As Stars Struggle, New Arms Emerge for Hogs + More from Florida Doubleheader

Christian Foutch, Jake Faherty, Arkansas baseball, Arkansas vs Florida
photo credit: Craven Whitlow / Baumology

FAYETTEVILLE — There wasn’t much to like in the Arkansas vs Florida finale for the Razorbacks, but they did get an encouraging outing from Jake Faherty.

The right-hander threw two scoreless innings late in the No. 2 Razorbacks’ 9-5 loss to the Gators in the nightcap of Saturday’s doubleheader at Baum-Walker Stadium.

Even though it dropped that game, Arkansas (37-7, 16-5 SEC) still won the series and – coupled with Texas A&M also losing its last game against Georgia – have a one-game lead in the SEC West standings.

With road series against SEC East-leading Kentucky and the Aggies looming, not to mention a home series against third-place Mississippi State sandwiched between those, it won’t be easy to maintain that lead.

If Saturday’s performance was any indication, though, the Razorbacks may have a new pitcher with electric stuff to help them navigate that brutal closing schedule.

Faherty allowed a two-out single and two-out walk in the seventh and eighth innings, respectively, but that was it. He also notched a couple of strikeouts, including getting Florida superstar Jac Caglianone – one of the toughest players in the country to strike out – to go down on strikes.

“Best he’s ever thrown,” Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said. “I mean, if you just talk about pitching. Throwing a cutter, slider, whatever you want to call it at 88-90 mph, fastball up to 95 or more,” Van Horn said. “Just looked like a guy we thought we were going to have and it kind of went away. If he’s back, that’s going to really help us down the stretch.”

Early in the season, Faherty looked like he might be a candidate to close games for the Razorbacks, but that hasn’t come to fruition. He recorded his lone save of the season with back-to-back strikeouts to strand the tying run on third and preserve a 5-4 win over Oregon State on Feb. 23.

It’s been up and down since then, but the junior has allowed only one earned run in 7 1/3 innings this season. Opponents are just 4 for 26 (.154) against him, but he’s also issued seven walks while striking out 13.

Here are a few other takeaways from the Arkansas vs Florida doubleheader…

(READ NEXT: Friendly Fire Part of Peyton Holt’s All-Time Deke in Nailbiting Florida Win)

Attempting to Contain Caglianone

Considering he entered the weekend with a .410 batting average and the second-most home runs (25) in the country, with at least one in 10 of the previous 11 games, Arkansas actually did a decent job of containing Jac Caglianone.

In three games against the Razorbacks, the projected top-5 pick went 3 for 10. He was also intentionally walked four times, as Dave Van Horn was determined not to let him beat his team.

Unfortunately for Arkansas, one of those three hits was a big one. In a 1-2 count, Koty Frank threw him a pitch low and outside – it wasn’t even a strike, according to TrackMan – and Caglianone still managed to put a barrel on it.

It left the bat with a 106 mph exit velocity and traveled 404 feet, clearing the wall in right-center for a grand slam to cap a six-run inning for the Gators. Even though the bases were loaded, Van Horn admitted he considered giving him the Barry Bonds treatment by intentionally walking him again.

“There was nowhere to put him, and believe me, I thought about walking in a run,” Van Horn said. “I honestly did, and I wish I would have. He’s an amazing hitter.”

Even his outs were hit hard. None of them were quite as loud as his 115 mph ground out Friday night, but he made solid contact nearly every time he was up. Caglianone nearly had a home run his first time up in Game 3, but his 110 mph blast was just foul.

He was also nearly impossible to strike out. In three straight at bats spanning Friday and Saturday, Caglianone was down 0-2 against Hagen Smith, Gabe Gaeckle and Brady Tygart. Two of those at bats ended with hits, with Smith getting him to ground out.

When Jake Faherty finally got him on strikes, it was just his 15th strikeout of the season in 205 plate appearances and his first since April 7, a span of nearly three weeks.

As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Caglianone was also Florida’s starting pitcher in Game 3. He has been arguably the Gators’ most consistent arm, but the Razorbacks jumped on him pretty good.

In just four innings, they notched six hits and three walks against the left-hander, who also had four strikeouts. Arkansas also got his pitch count up, as he threw 95 pitches, forcing Florida to go to its bullpen earlier than it would have liked.

“It takes a special athlete to be able to do that and maintain energy,” Arkansas’ Peyton Holt said. “I don’t know about y’all, but I’m drained. For him to go out there and pitch, give it everything he has and then hits a grand slam, it takes a special athlete, so props to him. I mean, hell of a player.”

Game 2: Arkansas 6, Florida 5

For six innings, the Razorbacks and Gators were locked in yet another low-scoring battle.

An RBI double by Ben McLaughlin put the former up 1-0 in the third and then the latter tied it up with a run-scoring wild pitch in the fifth. It remained a 1-1 game until the seventh, when both offenses finally woke up.

With starter Brady Tygart finally out, Florida jumped on Will McEntire and scored three runs on five hits with an intentional walk sandwiched in between. Ty Evans gave the Gators the lead with an RBI double and then Colby Shelton and Luke Heyman added RBI singles.

The lead didn’t last long, though, as Arkansas put together a two-out rally in the bottom half of the inning. Jared Sprague-Lott started it with an RBI single and then Wehiwa Aloy tied it up with his team-leading 10th home run of the season, a 345-foot two-run shot that landed in the left field bullpen.

“You had to hit it pretty good that first game,” Van Horn said. “The wind was howling, and you had to hit it pretty much there, dead left. … We had to keep an eye on it for a minute because we didn’t know how the wind was going to affect it.”

The Razorbacks weren’t done there. A single by McLaughlin — his third hit of the day — forced a pitching change and the Gators turned to Luke McNeillie, who also pitched Friday night. He promptly gave up a two-run homer to Peyton Holt, which proved to be the difference.

That doesn’t mean Arkansas cruised from that point. In fact, it was sweating it out the rest of the way.

Florida cut its deficit in half thanks to an error, but the Razorbacks made up for it with the web gem of all web gems by Holt. The Gators also got the tying and go-ahead run on base with two outs in the ninth, but Christian Foutch struck out Brody Donay to finally end it.

All six pitches Foutch threw in that at bat were at least 100 mph, with one of them actually touching 101, according to TrackMan. In a full count, he blew the last pitch by Donay for a swing and miss that earned him his first save of the season.

It’s not the first time Foutch has touched triple digits this season and Van Horn has said he wouldn’t be surprised if he gets up to 102 mph eventually, whether it’s at Arkansas or at the next level. Granted it’s in much shorter spurts, but the velocity is comparable to LSU’s Paul Skenes, the No. 1 draft pick last summer and now the top pitching prospect in baseball.

“He’s got the most consistent velo I’ve seen, other than the guy from Baton Rouge last year,” teammate Brady Tygart said. “He blows our mind every single day because it looks so easy. I never play catch with him, I’ll never do that to myself because it’s scary. That’s what we expect from him every time.”

Game 3: Florida 9, Arkansas 5

The finale started much like the first two games, with Arkansas striking first with a two-out RBI single by Peyton Stovall in the second inning and Florida answering with a run of its own in the third.

It didn’t stay tied 1-1 quite as long, though. The Gators jumped all over reliever Koty Frank in the fourth inning, eventually putting up a six-spot punctuated by Jac Caglianone’s grand slam.

“We gave them some free bases and they took advantage of it, because they had their best hitter up at the right time,” Van Horn said.

Even though that deficit proved to be too large to overcome, Arkansas didn’t roll over and quit.

Stovall drove in two more runs with a double in the bottom of that inning, but the Razorbacks stranded two on base when Wehiwa Aloy was called out on a pitch that, according to TrackMan, should have been ball four and loaded the bases.

Florida got both of those runs back with a two-run home run by Ty Evans in the sixth, which was the final knock-out punch. The Razorbacks scored on an error and RBI single by McLaughlin to make the final score 9-5.

Another Strong Start by Tygart

Moved up to Game 2 because of an injury to Mason Molina, right-hander Brady Tygart turned in another strong start for the Razorbacks in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader.

He pitched into the seventh inning, but was pulled after issuing a leadoff walk.

“I really wanted that seventh inning, but I threw four uncompetitive pitches to the first batter,” Tygart said. “I don’t blame them for pulling me. But I felt really good. Honestly, my mentality has been a lot stronger and I’ve just been working on feeling myself.”

That runner eventually came around to score, making his stat line look less impressive than it actually was. He was charged with two earned runs on three hits and four walks while striking out six in six innings.

The only run that scored while he was still on the mound came in the fifth inning and Florida manufactured it. Brody Donay reached on a leadoff single, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, took third on a ground out and, after an intentional walk of Jac Caglianone, scored on a wild pitch.

Tygart also stranded runners on second and third in the second inning by getting a strikeout and ground out.

“He had one inning today where he struggled a little bit, but he fought through it,” Van Horn said. “Does what he does. He knows how to get out of those jams. The good ones do. It’s been good to see him pick it up, because we’ve needed it.”

It was Tygart’s third straight start of at least five innings after five consecutive outings in which he failed to get through the fifth.

Across starts against Auburn, LSU and Ole Miss, the junior gave up nine earned runs on 12 hits and eight walks in 12 innings. In his three starts since then – against Alabama, South Carolina and Florida – he allowed only five earned runs on 12 hits and eight walks in 17 innings.

“Early in the season, I wasn’t myself,” Tygart said. “I wasn’t confident or anything. I was worrying about analytics and I was thinking about a million different things. I was thinking about my mechanics. All of a sudden, one day I said, ‘Screw this. I’m not having fun. I’m just going to go up there and throw the ball.’ That’s literally what I thought. Then I started improving.”

Troubling Trend Continues for McEntire

Up until the Alabama series, a strong case could be made for Will McEntire as the best — or at least most important — reliever in the country.

Blessed with a rubber arm, the Bryant native was capable of pitching twice on a weekend and typically got called upon in high-leverage situations. He delivered, too.

Making 15 appearances in Arkansas’ first 32 games, McEntire compiled a 1.75 ERA — which was slightly better than Hagen Smith — plus had an 0.86 WHIP while limiting opponents to a .189 batting average in 36 innings.

Since then, though, McEntire has struggled, to say the least.

“We gotta get him going because he’s usually a guy who can come in and eat up some innings and hold a lead for you,” Van Horn said. “You know what you’re going to get, he’s going to pound the zone. His cutter hasn’t been in the zone as much as it had. He’s pitching behind in the count. You’ve got to pitch ahead in the count. We’ll get him back on track and that’ll be big, so hopefully that’ll happen this week.”

The latest example happened in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, when he relieved Brady Tygart with no outs and a runner on first in the seventh.

McEntire actually started out well, inducing a tailor-made double play ball from Brody Donay. However, Jared Sprague-Lott was slow to start it and Arkansas only got the force at second. The next five Gators reached, with four of them doing so via hits and the fifth coming on an intentional walk.

The last three of those hits drove in runs, but the first was charged to Tygart because it was the runner McEntire inherited.

Over his last five outings, the right-hander has given up 11 runs, 10 of which were earned, on 16 hits and three walks in just seven innings. That works out to a 12.86 ERA and 2.71 WHIP, with opponents hitting a whopping .457.

“I think we’re all super confident in him,” teammate Brady Tygart said. “He’s a veteran, he’s been in every single situation that you can be in as a pitcher. He’s mentally strong and I think he’s going to be fine. It’s not a bad thing if you’re going downhill a little bit in the middle of the season because it sets you up for a jump in the end.”

Diggs Struggling at the Plate

Will McEntire isn’t the only key veteran who hasn’t played well lately. On the hitting side of things, Kendall Diggs is still in the midst of a slump.

The junior slugger went 0 for 10 with a walk and five strikeouts in the three games against Florida, causing his season batting average to drop to .245.

Even though he had a couple of doubles and RBIs in Arkansas’ rubber match win at South Carolina last weekend, Diggs is now hitting just .190 in SEC play, with a team-high 25 strikeouts in 21 conference games.

“We need him,” Van Horn said. “He’s a lot better hitter than his batting average says or the contact says. He had a good weekend last weekend and we needed that. We needed every bit of it. Yeah, I just think he needs a little confidence and just needs to go up there and start hitting the baseball like we know he can. I think it’s coming, but the sooner the better for us.”

Diggs – along with teammate Peyton Stovall – was widely expected to be one of Arkansas’ top hitters this year and it looked like he would be early on.

Through the first four weeks of the season, he was hitting .352. However, he injured his shoulder in the McNeese State series and it may have impacted his play, but since being held out of the two midweek games against Texas Tech, Van Horn has said he’s fully healthy.

As is the case with McEntire, though, Diggs’ teammates are confident he’ll get it going down the stretch.

“Before it’s all said and done he’s going to go down as one of the clutchest players in Arkansas history,” Stovall said. “He’s a great player and he’s already done so much for this team and this program. I think for us, we have full confidence in him and we know the type of player he is, we’re going to continue to roll that confidence on to him from us. It’s only a matter of time, we’re looking forward to it.”

Up Next for Arkansas Baseball

The Razorbacks will get Sunday off after playing a doubleheader Saturday, giving them an extra day to get ready for a two-game midweek series against Missouri State. It will be their final two midweek games of the season.

It has been a tough season for the Bears, who are in their 42nd and final season being led by head coach Keith Guttin. After a loss to Evansville on Saturday, they are 17-24 overall with a 6-11 mark in MVC play. Their series at Evansville concludes Sunday, with first pitch scheduled for 2 p.m.

The two games are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. CT Tuesday and 4 p.m. CT Wednesday, with both games being streamed on SEC Network-Plus.

Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits

  • The announced attendance for the Arkansas vs Florida doubleheader on Saturday was 11,160. It was the seventh time the Baum-Walker Stadium crowd cracked 11,000 this year.
  • By winning the first game of the doubleheader by a 6-5 score, Arkansas improved to an impressive 10-2 in one-run games this season. On the flip side, half of Florida’s 12 SEC losses have been by one run.
  • That win was also the Razorbacks’ 27th straight home win, matching the school record set between the 1984-85 seasons. The streak was snapped in the series finale. “I told the team, ‘Let’s start a new one,’” Van Horn said.
  • Brady Tygart plunked Hayden Yost in a 1-2 count in the second inning of Saturday’s first game. It was the 13th HBP of the season for the right-hander, moving him ahead of Missouri’s Carter Rustad for the most in the SEC.
  • Parker Rowland started the first game of the doubleheader and threw out Yost trying to steal second to end the fourth inning. Including a double steal by the Gators in the second inning, opponents had been 10 of 10 on stolen base attempts against Rowland this year prior to him getting Yost.
  • The Razorbacks actually started a different catcher in all three games against Florida. Hudson White got the nod in the opener, Rowland started in Game 2 and Ryder Helfrick was behind the plate in the finale.
  • Prior to this weekend, Arkansas had issued just four intentional walks through 41 games. It eclipsed that number in three games against Florida. The Razorbacks put Colby Shelton on in Game 1 and then put Jac Caglianone on four times across the last two games — three of which were in Game 2.
  • For the first time this season, Arkansas pitchers finished with more walks (8) than strikeouts (7) in the second game of the doubleheader. 
  • The 2004 Arkansas baseball team was recognized before the start of the doubleheader. That squad won the SEC and made it to the College World Series in Dave Van Horn’s second season at the helm.
  • Country music star Tracy Lawrence threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the first game. He was raised in Foreman, Ark., but moved to Nashville when he was 15 to begin his music career, which has yielded eight No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts.
  • Arkansas basketball coach John Calipari threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the second game. He even warmed up beforehand, playing catch with freshman right-hander Tate McGuire in front of the dugout. Calipari was announced as the Razorbacks’ new coach, replacing Eric Musselman, on April 10.
  • Former Arkansas basketball player Nick Smith Jr. was in attendance for the first game. He’s back in town working out, as Charlotte did not make the playoffs. Calipari shared a photo of the two together at the practice facility on Twitter.

Arkansas vs Florida Highlights

Game 2

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Game 3

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Postgame Interviews

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Arkansas vs Florida Box Scores

Game 2

Game 3


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