Arkansas vs Eastern Illinois: Diamond Hogs’ Game 2 Starter in Doubt

Will McEntire, Arkansas baseball, Arkansas vs Eastern Illinois
photo credit: Baumology

UPDATE (12:15 p.m.): Arkansas baseball will not make any changes to its starting rotation this weekend, announcing it will stick with right-hander Will McEntire for Game 2 of this weekend’s series against Eastern Illinois.

FAYETTEVILLE — It wasn’t until the final weekend of the 2022 regular season that Dave Van Horn changed his starting rotation. A tweak may come much sooner than that for Arkansas baseball this year.

After struggling against TCU and Grambling, right-hander Will McEntire may be on his way to losing his starting spot. That hasn’t officially been decided yet, but Van Horn is mulling his options for the Game 2 slot in this weekend’s series against Eastern Illinois.

“It’ll be up in the air for the next day or so,” Van Horn said. “I think we’ll probably still stick with Friday and Sunday the same and just figure out how we’re going to handle Saturday. We might just TBA Saturday after what went on today.”

Sticking with his Game 1 and 3 starters means left-hander Hagen Smith will get the nod Friday afternoon, while another lefty, Hunter Hollan, starts Sunday’s finale.

That wasn’t particularly surprising after Smith looked like a bonafide SEC ace in the season opener against Texas and Hollan was solid in his Arkansas debut against Oklahoma State. Facing a pair of teams ranked in various preseason polls, the pair allowed only one run in nine innings.

Smith threw five shutout innings and didn’t allow another hit after giving up a leadoff single to the first batter he faced. Despite giving up a run, Hollan likely could have pitched deeper in the game had it been necessary, but still notched five strikeouts in four innings.

Things didn’t go nearly as well for McEntire, who was one of the Razorbacks’ most effective pitchers in the postseason last year. He failed to make it through the second inning and was charged with four earned runs on five hits and a walk.

It got even worse a few days later when he came out of the bullpen in the midweek matchup with Grambling. Five of the six batters he faced reached base and he caught a break — thanks to Koty Frank inducing a double play — to allow only one earned run in 2/3 of an inning.

Van Horn has said the issue has been with locating pitches, as he’s left everything over the middle of the plate and it’s resulted in opponents going 9 for 14 (.643) against him — compared to the .162 he held opponents to in last year’s postseason.

If he doesn’t get the nod, the most likely replacement is right-hander Cody Adcock. He was previously identified by Van Horn as the guy just left out of the rotation and Adcock pitched pretty well in two appearances last weekend.

Two other options are right-handers Brady Tygart and Koty Frank.

Tygart has closed out two of the four games so far and has yet to allow a run in 3 2/3 innings, earning a save and a win. He had everything working against Texas, prompting Van Horn to mention once again that he sees him starting games in the future.

Frank is a guy who Van Horn previously said wasn’t in consideration to start, but he’s thrown five scoreless innings across three appearances and after the Grambling game, he mentioned Frank could start if needed.

How to Watch Arkansas vs Eastern Illinois

Date: Feb. 24-26

Friday — 2 p.m. CT
Saturday — Noon CT
Sunday — 1 p.m. CT

Location: Baum-Walker Stadium (Fayetteville, Ark.)

Stream: SEC Network-Plus (all three games)

Scouting Eastern Illinois Baseball

2023 record: 3-0
Preseason poll: 3rd out of 9 teams in the OVC
Head coach: Jason Anderson (8th season)

By now, Eastern Illinois should be a relatively familiar opponent for Arkansas baseball fans. After all, it will be the sixth time in 10 years the Panthers have visited Fayetteville for a weekend series. Over that span, the Razorbacks are 14-1 in the series. The lone blemish was a 12-inning loss in Game 2 of the 2016 series and was actually the first win of Jason Anderson’s career.

The Panthers opened up the 2023 season at Florida A&M last week and pulled off a sweep — but it wasn’t easy. They needed 10 innings to win the opener and had to hold on for a 4-3 win in the second game. Even the finale was a 3-0 game. The three games were played in front of a grand total of 402 fans. There will likely be well over 10 times that at each of the games at Baum-Walker Stadium this weekend.

Last season, the book on Eastern Illinois was that it was a very good offensive team, but struggled on the mound. As a team, the Panthers slashed .293/.391/.441 and averaged 7.3 runs, while posting a 5.52 team ERA. That led to them going 33-20 overall and 12-12 in conference play.

Now picked to finish third in the Ohio Valley Conference, Eastern Illinois has a few key returners from last year’s team, highlighted by two-way standout Ryan Ignoffo. He was a first-team All-OVC selection after hitting .395 with 14 home runs and 58 RBIs in 44 games last season. Now a super senior, Ignoffo actually played at Baum-Walker Stadium his sophomore year and went 5 for 11 against the Razorbacks.

Ignoffo threw only four innings across four appearances last season, but already seems to be taking on a bigger role on the mound in 2023. He notched a three-inning save in Game 2 against Florida A&M, but struggled to a 1 for 9 start at the plate.

The Panthers also have the reigning OVC Freshman of the Year in shortstop Chris Worcester, a second-team All-OVC selection in second baseman Lucas DiLuca and one of the best closers in the conference in senior right-hander Zane Robbins, who broke the school record with 11 saves last year.

Arkansas vs Eastern Illinois — Projected Pitching Matchups

Game 1
Arkansas: So LHP Hagen Smith
Eastern Illinois: S-Sr. RHP Blake Malatestinic

In the opener against Texas, Hagen Smith gave up a leadoff single to the first batter he faced and had to work around back-to-back walks to start his final inning, but was otherwise sensational. He struck out eight in five scoreless innings, needing only 68 pitches to do so.

Things weren’t quite as smooth for Eastern Illinois’ Opening Day starter. Blake Malatestinic, a sixth-year super senior, pitched into the sixth inning, but gave up nine hits and two walks to Florida A&M. That resulted in six runs, four of which were earned.

Game 2
Arkansas: R-Jr. RHP Will McEntire
Eastern Illinois: So. RHP Tyler Conklin

Despite originally indicating he’d leave Saturday as a “TBA,” Dave Van Horn and the Razorbacks have decided to stick with Will McEntire for Game 2. As mentioned above, the right-hander has struggled in his first two outings, leading to speculation that right-hander Cody Adcock may get the nod instead.

In his first start since landing on the OVC All-Freshman team last season, Tyler Conklin gave Eastern Illinois six strong innings against Florida A&M. He allowed just two earned runs on four hits and one walk while striking out three.

Game 3
Arkansas: Jr. LHP Hunter Hollan
Eastern Illinois: S-Sr. RHP Ky Hampton

Despite long breaks between innings because his teammates were scoring a bunch of runs, Hunter Hollan pitched really well in his Arkansas debut. He allowed one run in four innings, but could have gone longer if the situation dictated it.

The best start of opening weekend for Eastern Illinois came on Sunday, when Ky Hampton threw six scoreless innings. However, it’s worth noting that the super senior had to work out of trouble quite a few times because he gave up seven hits and three walks.

Composite College Baseball Top 25

Unlike football and basketball, which have just the AP and Coaches Polls all year (with football adding the CFP rankings late in the season), college baseball has six major polls.

To get a better feel for how teams stack up, BoAS has combined those rankings into a single top 25 by using a points system in which a No. 1 ranking = 25 points, No. 2 = 24 points and all the way to No. 25 = 1 point. We will update this each week throughout the season…

(NOTE: The USA Today Coaches poll will not update until a couple of weeks into the season, so it is excluded from this week’s rankings.)

1. LSUSEC125
2. StanfordPac-12+1118
3. FloridaSEC+1108
t-4. Wake ForestACC+3100
t-4. Texas A&MSEC+1100
6. TennesseeSEC-494
7. ArkansasSEC-193
8. LouisvilleACC+188
t-9. Ole MissSEC+185
t-9. VanderbiltSEC85
11. TCUBig 12+483
12. UCLAPac-12+266
13. North CarolinaACC-161
14. Miami (Fla.)ACC-152
15. VirginiaACC+444
16. Virginia TechACC+143
t-17. Southern MissSun Belt+341
t-17. MarylandBig Ten-141
19. East CarolinaAAC-137
20. Oklahoma StateBig 12-934
21. Texas TechBig 1231
22. OregonPac-1223
23. North Carolina StateACC15
t-24. AuburnSEC+112
t-24. UC-Santa BarbaraBig West+212
Receiving votes: Alabama (11), Oregon State (10), South Carolina (4), Georgia Tech (4), Texas State (2), Mississippi State (2), Florida State (1)

MOVED IN: UC-Santa Barbara (25)
DROPPED OUT: Oregon State (t-23)

Conference Breakdown

  • SEC: 8
  • ACC: 7
  • Big 12: 3
  • Pac-12: 3
  • AAC: 1
  • Big Ten: 1
  • Big West: 1
  • Sun Belt: 1


More coverage of Arkansas baseball from BoAS…

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