Coaches Differ on Key to Arkansas’ Win + More from Rubber Match vs Alabama

Dylan Carter, Arkansas baseball, Arkansas vs Alabama
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics

FAYETTEVILLE — When he walked off the mound for the final time Sunday afternoon, Dylan Carter received a thunderous standing ovation from Arkansas baseball fans.

It was well-deserved, as the right-hander gave the Razorbacks a strong 3 2/3 innings of relief in their 5-4 win over Alabama in a rubber match that helped them remain on top of the SEC West standings. They are tied for first with No. 1 LSU, which owns the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Carter, a Bentonville native, had to take the JUCO route out of high school and then redshirted his first year at Arkansas. Injuries thrust him into a larger role than expected this year and he’s made the most of the opportunity, with this being his latest big-time performance.

“I had chills all down my body,” Carter said about the standing ovation. “Being from the state and growing up around here and bleeding Razorback red since I born and coming to games since I was 9 years old, it was pretty special.”

Although he had a few three-inning outings under his belt, Carter had never pitched as much as he did Sunday. He scattered two hits and two walks while allowing just one run to a team that had racked up 37 hits over the first two games in the series.

“Dylan Carter was the man,” Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said. “I mean, Dylan came in and did a tremendous job going through that tough order, left, right. Super job.”

Making what he did even more impressed was the fact that Carter also pitched the day before, throwing 30 pitches in 2 1/3 scoreless innings of a 9-6 win.

Having never pitched on back-to-back days for the Razorbacks, he had to meet with pitching coach Matt Hobbs to discuss his availability ahead of time. Carter told his coach that he felt better than the day before, so give him the ball “whenever” and he’d take it “however long you need me.”

“I wanted to help this team out, win the game today and win the series,” Carter said. “If it took 10 pitches or it took 70 pitches, I was going to give it my all. I tried to do that to the best of my ability.”

No one likely could have anticipated he’d take it as long as he did. Entering the game after a leadoff home run in the fifth, he didn’t leave until there were two outs in the eighth.

It started with a bit of a scary moment, as Andrew Pinckney hit a scorcher — with a 106 mph exit velocity — right back up the middle that deflected off his foot. He recovered in time to get the out and stayed in the game, but later admitted to reporters that he couldn’t feel his toes the rest of the game.

You wouldn’t have known it watching him pitch, though. He worked around a two-out error in the fifth and gave up a run in the sixth, with a pair of wild pitches contributing to Tommy Seidl coming around to score, but his best inning was the seventh.

Carter needed only 10 pitches to retire the Crimson Tide in order and was visibly amped up as he left the field. At that point, he was up to 46 pitches on the day and 76 for the weekend.

“I thought that was my last inning of work, so I was trying to fire the crowd up and get them going, but I knew I had a little bit more,” Carter said. “He asked if I wanted to go one more, and I said ‘Absolutely.’”

After a one-out single by Mac Guscette, Carter nearly got through the eighth with a double play ball, but the Alabama player who hit it, Seidl, was too fast and beat the throw to first. Van Horn pulled him when he walked the next batter on his 63rd pitch of the day and 93rd of the weekend.

The Razorbacks turned things over to freshman Gage Wood, who slammed the door by retiring all four batters he faced. Carter took over for Cody Adcock, who pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings before allowing the aforementioned fifth-inning homer.

All together, the three Arkansas relievers combined for 8 1/3 innings in which they gave up only two earned runs on five hits and three walks with five strikeouts. Catcher Parker Rowland described it as a “gusty performance” by the bullpen.

Alabama had been hitting .424 in the series before the third out of the first inning Sunday and then went just 5 for 31 (.161) against the trio of Adcock, Carter and Wood.

“We would’ve got swept if it wasn’t for the bullpen,” Van Horn said. “I love good starting pitching, but the bullpen, that’s going to determine if you have a good team or not, because the games are won (innings) 7-9.

“What (Hagen) Smith did yesterday and Carter and Adcock and Wood did today, you couldn’t have drawn it up any better, looking back on it.”

Gage Wood Slams the Door

As Dylan Carter ran out of gas, the Razorbacks were running low on pitching. Hagen Smith was unavailable after throwing 52 pitches Saturday, middle reliever Koty Frank is out for the season with a torn lat and closer Brady Tygart is still on the shelf with a UCL sprain.

The best option was freshman right-hander Gage Wood, who threw 30 pitches in an inning of work Friday. He likely could have pitched longer, but Arkansas was already getting blown out and Van Horn knew a situation like that might arise in the finale.

“He was upset when we took him out,” Van Horn said. “We told him, ‘You’re going to pitch again on Sunday. You have to.’ And he came through for us and got us four really, really big outs.”

The first of those outs was the biggest, as he needed only two pitches to get Drew Williamson to fly out and strand the tying run on second and go-ahead run on first.

The ninth inning was almost anticlimactic. He retired the Crimson Tide in order on just eight pitches, mowing down the heart of their order.

“I just executed pitches really,” Wood said. “Threw the fastball and then I had been working on the slider because I had lost feel for it a little bit. I had been working on it every day with Dylan (Carter), my catch partner, and then today I was throwing it again and it helped me get some outs today.”

Not only did the outing give him his first career save and earn a big series victory, but it might have been just what he needed to become a go-to arm for Arkansas.

Van Horn has mentioned him several times as being able to contribute as a freshman, but he has been very up and down. The Batesville native has flashed his potential, but usually followed dominant outings with rough ones.

“I think all the outings leading up to today helped get ready for today,” Van Horn said. “I mentioned that after the game to the team. You’re going to have your ups and downs preseason. Maybe throw them out there here and there.

“I remember the first time he got the ball, when I went out and got the ball from him, he looked super nervous. But I knew he would be. That was in front of a ton of people down there in Arlington. But we threw him out there to get him ready for something like this, because these are the games that really matter.”

The outing Van Horn was referring to was against TCU in the second game of the season. Making his debut at Globe Life Field, he promptly gave up an RBI single and then walked the next two batters before getting pulled.

It was a rough first collegiate experience, but one he admits he probably needed.

“I think that kind of made me better and stronger as a player,” Wood said. “I just kind of had to fight through some adversity. It helped a lot and made me grow as a pitcher.”

Rowland’s Go-Ahead RBI

Alabama tied the game in the top of the sixth inning, but Arkansas immediately answered in the home half. It started with a one-out walk by Harold Coll. Brady Slavens then beat the shift with a two-out single through the left side.

Coll went first to third on the hit and Slavens took second when the throw went to third. The Crimson Tide made a pitching change at that point, bringing in right-hander Braylon Myers.

His first pitch was lined up the middle for an RBI single, bringing in Coll to put Arkansas up 5-4.

“He didn’t waste any time,” Van Horn said. “I should’ve told him to hit it a little bit farther away from the shortstop so my runner didn’t have to go back, but he did a great job.”

The last part of that was said with a smile. Van Horn added that it was actually good base running by Slavens, who hesitated on the line drive because it was hit in the general direction of the shortstop and had it been caught, he would have been picked off in a huge momentum-swing moment.

Even though it drove in just the one run, it was a big swing from the Razorbacks’ 9-hole, who was hitting just .207 before getting hits in his last two plate appearances, starting with the RBI single.

“It’s never too late to have a good day,” Rowland said. “For me, second and third in a big spot, my job is to get the run in, not try to do too much. Got a good pitch to hit and put a good swing on it.”

After alternating starts with Hudson Polk for much of the first six weeks of the season, Rowland actually started all three games and played all 27 innings against Alabama.

“His catching and blocking was elite this weekend, in my opinion,” Van Horn said. “Picked a guy off first, threw a runner out, maybe shut their running down a little bit. … So I think I’d grade him an A if I was grading him.”

One reason Van Horn liked splitting the time behind the plate between Polk and Rowland was to keep them fresh as they are both in their first Division I season as full-time catchers. Polk was a backup at Oklahoma, while Rowland came from the JUCO ranks after beginning his career at Arkansas State, where he played sparingly.

However, after playing all weekend, Rowland said he felt fine.

“That’s why I came here,” Rowland said. “I think I can help us win behind the plate, and I want to be back there as much as I can, giving us a chance to win.”

Jared Wegner Breaks Through

One of the Razorbacks’ two best hitters coming into the weekend, Jared Wegner got off to a slow start against Alabama. Friday marked just his third hitless game of the season and he only hit Saturday was an infield single that wasn’t hit well.

He snapped out of the mini-slump Sunday by going 2 for 4 with three RBIs.

“I think that he was getting frustrated,” Dave Van Horn said. “He was getting behind in the count with offspeed pitches and then they’d bust a fastball just above the strike zone. He’d foul it off, swing and miss…  Then they tried to do that with him in that at-bat. He didn’t bite.”

That at bat came in the fifth. Garrett McMillan hung an offspeed pitch and Wegner crushed it into the Hog Pen for a two-run home run that gave Arkansas a 4-3 lead. It was a 412-foot blast that left the bat with a 104 mph exit velocity and 30-degree launch angle, and it stayed fair despite the wind trying to push it foul.

He leads the Razorbacks with 12 home runs and 43 RBIs. His other RBI came on a first-inning single that he actually hit harder, as it had a 114 mph exit velocity.

Bohannon Gives Ultimate Compliment to Fans

Alabama baseball coach Brad Bohannon didn’t make any friends at Baum-Walker Stadium on Saturday. He was ejected for arguing balls and strikes and capped his blow up by waving to the crowd and doing a mock Hog Call.

Naturally, as the two coaches and umpires converged at home plate for their pregame meeting, the crowd greeted Bohannon with a real Hog Call. He handled it well, though, giving the fans a friendly wave and laugh.

That set the stage for what was a lively atmosphere Sunday and afterward, Bohannon gave the fans the ultimate compliment on his postgame radio show.

“A couple of our guys looked tight early and I would even tell you that Arkansas’ fans won the series,” Bohannon said.

The announced attendance for the finale was 10,006, bringing the weekend total to 30,751.

Up Next for Arkansas Baseball

Before hitting the road for Ole Miss next weekend, the Razorbacks will host in-state foe Arkansas State for a single midweek matchup Tuesday night. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT and the game will be streamed on SEC Network-Plus.

The Red Wolves are coming off a weekend in which they played three straight one-run games at Texas State, but lost two of them. They are now 9-16 overall with a 1-6 mark in Sun Belt play.

Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits

  • It looked like it might be a high-scoring affair when both teams scored a pair of runs in the first inning. Alabama chased freshman Ben Bybee after just 2/3 of an inning and then the Razorbacks answered in the home half.
  • Arkansas’ first at bat of the game was described by Dave Van Horn as “incredible.” Tavian Josenberger nearly had an infield single and a double, but both hits were called foul. He then poked a single the other way, giving him arguably his third hit of the at bat in a span of four pitches.
  • Thanks to Jared Wegner’s fifth-inning blast, the Razorbacks have now homered in 24 straight games. They are up to 48 long balls through 28 games. They had 45 home runs at this point last season.
  • Right fielder Jace Bohrofen dropped a fly ball in the fourth inning for his first error of the season. It was also the first error by one of Arkansas’ usual outfielders, who have now made 183 plays with only one error, giving them a .995 fielding percentage.
  • Former Arkansas catcher Dominic Tamez was Alabama’s starting designated hitter again Sunday and went 1 for 4 with two RBIs. He went 5 for 13 over the weekend. “He’s always been a good hitter and his catching has gotten a lot better,” Van Horn said. “Played really well. He’s a really good kid, young man.”

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