LIVE UPDATES: Slumping Sluggers Look for Breakout in Arkansas vs Alabama Opener

Peyton Stovall, Arkansas baseball, Arkansas vs Alabama
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics

FAYETTEVILLE — Considering it is entering the third weekend of conference play tied for first in the SEC West, the Arkansas baseball team has to like where it stands so far.

Sure, the Razorbacks are now half of a game behind LSU in the standings because the Tigers opened their series against Tennessee with a win Thursday night, plus they own the tiebreaker after taking two of three from Arkansas in Baton Rouge last weekend, but a 4-2 record is still a good spot to be at this point.

Arkansas and LSU are actually the only teams in the SEC West with a winning record in conference play and entered the weekend with a two-game lead over Alabama and Auburn, who are 2-4, and a three-game lead over Texas A&M.

The Razorbacks have already swept Auburn and now welcome the Crimson Tide to Baum-Walker Stadium for a three-game series beginning Friday. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. CT and the game will be streamed on SEC Network-Plus.

Meanwhile, the last two national champions — Ole Miss (2022) and Mississippi State (2021) — are still looking for their first SEC wins of the year. The Bulldogs are 0-7 after losing to South Carolina on Thursday and have lost 18 straight SEC games dating back to last season, while the Rebels are 0-6 heading into their series at Texas A&M.

As always, Best of Arkansas Sports will bring you live, inning-by-inning updates from Baum-Walker Stadium throughout the Arkansas vs Alabama series…

LIVE UPDATES — Arkansas vs Alabama

Pregame Tidbits

The Razorbacks are sticking to the same weekend rotation they used the last two SEC series, which means left-hander Hunter Hollan is getting the nod Friday night. Coming off arguably his best outing of the season, the junior has a 1.97 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 32 innings this season.

Alabama will counter with right-hander Ben Hess. Listed at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, he’s a large presence on the mound who has a solid 3.34 ERA but an even better 0.99 WHIP with 44 strikeouts to only six walks in 32 1/3 innings. It’s worth noting, though, that Hess has allowed six home runs in his six starts – including three in two SEC starts.

Alabama catcher Dominic Tamez, who played at Arkansas in 2020, took a moment to shake hands with Dave Van Horn during pregame batting practice. He is the Crimson Tide’s starting designated hitter today and batting sixth.

T-1st: Arkansas 0, Alabama 0

Hollan opened the game with a strikeout, as Jarvis looked at strike three. Pinckney followed with a sharp grounder to the right side, but Stovall made a nice sliding stop and got the out at first. It should have been a perfect first inning, but after Cali fielded the sharp grounder by Johnson, his throw bounced before it got to first and Slavens couldn’t handle it off the hop. It’s ruled an E5. Johnson then swiped second to get himself into scoring position for Williamson, who hit a chopper up the middle that Bolton easily handled for the final out. It was a 14-pitch inning for Hollan, with the error causing him to throw an extra five pitches.

B-1st: Arkansas 0, Alabama 0

Hess had Josenberger down 1-2 to start the home half of the first, but ended up plunking him. The pitch hit him in the foot, giving Arkansas a leadoff base runner. Just as they did in that first at bat, the Crimson Tide used a heavy shift against Bohrofen that involved the third baseman moving to the right side of the second base bag. Bohrofen responded by laying down a perfect bunt and reached without a throw.

However, Wegner followed with a strikeout, swinging through a 96 mph fastball, and then Diggs popped up on the infield. With two outs, Stovall hit a grounder to second and Johnson initially booted it, but managed to recover in time to still get him at first to end the inning. Hess threw 19 pitches in the first.

T-2nd: Alabama 1, Arkansas 0

Rose led off the second with a line drive down the line and into the left field corner for a double. Tamez – the former Razorback – then starts the scoring with an RBI single to right. After a fly out to shallow left by Shelton, Seidl singled through the left side. Guscette hit a dribbler between the mound and first base that Hollan initially bobbled, but recovered in time to get the out at first – despite a dive by Guscette.

That moved the runners to second and third. Hollan then fell behind 3-0 against the leadoff man, Jarvis, before battling back to a full count. It seemed like he had a strikeout, but Rowland couldn’t hang on to the foul tip, and the next pitch missed the zone for a walk. That loaded the bases and prompted a mound visit by Matt Hobbs. Hollan responded by striking out Pinckney on three pitches, with the last being a check swing on a pitch in the dirt. He’s up to 42 pitches through two innings.

B-2nd: Alabama 1, Arkansas 0

Cali worked the count full after falling behind 0-2 and eventually drew a walk, but ball four was actually a strike, according to TrackMan. Hess is really working the edges of the zone early on. Slavens followed with a strikeout and Rowland grounded into a 4-6-3 double play. It was an 11-pitch inning for Hess, who is up to 30 pitches.

T-3rd: Alabama 1, Arkansas 0

For the second straight inning, Alabama got a leadoff double. This was a 103 mph shot down the left field line by Johnson. Williamson, who is hitting .360 with 8 home runs, tried to lay down a sacrifice bunt, but fouled off one and missed the second pitch. On the second of those, Rowland threw behind Johnson at second and picked him off. The call was reviewed and stood. Williamson looked at the next pitch and it was a called strike three. Hollan got out of it with a ground out by Rose. Slavens made a nice pick on the low throw by Cali. It was a 12-pitch inning for him and he’s now up to 54 through three innings.

B-3rd: Arkansas 1, Alabama 1

After a groundout to second by Bolton, Josenberger turned on a 3-2 pitch and smoked a line drive off the Hunt Center beyond the right field fence. The ball had an exit velocity of 108 mph and launch angle of 21.4 degrees, resulting in a 361-foot blast that tied the game. That was it for the Razorbacks, as Bohrofen struck out and Wegner popped out in the infield. Hess is up to 48 pitches through three innings.

T-4th: Alabama 4, Arkansas 1

It didn’t stay tied for long. After Tamez flied out to center, Shelton crushed a 403-foot bomb off the bottom of the scoreboard to put Alabama back on top. Seidl followed with a solid single up the middle and then Guscette – the 9-hole – hit a two-run homer into the Hog Pen to make it 4-1.

Hollan bounced back by striking out Jarvis and getting Pinckney to ground out to third. He’s up to 73 pitches through four innings.

B-4th: Alabama 4, Arkansas 1

Diggs worked a seven-pitch walk to start the fourth, but Stovall followed by striking out on three pitches. A wild pitch during Cali’s at bat moved Diggs to second. With a chance at an RBI, Cali flied out to shallow left and Slavens struck out. It’s the third time Arkansas’ leadoff man has reached and failed to score. Hess is up to 68 pitches through four innings.

T-5th: Alabama 9, Arkansas 1

After a leadoff single by Johnson, Williamson – who tried to bunt his last time up – smacked a two-run homer into the Hog Pen to extend Alabama’s lead. Rose followed with a soft single that found a hole on the left side. It’s the 10th hit Hollan has allowed and that’s it for him.

The new pitcher for Arkansas is freshman right-hander Gage Wood. He promptly gave up a single to Tamez and walked Shelton to load the bases. It looked like he might escape the jam when he got Seidl to look at strike three and Guscette to pop out to second, but Jarvis got a two-out single through the middle that drove in two more runs.

Wood nearly got out of it again with a weak grounder by Pinckney, but Stovall had to cover a decent amount of ground and slide to make the play. He immediately fired to first, but Pinckney beat the throw. Shelton was on second, but used some heads-up base running to score on the play, just sliding in ahead of the throw home. Johnson did ground out to second to end the inning, but not before Alabama took an eight-run lead.

B-5th: Alabama 9, Arkansas 1

Despite Hess being at just 68 pitches and still pitching effectively, Alabama went to its bullpen to start the fifth inning, bringing in right-hander Hagan Banks. Rowland made really solid contact, but it was to center and Rose was able to track it down. Harold Coll then pinch hit for Bolton, but went down looking. It ended up being a 1-2-3 inning for Banks, as Josenberger couldn’t check his swing on a high pitch and went down on strikes.

T-6th: Alabama 9, Arkansas 1

The new pitcher for Arkansas is right-hander Austin Ledbetter. He promptly gave up back-to-back singles to Williamson and Rose before getting Tamez to fly out to center. It was deep enough for Williamson to tag up to third and Rose took second when Josenberger’s throw went to third. However, they were stranded there when Ledbetter got Shelton to look at strike three and Josenberger made a tremendous diving catch in center to rob Seidl of extra bases. That could be the difference in this game being a mercy rule or not.

B-6th: Alabama 9, Arkansas 1

Bohrofen and Wegner each hit deep flies to right, but both were relatively easy to catch several feet in front of the wall. Diggs then popped out for an easy third out. Alabama pitchers have retired nine straight.

T-7th: Alabama 10, Arkansas 1

Guscette led off the seventh with a hit and, after a fly out to center by Jarvis, Pinckney hit another single. That put runners on the corners and was the 17th hit of the game for Alabama, a season high. The Tide weren’t done, either, as Johnson followed with an RBI single. Williamson also singled, but hit it so hard that there was a play at the plate with Pinckney trying to score from second. He was initially called safe, but replay showed that Rowland got the tag before he slid in and overturned the call. William Hamiter pinch hit for Rose and lined out to left to end the inning.

B-7th: Alabama 10, Arkansas 1

Stovall and Slavens struck out sandwiched around a Cali ground out to second. Alabama has retired 12 straight Razorbacks and 14 of the last 15 since Josenberger’s home run in the third.

T-8th: Alabama 10, Arkansas 1

The hit barrage continued in the eighth. After a leadoff ground out by Tamez, Shelton and Seidl hit back-to-back singles. Guscette popped out to short, but Jarvis walked to load the bases. Alabama left them loaded, though, as Pinckney grounded into a fielder’s choice. Cali fielded it and stepped on third for the force out. The Crimson Tide now have 21 hits.

B-8th: Alabama 10, Arkansas 1

Alabama has now retired 15 in a row, as Rowland flied out to left, Coll struck out swinging and Josenberger grounded out to second. The Razorbacks have only two hits.

T-9th: Alabama 12, Arkansas 1

Johnson grounded out to start the inning, but Williamson walked and Hamiter smacked a two-run homer to make it 12-1. Ledbetter got Tamez to fly out to shallow right (caught by Stovall), but that’s it for him. The new pitcher is left-hander Zack Morris. He struck out Shelton on three pitches – all looking.

B-9th: Alabama 12, Arkansas 1

Now pitching for Alabama is left-hander Connor Ball. The stretch of 15 consecutive Razorbacks retired finally ended when Bohrofen reached on an error by the second baseman to start the ninth. However, Wegner and Diggs followed with strikeouts. With two outs, Stovall lined a single into right. Cali grounded out to short to end the game.

FINAL: Alabama 12, Arkansas 1

BOX SCORE – Arkansas vs Alabama

Starting Lineups — Arkansas vs Alabama

Alabama BaseballArkansas Baseball
1. Jim Jarvis – SS1. Tavian Josenberger – CF
2. Andrew Pinckney – RF2. Jace Bohrofen – RF
3. Ed Johnson – 2B3. Jared Wegner – LF
4. Drew Williamson – 1B4. Kendall Diggs – DH
5. Caden Rose – CF5. Peyton Stovall – 2B
6. Dominic Tamez – DH6. Caleb Cali – 3B
7. Colby Shelton – 3B7. Brady Slavens – 1B
8. Tommy Seidl – LF8. Parker Rowland – C
9. Mac Guscette – C9. John Bolton – SS
Pitching: So. RHP Ben HessPitching: Jr. LHP Hunter Hollan

Slumping Sluggers

Another reason Arkansas should be pretty happy with that start is it has done it without the help of its lone returning starters in the lineup. Peyton Stovall and Brady Slavens have gotten off to very slow starts in SEC play.

Through the first two weekends, Slavens is just 3 for 21 (.143) and Stovall is 4 for 22 (.182). That means both are well below the Mendoza Line and hitting a combined .163 (7 for 43).

On the bright side, all three of Slavens’ hits have been for extra bases (two doubles, one home run) and he has done a good job of using the whole field so far this season. Throw in his proven track record and it seems like only a matter of time before he gets it going.

Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn deployed one of his classic tactics for struggling veterans this week by giving him the day off for Tuesday’s midweek game against Omaha. Van Horn told reporters afterward that Slavens responded by putting together one of his best batting practice sessions of the year during pregame.

“I think sometimes you need to take a day off and just kind of watch from the side and relax,” Van Horn said. “That was his day to do it. … I just felt like Brady could use this week to gain his strength back and hopefully have a really good weekend for us.”

As for Stovall, he started that game and went 1 for 4 with a couple of RBIs, which actually lowered his season batting average to .296. Just three weeks ago, he was arguably the hottest hitter on the team with a .373 average.

It’s been a tough start to conference play, but Stovall has been somewhat streaky throughout his young career. Van Horn said he’d like to see his second baseman be more selective at the plate and not be afraid to take a walk.

“I think he’s a little more anxious than normal,” Van Horn said. “He’s a guy that’s pretty patient. He’s been ahead in the count and he’s gone after pitches and maybe over swung a little bit, gotten himself out flying out. … He’s a guy that knows the zone well. Maybe trying to do a little bit too much and I don’t think that’s him.”

Baseball Schedule This Week

Tuesday — Arkansas 16, Omaha 3 (7 innings)

Friday — vs Alabama — 6:30 p.m. CT (SECN+)

Saturday — vs Alabama — 2 p.m. CT (SECN+)

Sunday — vs Alabama — 2 p.m. CT (SEC Network)

Accountability Check — 2023 Arkansas Baseball Predictions

Best of Arkansas Sports managing editor Andrew Hutchinson published his week-by-week predictions for the 2023 season just before the Razorbacks opened the year at the College Baseball Showdown. Those predictions can be read in full here, but we’ll also be doing weekly “accountability checks” in this space.

Prediction: 1-0 in the midweek / 19-6 overall, 4-2 in SEC play

The Mavericks have a preseason All-American in Caleb Riedel, but Arkansas likely won’t see him because he’s a weekend starter and this is a single midweek game. They’re picked third in the seven-team Summit League — a conference traditionally dominated by Oral Roberts. This should be a relatively easy matchup compared to some of the others on Arkansas’ schedule.

Actual: 1-0 in the midweek / 21-4 overall, 4-2 in SEC play

As predicted, Tuesday was a relatively easy win. The Razorbacks scored their first six runs without an RBI hit and cruised to a seven-inning run rule. They are still a couple wins ahead of our predictions thanks to winning more than we expected during the non-conference portion of the schedule.


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