FAYETTEVILLE — It was a long day at the ballpark, but Arkansas baseball managed to keep its season alive Sunday.
The Razorbacks took one on the chin in the winner’s bracket game of the Fayetteville Regional, getting smacked 20-5 by TCU, only to turn around and stave off elimination with a 6-4 win over Santa Clara at Baum-Walker Stadium.
“The guys had a little bit of an attitude for a team that just got it handed to them so I appreciate that,” Arkansas baseball coach Van Horn said. “We beat a good team today, that second game. Santa Clara is a solid team, veterans. They can hit and pitch and field.”
In the first game of the day, which was postponed from Saturday because of inclement weather in the area, Arkansas got rocked like never before.
It was the most runs the Razorbacks have ever allowed in a postseason game, surpassing the 19 they gave up to Texas in the 2005 Austin Regional, and it was their most lopsided loss in the postseason, topping a trio of 11-run losses — the most recent of which was to Oklahoma State in the 2007 Fayetteville Regional.
On top of that, it was the most runs Arkansas has allowed during the Dave Van Horn era and most allowed in any game since losing to Auburn 21-11 on March 19, 2000.
The team didn’t have long to lick its wounds, though, as they had to turn around about an hour and a half later and face a well-rested Santa Clara team in an elimination game.
“It was in the past and we knew that,” Diggs said. “We can’t do anything to change it. So the mindset coming in was to take this next game pitch by pitch, and I wouldn’t want to do it with a different group of guys.”
As the “road” team, the Razorbacks hit first and Tavian Josenberger set the tone by drawing a seven-pitch walk to start the game. The very next pitch was crushed to right-center by Jace Bohrofen for an RBI double, giving Arkansas a lead it wouldn’t relinquish — thanks to some heroics by several players.
Brady Tygart Shines in Nightcap
With the Razorbacks running low on pitching and getting a pair of stunningly short outings from their first two starters in the Fayetteville Regional, they really needed Brady Tygart to give them some length in the nightcap.
Starting without a pitch count for the first time, the sophomore right-hander did just that, blowing past previous career highs of four innings (against Vanderbilt this season) and 71 pitches (against Ole Miss last year).
Tygart was charged with three runs — two of which were earned — on three hits and three walks while striking out six in 5 2/3 innings. Nearly two-thirds of his 99 total pitches were strikes.
“I thought he was really good,” Van Horn said. “The first inning he was a little erratic with his fastball and then once he settled in and started throwing that for a strike, they had to respect it and made the breaking ball look that much better or tougher to hit.
“I tell ya, he just competes. He left the one breaking ball up that was hit down the line off the fence, it drove in a couple runs, but for the most part, he didn’t make too many mistakes. I’ve said it many times, he could throw the ball 95-96 mph, but tonight he pitched 90-91 most of the time and threw some 85 mph changeups to their lefties and I just thought he pitched.”
That’s a really solid line, especially given the circumstances, but it was honestly probably even better than those numbers indicate. Tygart was one strike away from getting through six scoreless innings, and he might have if a couple of calls went his way earlier in the sixth.
After an infield single by Dawson Brigman to start the sixth, he thought he had strike three against Michael O’Hara, but his 2-2 pitch was called a ball and he eventually walked him. Then, with two outs, Eamonn Lance appeared to go around on a check swing, but the first base umpire said he didn’t. He ended up hitting the aforementioned line drive off the wall to drive in two runs.
The latter of those resulted in Van Horn exchanging words with the umpire after he went to his bullpen. But even with those calls going against him, Tygart was sensational.
“I felt like I could throw anything for a strike, honestly,” Tygart said on the UA’s postgame radio show. “I think I just mixed it — mixed in the zone and tried to keep them off balance. I think they were guessing. Just tried to keep them off balance and keep them guessing.”
Santa Clara hitters went 3 for 20 against Tygart and were just 1 for 16 with no more than one base runner an inning through the fifth.
“He was just attacking the zone,” Santa Clara right fielder Michael O’Hara said. “His fast ball was good, attacked with it, wasn’t afraid to use it and mixed it on with stuff really well. We were just trying to make an adjustment as we go, but he was able to execute his game plan.”
If it proves to be Tygart’s final outing of the season, it was the kind of performance that should make Arkansas baseball fans excited about his potential in 2024.
Moving into the starting rotation and worked back slowly after returning from a UCL strain that kept him out nearly two months, he has been great as a starter for the Razorbacks. In six starts, Tygart has given up just five earned runs on nine hits and seven walks while striking out 21 in 19 innings. That works out to an impressive 2.37 ERA and 0.84 WHIP.
“I think I’m more comfortable as a starter,” Tygart said. “That’s what I did my whole life. I just kind of got tossed into the closing role last year. That’s where I ended up and it was working. If I hadn’t been injured at the beginning of the year I don’t think I’d be starting now, with that injury stuff.”
(Curious what Arkansas’ pitching situation looks like going into Monday? Here’s our breakdown.)
Will McEntire Empties the Tank
With Santa Clara still well within striking distance, Dave Van Horn started to recycle pitchers who had already thrown this weekend.
The first one he called upon was right-hander Will McEntire. Considering he already threw 82 pitches against them Friday, the Broncos were a bit surprised by what the redshirt junior did to them Sunday.
“I think we were trying to project what we might see out of them and did not except to see some of those guys do what they did today,” Santa Clara baseball coach Rusty Filter admitted afterward.
Filter said he thought McEntire might pitch a little bit, but definitely not for 2 2/3 innings in which he gave up just one run on two hits while striking out five.
He nearly got Arkansas to the finish line, not allowing a hit or free pass to the first nine batters he faced. However, with one out in the ninth inning, McEntire gave up back-to-back singles. The second of those hits was an RBI, as a balk and wild pitch moved the first runner to third.
That prompted Dave Van Horn to bring in left-hander Hunter Hollan, who induced a 6-4-3 double play by Ben Steck to end the game and earn his first career save. McEntire was visibly exhausted, as he walked off the field slowly and was then shown on the SEC Network broadcast sitting on the bench drenched in sweat.
“I really wanted to finish the game to save all that we have for tomorrow,” McEntire said. “I kind of just let it all out there and didn’t get it done, but Hunter came in and did a great job of finishing it for us.”
It wasn’t quite a Kevin Kopps or Charley Boyce-like performance — at least not yet — but it was still an impressive and important outing for the Razorbacks.
Asked if he had anything left in the tank for Monday, McEntire smiled and said it was up to Van Horn, who later said he probably wouldn’t pitch unless he talked talked the coaching staff into it.
“I actually felt better today than I did on Friday,” McEntire said. “I’ve just to give credit to (catcher Parker) Rowland. He did a great job of mixing up the signs for me. They were just kind of guessing, because we were mixing really well.”
Kendall Diggs Provides Vital Insurance Runs
Arkansas baseball jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the elimination game, but it wouldn’t just coast to victory. Santa Clara made it a ballgame with three runs in the sixth and it was still a one-run game entering the eighth.
After an infield single by Ben McLaughlin, the Broncos brought in flame-throwing reliever Skylar Hales. The Razorbacks roughed him up Friday, but he bounced back and retired six of the seven batters he faced Sunday.
The only one he failed to get was the first one he faced, as Kendall Diggs greeted him with a two-run home run that gave Arkansas some cushion and ultimately proved to be the difference.
“We have faced that arm in the previous game we played them — really good pitcher,” Diggs said. “He’s got a really good heater. I worked the count. I was late on a couple heaters before. I got the full count and I just said, ‘Get the (bat) head out. If it’s anywhere close I just want to do whatever I can to help the team win,’ and good things happened.”
Replays showed Diggs had to go down and get it, too, as it was a low pitch that likely would have missed the zone had he not swung.
“The ball that Kendall hit out, if you go back and look at it, it was a good pitch,” Van Horn said. “It was probably a ball and it was down. He just went down and got it, shot it out of there.”
It didn’t come without controversy, though. Santa Clara baseball coach Rusty Filter thought it never should have happened because the pitch before should have been strike three. Instead, home plate umpire Joe Blumenauer called it a ball to set up the full-count homer.
“It was a great swing,” Filter said. “He hit a home run. After strike three. It’s the hardest thing to do to be an umpire. I don’t let my players talk to the umpire, I try not to talk to the umpire. They have the best seat in the house. I’m from the side. I can’t tell in or out, I have no idea. It looked like a great pitch. Obviously he saw it as a ball and the next pitch was a home run.”
It was his 12th long ball of the season and gives him 63 RBIs, but Diggs had struggled at the plate for most of the day until that hit. He was 0 for 6 with three strikeouts and a walk across the two games before the homer.
“There were times throughout today where I felt like I wasn’t getting the job done, and it was really frustrating not to help the team,” Diggs said. “So it felt amazing. It was great.”
TCU Hammers Hagen Smith
Arkansas ace Hagen Smith picked an unfortunate time to turn in the worst start of his career.
The left-hander was chased before recording an out in the second inning and gave up a career-high eight runs, topping his rough outing at Florida last season when he gave up seven — six earned — in 4 1/3 innings.
This season, Smith had been nothing short of dominant as both a starter and a closer. A first-team All-SEC selection by the coaches and a first-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball, he entered the game with a stellar 2.69 ERA.
The most runs he had allowed this season was four in five innings at Ole Miss back on April 7. TCU matched that with one swing of the bat — courtesy of a Tre Richardson grand slam.
“It’s really hard to say,” Dave Van Horn said, when asked what happened with Smith’s poor start. “I think when they hit the grand slam it kind of got to him, obviously, and that’s maybe to be expected. I wasn’t expecting that at all. I knew that they would hit him because they’re a really good offensive team, but you just didn’t expect it to go down like that.”
He was part of six straight batters Smith failed to retire after getting Elijah Nunez to ground out to start the game. Two of the first three reached after initially falling behind 0-2, as Karson Bowen walked and Cole Fontenelle was hit by a pitch sandwiched around a Brayden Taylor single.
That set the stage for Richardson’s grand slam. Smith then walked Kurtis Byrne on four pitches and gave up a single to Anthony Silva, who was also down 0-2 at one point. They came around to score on Austin Davis’ two-out single.
His 37th pitch of the inning resulted in Parker Rowland throwing out Davis trying to steal second. Getting that out on the base paths meant the Horned Frogs went 6 for 8 with three free passes against Smith, whose last two runs came around to score with Zack Morris on the mound in the second inning.
Have a Day, Tre Richardson
TCU also got an uncharacteristic performance in Sunday’s first game — but one that will be remembered much more fondly by its fans.
Second baseman Tre Richardson came into the day hitting .310 with 44 RBIs, which are solid numbers, especially given his speed that has resulted in 24 stolen bases. Power hasn’t exactly been part of the scouting report, though, as he had just two home runs in 239 at bats over the first 60 games of the year.
He hit more than that in his first four at bats against Arkansas. Not only did he homer three times, but his first two were opposite-field grand slams in the first and second innings. His third also went the other way, but it was just a two-run shot.
“The first one I thought had a pretty good chance of getting out, just because I thought he hit it really well,” TCU baseball coach Kirk Saarloos said. “The next two I was a little bit surprised, in terms of the ball getting over the fence. … I guess he’s saving the best for last. Didn’t want to get all of his homers out of the way early and was able to put three good swings on it today.”
To cap his 5-for-6 performance, Richardson hit a single up the middle to drive in his 11th run of the game. The 11 RBIs matches an NCAA Tournament record previously set by Baylor catcher Shea Langeliers, who did it against Omaha at the 2019 Los Angeles Regional.
As if what he did with his bat wasn’t enough, Richardson also made a nice diving stop of a ground ball by Brady Slavens in shallow right. It seemed destined to get through for a single, but he hopped up and fired to first for the out, giving him a web gem on top of his career day at the plate.
Peyton Holt Injury Update
Second baseman Peyton Holt was not in the lineup Sunday after leaving Friday’s game following his eighth-inning at bat. He is dealing with an “upper back strain,” according to the UA’s pregame radio show.
Since replacing the injured Peyton Holt as the everyday second baseman, Holt has been arguably the hottest hitter on the team. The Greenwood native is riding a 10-game hitting streak in which he’s gone 19 for 36 (.528), not to mention his excellent defense.
When asked about his status after Sunday’s games, Dave Van Horn clarified the injury and said it was unlikely that he’d be available to play Monday.
“It’s more of a spasm,” Van Horn said. “It’s just locked up where he couldn’t hardly move. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow. They’ve got him on all kinds of medicine, so we’ll see if something kicks in. But he was moving around a lot better in the dugout. I don’t want to put him out there, and he takes a swing or two and can’t move again, and I’d pull him out of the game.”
It is yet another significant blow to Arkansas baseball, which has now seen seven different position players — plus four pitchers — miss time with injuries this season:
- LF Jared Wegner (thumb): 5 weeks
- CF Tavian Josenberger (hamstring): 2 weeks
- DH/1B/3B Ben McLaughlin (knee): 6 weeks
- C Parker Rowland (back): 1 week
- SS John Bolton (ankle): 1 week
- 2B Peyton Stovall (shoulder): out for season (last 3 weeks of regular season + postseason)
- RHP Jaxon Wiggins (Tommy John): out for entire season
- RHP Koty Frank (torn lat): out for season (all but first 3 weeks)
- RHP Brady Tygart (UCL strain): 8 weeks
- RHP Dylan Carter (Tommy John): out for season (last 3 weeks of regular season + postseason)
Giving Baum-Walker Stadium Some Love
On Thursday, Santa Clara right fielder Michael O’Hara told reporters that he couldn’t wait to play in front of sold out crowds at Baum-Walker Stadium.
He knew it would be a hostile environment, but he was also excited about the prospect of playing in games with a single-game attendance topping what the Broncos drew in all of their home games combined.
Even after the disappointment of defeat, O’Hara confirmed that it lived up to his expectations.
“It was the experience of a lifetime no doubt,” O’Hara said. “The fans here were amazing. No denying that. They kept me busy in right field with kids asking for balls, guys just chatting me up and having a good time. I think all the boys just had an amazing experience, like the guys in the bullpen. Most of the time it was nice, sometimes not so much, but you’re honestly coming down here expecting more that.”
Up Next for Arkansas Baseball
The Razorbacks are in the Fayetteville Regional final, but having come out of the loser’s bracket, they must beat TCU twice on Monday to advance to the super regional, while TCU needs to win just once.
The first game is scheduled for 2 p.m. CT and will be televised on ESPNU. If Arkansas wins that game, a winner-take-all game would be played at 8 p.m. CT. The television information for that game has not yet been determined, but it will at least be on ESPN-Plus.
Whichever team comes out of the Fayetteville Regional will face No. 14 overall seed Indiana State, which swept through the Terre Haute Regional with a 3-0 record. If Arkansas wins, the super regional will be in Fayetteville. If TCU wins, it would presumably be in Terre Haute.
Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits
- The announced attendance for Sunday was a season-high 11,121 for the afternoon game and 10,395 for the night game. Including the two games not involving Arkansas baseball, the Fayetteville Regional has a five-game attendance of 53,261 — an average of 10,652.
- There were a pair of lightning delays in the Arkansas vs TCU game, first in the middle of the third inning and then again in the middle of the eighth. They were 59 and 51 minutes long, respectively, meaning they lasted a combined 1 hour and 50 minutes.
- In two games against TCU this season, Arkansas has allowed 38 runs on 40 hits while losing by a combined score of 38-11.
- With four against TCU and two more against Santa Clara, Arkansas has now hit 90 home runs this season. That ranks fifth on the UA single-season list, behind the 2010 (92), 2018 (98), 2022 (106) and 2021 (109) teams.
- Thanks to a ninth-inning single against TCU and third-inning home run against Santa Clara (plus a walk in the fifth), Jared Wegner extended his on-base streak to 15 games. That is the longest active streak for Arkansas baseball.
- In the 60th game of the season, which was the nightcap against the Broncos, Dave Van Horn shuffled his lineup once again by moving Caleb Cali to second base and inserting Ben McLaughlin at third base. Neither player had started a single game at those positions this season. “I need to get McLaughlin in the lineup,” Van Horn said. “Just need to get some offense. We’re running out of options. We’re running out of middle infielders.”
Arkansas vs Santa Clara Highlights
Fayetteville Regional Postgame Interviews
Arkansas vs TCU Box Score (Fayetteville Regional)
Arkansas vs Santa Clara Box Score (Fayetteville Regional)
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