kettering, a freshman, hit leadoff for the Redhawks and drew five walks, including three on four pitches. That tied a single-game SEMO record.

In his final at bat, the second baseman put the ball in play, but Peyton Stovall made a nice play to rob him of a hit and end the game, making him officially 0 for 1 with the quintet of free passes.

“He’s been a spark plug at the top of our order,” SEMO baseball coach Andy Sawyers said. “I couldn’t be more proud of him and pleased with him. It is surprising, the five walks in one game, but nothing that young man does surprises me. He’s been very, very good since the day he set foot on campus.”

A super senior who transferred in from Missouri, Wilmsmeyer has struggled offensively for much of the season. Despite hitting in the 9-hole, he went 2 for 5 with an RBI – but was actually on base in each of his at bats.

The three times he didn’t get a hit, Wilmsmeyer put the ball in play and SEMO committed an error. The first resulted in him reaching on a fielder’s choice for an RBI, while the others were straight up errors that put him on.

One of his hits was a single that he stretched into a double and he scored three times. The RBI was his first since March 30 against LSU, a game in which he actually had three.

Up Next for Arkansas Baseball

Dave Van Horn’s decision to play the early game on the first day of the Fayetteville Regional turned out to be brilliant because weather prevented the second game from finishing.

After lightning pushed the start of the game back an hour, 2 seed Louisiana Tech and 3 seed Kansas State were able to play only five innings before lightning returned and, after about another 1.5-hour break, it was postponed.

The final four innings of that game will resume at 11 a.m. CT, with the Wildcats leading 9-4.

Whoever loses that game will have to turn around and play SEMO in an elimination game at 2 p.m. CT, while the winner gets a break before facing Arkansas at 8 p.m. CT, in a game that will be nationally televised by ESPNU.

Regardless of opponent, Arkansas will start left-hander Hagen Smith. The SEC Pitcher of the Year is 9-1 with a 1.48 ERA and 154 strikeouts in just 79 innings.

Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits in NCAA Tournament

  • The announced attendance for Arkansas vs SEMO at the Fayetteville Regional was 11,062.
  • Peyton Holt was lifted after noticeably limping during his strikeout to end the sixth inning, replaced in left field by Will Edmunson. The exit was because of cramps, so Van Horn told him to get an IV and told reporters that he should be fine for Saturday.
  • Will McEntire’s strikeout of Nolan Ackerman to end the fourth inning was the 675th of the season by Arkansas pitchers, breaking the school record previously set in 2022. That team racked up 674 strikeouts in 591 innings across 67 games. This year’s team eclipsed that total in just 507 2/3 innings and 58 games.
  • It hasn’t always been with a hit like the two homers he hit today, but Ben McLaughlin has now successfully reached base in 23 straight games.
  • New Arkansas basketball coach John Calipari was in attendance for the opening game of the Fayetteville Regional.

Arkansas vs SEMO Highlights (NCAA Tournament)

Fayetteville Regional Postgame Interviews

Arkansas vs SEMO Box Score (NCAA Tournament)

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More coverage of Arkansas baseball, the NCAA Tournament and the Fayetteville Regional from BoAS…

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