Once shaping up to be a quasi-championship series for the SEC’s regular-season title, the Arkansas vs Vanderbilt matchup now features two teams trending in opposite directions.
The Razorbacks (38-13, 19-8 SEC) have won eight of their last nine conference games to shoot up to No. 2 in the national rankings and supplant the Commodores (35-16, 17-10) — who have lost five of their last six — atop the overall SEC standings.
Not only have they experienced dramatically different results on the field of late, but Arkansas and Vanderbilt also have contrasting injury situations with the postseason quickly approaching.
Unfortunately, the health of multiple players on both teams will be a major storyline when they square off in Nashville, Tenn., this weekend. First pitch of Game 1 scheduled for 6 p.m. CT Thursday, with the next two games set for Friday (7 p.m.) and Saturday (2 p.m.).
A full breakdown of those injuries can be found below our live, inning-by-inning updates from Game 1 of the Arkansas vs Vanderbilt series…
LIVE UPDATES — Arkansas vs Vanderbilt
This will be just the second SEC start of the season for Vanderbilt’s Patrick Reilly. The right-hander gave up eight earned runs on 10 hits and three walks in four innings last week against Florida in his first. However, it’s worth noting that he also has three relief appearances of at least four innings in conference play, including four shutout innings against South Carolina on April 15.
As expected, Jared Wegner is back in the lineup after missing the last 19 games with a broken thumb. He’s batting third and starting in left field. That shifts Jace Bohrofen back to right field and Kendall Diggs back to designated hitter, while also taking Ben McLaughlin out of the lineup.
T-1st: Arkansas 4, Vanderbilt 0
Josenberger drew a leadoff walk to start the game, but appeared to be picked off before Reilly threw a pitch to Bohrofen. However, he managed to get in a rundown and the first baseman threw the ball into the outfield to allow him to get to second. Bohrofen went down looking, but then things went even worse for the Commodores.
On the first live pitch he’s seen since breaking his thumb, Wegner was plunked. Diggs followed with a walk to load the bases. Cali hit a grounder to second and it looks like a tailor made double play ball that would end the inning, but he booted it and two runs scored. He was credited with an RBI on the play, though, because you can’t assume the double play.
Slavens then crushed a two-run homer to right, driving in two more runs to make it 4-0. It would have been even worse, but Diggs was thrown out trying to take third on a wild pitch before the long ball. It was a very close play at third – he was called out on the field and it stood after a challenge by the Razorbacks.
Holt then walked, prompting a mound visit by Vanderbilt. He stole second and Rowland walked – the fourth walk of the game issued by Reilly. Bolton flied out to center to finally end the inning.
B-1st: Arkansas 4, Vanderbilt 0
Bradfield tried bunting his way on to start the home half of the first, but Slavens fielded it and tagged him out. Diaz worked the count full and singled through the left side, but was wiped out when Schreck grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. That ended the inning after just nine pitches by Smith.
T-2nd: Arkansas 5, Vanderbilt 0
Josenberger drew yet another leadoff walk and stole second. He tagged up to third on Bohrofen’s fly out to right. Wegner nearly had an RBI, but the third baseman snagged his sharp grounder, looked Josenberger back to third and threw him out at first. With two outs, Diggs worked the count full and walked to put runners on the corners. In another full count, Cali singled up the middle to drive in a run. Diggs went first to third on the play, as well, and that’s it for Reilly.
Right-hander Sam Hliboki is the new pitcher for Vanderbilt. He got Slavens to fly out to center and end the inning.
B-2nd: Arkansas 5, Vanderbilt 0
Smith induced back-to-back groundouts by Maldonado and Noland before striking out Austin. He’s up to 25 pitches through two innings.
T-3rd: Arkansas 5, Vanderbilt 0
For the first time tonight, Arkansas failed to score in the third — despite a leadoff single by Holt. Rowland hit the ball hard, but his drive to left-center was tracked down by Bradfield. Bolton bunted him over to second for a sacrifice, but he was stranded there when Bohrofen went down looking.
B-3rd: Arkansas 5, Vanderbilt 0
Smith is locked in. He struck out Polk to start the inning, got Vastine to fly out to center on one pitch and then struck out Espinal on three pitches, freezing him for strike three. He’s thrown just 33 pitches through three innings.
T-4th: Arkansas 7, Vanderbilt 0
Bohrofen swung at the first pitch of the fourth and hit a soft liner to second for an out. Wegner was then hit by a pitch for the second time in three plate appearances. Diggs followed with a perfect bunt down the third base line. Vanderbilt tried to let it roll foul, but it stayed fair for a single. Both runners moved up when Cali checked his swing and grounded out to first.
With a base open, the Commodores intentionally walked Slavens to load the bases. Holt hit a grounder to the left side and the shortstop nearly made a nice play to end the inning, but the first baseman couldn’t pick his throw. It’s ruled an infield single to give Holt an RBI and, because the ball bounced away from the first baseman, an error was assessed to account for a second run scoring. With runners on the corners, Rowland worked the count full before striking out to end the inning.
B-4th: Arkansas 7, Vanderbilt 1
With Van Horn in the midst of a live interview on SEC Network, Holt snagged a sharp grounder by Bradfield and threw him out – a tremendous play for the first out. Diaz followed with a grounder to the left side that Bolton fielded with another great play, but Slavens couldn’t pick his throw at first. Even if he did, it would have been a close play. It’s ruled an infield single. Smith bounced back to strike out Schreck, but then fell behind 3-0 and eventually walked Maldonado. That set up a first-pitch RBI single through the right side by Noland.
That was all the damage, though, as Smith struck out Austin to end the inning. He threw 29 pitches, bringing his total to 62.
T-5th: Arkansas 7, Vanderbilt 1
Bolton grounded out to second and then Josenberger and Bohrofen struck out. Bohrofen didn’t like the strike three call that ended the inning. Hliboki has thrown just 42 pitches through 3 1/3 innings.
B-5th: Arkansas 7, Vanderbilt 2
Back on the mound quickly, Smith issued a four-pitch walk to Polk and then gave up a single to Vastine. Espinal failed to get a bunt down and ended up striking out. However, in a 1-2 count, Bradfield singled up the middle to drive in a run. That prompted a mound visit by Hobbs.
Smith responded by striking out Diaz and then nearly gave up an RBI single in an 0-2 count to Schreck, but Holt made another incredible play to get to the ball and then throw him out at first.
T-6th: Arkansas 7, Vanderbilt 2
Hliboki is in a groove. He got Wegner to pop out to short, struck out Diggs and then got Cali to ground out to third. He’s retired seven straight and has thrown 54 total pitches in 4 1/3 innings.
B-6th: Arkansas 7, Vanderbilt 2
Now pitching for Arkansas: right-hander Will McEntire. He struck out Maldonado, got Noland to ground out to short (on a great play by Bolton) and then froze Austin on strike three. It was an 11-pitch inning.
T-7th: Arkansas 8, Vanderbilt 2
Slavens looked at strike three to start the inning. Holt then hit a deep drive to left-center that Bradfield nearly made a diving catch on, but the ball came out of his glove, resulting in a double. Rowland followed with a grounder to second, but Austin booted it for another error. Bolton failed to get a bunt down and ended up taking strike three. During a four-pitch walk to Josenberger, a pitch went behind him and Holt scored on the wild pitch. That’s all they got, because Bohrofen grounded out to second to end the inning.
B-7th: Arkansas 8, Vanderbilt 2
McEntire needed just eight pitches to retire Vanderbilt in order in the eighth. He struck out Polk and then got Vastine to fly out to left and Espinal to fly out to right.
T-8th: Arkansas 8, Vanderbilt 2
Right-hander Grayson Moore is now pitching for the Commodores. He promptly struck out Wegner and then got Diggs to ground out to second. He also struck out Cali on three pitches, as he was caught looking.
B-8th: Arkansas 8, Vanderbilt 2
Bradfield singled through the left side to start the inning and then stole second without Arkansas showing any interest in holding him on/throwing him out. Diaz struck out and then Schreck was plunked in a 1-2 count. Maldonado went down swinging as Bradfield swiped third without a throw. Schreck stole second later in the inning, but they were stranded in scoring position because Noland struck out to end the inning.
T-9th: Arkansas 8, Vanderbilt 2
Slavens poked a single the other way to start the inning, but tried taking second when the throw back in got away from Vanderbilt, but was thrown out. Holt flied out to right and Rowland did the same to end the inning.
B-9th: Arkansas 8, Vanderbilt 2
McEntire is still on the mound for Arkansas. Austin grounded out to short to start the inning. Pinch hitter Troy LaNeve flied out to center. Vastine did the same to end the inning.
FINAL: Arkansas 8, Vanderbilt 2
BOX SCORE – Arkansas vs Vanderbilt
Starting Lineups – Arkansas vs Vanderbilt
|Vanderbilt Baseball||Arkansas Baseball|
|1. Enrique Bradfield Jr. – CF||1. Tavian Josenberger – CF|
|2. Davis Diaz – 3B||2. Jace Bohrofen – RF|
|3. RJ Schreck – RF||3. Jared Wegner – LF|
|4. Chris Maldonado – DH||4. Kendall Diggs – DH|
|5. Parker Noland – 1B||5. Caleb Cali – 3B|
|6. RJ Austin – 2B||6. Brady Slavens – 1B|
|7. Matthew Polk – LF||7. Peyton Holt – 2B|
|8. Jonathan Vastine – SS||8. Parker Rowland – C|
|9. Alan Espinal – C||9. John Bolton – SS|
|Pitching: Jr. RHP Patrick Reilly||Pitching: So. LHP Hagen Smith|
Arkansas Baseball Injury Report
Two weekends ago at Mississippi State, the Razorbacks were without the entire top third of their usual starting lineup. They got one of those players back last weekend and another is on track to return Thursday.
Dave Van Horn told reporters Wednesday afternoon that left fielder Jared Wegner is expected to play against Vanderbilt after missing the last 19 games with a broken thumb. He took batting practice and also got some at bats against live pitching during Tuesday’s practice, with positive results.
His return will complete the Razorbacks’ outfield that had been down to just one regular starter for a couple of weeks, as Tavian Josenberger missed the Texas A&M and Mississippi State series with a hamstring injury before returning last weekend.
Although he went just 1 for 7 with four strikeouts over the four games, Josenberger drew four walks and worked the count at the top of the order. Plus, he played great defense in center field.
Of course, now Arkansas must figure out who to take out of the lineup. The most likely scenario is that Kendall Diggs moves back to designated hitter, but that would move Ben McLaughlin back to the bench.
Diggs leads the team with 55 RBIs while hitting .319 with 10 home runs. McLaughlin doesn’t have quite the same power as Diggs, but is hitting .359 since becoming an everyday starter.
The only remaining injured position player is second baseman Peyton Stovall, who has missed the last two weekends with a lingering shoulder injury that had previously been described as tendonitis. Unfortunately, Van Horn revealed that he actually has a torn labrum that will require season-ending surgery.
The injury was likely a reason Stovall’s batting average plummeted during the second half of the season. He was still hitting over .300 after the Ole Miss series, which ended April 8, but it fell all the way down to .253 before he was shut down.
That nearly matches the timeline Van Horn told reporters, as he said they think he tore his labrum on a swing about a month and a half ago.
“I think it impacted it a lot, big-time on offense,” Van Horn said. “I think he’s been playing in pain. He’s been, honestly, probably miserable. I’m glad we know what it is and can get it fixed, and he can move on. I think he’ll have a great season next year.”
Luckily for the Razorbacks, backup second baseman Peyton Holt has filled in nicely for Stovall. He’s hit safely in four of six games and is 8 for 22 (.364) with two doubles and a couple of walks while also playing excellent defense.
Outside of Stovall and the three key pitchers — Jaxon Wiggins (torn UCL), Koty Frank (torn lat) and Dylan Carter (torn UCL) — out with season-ending injuries, though, Arkansas baseball is the healthiest its been in quite some time.
Right-hander Brady Tygart is expected to make his fourth start this weekend and Van Horn said his pitch count, which was 40 last week against South Carolina, will tick up another 15-20 pitches.
Even left-hander Hunter Hollan, who is still dealing with a “problem” with his push-off leg, is coming off a complete game performance that earned him SEC Pitcher of the Week and National Pitcher of the Week honors.
Vanderbilt Baseball Injury Report
There is a chance the Commodores will be without their top two starting pitchers this weekend.
Vanderbilt baseball coach Tim Corbin revealed in a radio interview Tuesday that sophomore left-hander Carter Holton would miss his second straight series and junior left-hander Hunter Owen’s status is “50/50.”
Although he was able to return to the rotation after missing just one start early last month because of “soreness,” Holton has struggled his last few outings. Even including a strong start against Tennessee, he’s posted a 9.00 ERA over his last four starts. That’s a stark drop-off from the 2.58 ERA he had in his first seven.
His absence robs the college baseball world of a showdown between two of the top college left-handers in the 2024 MLB Draft. Coming into the season, D1Baseball ranked Holton as the No. 4 overall college prospect for next summer’s draft — two spots ahead of Arkansas’ Hagen Smith.
Owen didn’t pitch last weekend at Florida either, as he was scratched because of soreness in the back of his shoulder. He missed two starts in mid-April because of fatigue, as well.
Ranked as the No. 40 overall prospect in this summer’s draft by MLB Pipeline, Owen has a 3.16 ERA in 57 innings across 10 starts this season.
The Commodores have also been without freshman phenom Andrew Dutkanych IV, a potential first-round pick out of high school before withdrawing from the draft, since early March because of a hamstring injury.
Sophomore left-hander Devin Futrell (2.93 ERA, 67 2/3 IP) is still available for Vanderbilt, though, and is slated to start Game 2. Junior right-hander Patrick Reilly (6.43 ERA, 35 IP) will start the opener and Corbin is leaving the finale as TBA.
Varying Offensive Struggles
In the Razorbacks’ rubber-match win over South Carolina, the top five hitters in their lineup went a combined 2 for 20, with each of the first three – Tavian Josenberger, Jace Bohrofen and Kendall Diggs – going 0 for 4.
It was Josenberger’s first series back in a couple of weeks, as mentioned above, but Bohrofen and Diggs have been mainstays in the lineup all year and are arguably Arkansas’ most consistent performers at the plate.
Against the Gamecocks, though, they struggled. Bohrofen went just 1 for 11 over the weekend, while Diggs followed up a great first game by going 0 for 7 the next two days.
As a team, Arkansas’ batting average was down only slightly (.250) compared to what it hit in the first 24 SEC games (.257), but its slugging percentage dropped significantly (.449 to .354), as did its run production (6.8 per game to 3.3).
Even though his team found a way to win the series, Van Horn said after Sunday’s game that he would make adjustments to address those issues.
“I kind of feel like our hitters are just a little bit tired,” Van Horn said. “We’re going to back off on their swings. We’re not going to let anybody hit tomorrow at all. I’m going to lock the batting cages. I’m not letting them hit.”
Those struggles pale in comparison to what Vanderbilt has experienced the last two weekends.
Once considered one of the best offenses in the country, the Commodores had an SEC-high .307 batting average over their first 21 conference games, plus ranked second in slugging percentage (.512) and scoring (8.3).
In a six-game stretch against Alabama and Florida, though, they’ve hit just .186 with a .262 slugging percentage while putting up only 1.8 runs per game. However, it’s worth noting that both of those series were on the road. This weekend, Vanderbilt will welcome Arkansas to Hawkins Field, where it is 23-5 overall and 11-1 in SEC play.
“You never know how that’s going to go,” Van Horn said. “They can hit, obviously. They’ve been out on the road and it hasn’t gone good, but they’ve been really good at home. … That’s always been a big advantage for them, playing on that turf. It’s just a different setting. It’s tight. It’s fast. We’re going to have to play really well to win this series.
What’s at Stake in Arkansas vs Vanderbilt
Entering the final weekend of the regular season, Arkansas baseball has a one-game lead in the race for the overall SEC title and a 1.5-game lead for the SEC West crown.
The Razorbacks’ only threat in the division is LSU, which heads to Georgia with a 17-9 SEC record. The Tigers have played one less conference game than Arkansas because their rubber match at South Carolina was rained out. That means the head-to-head tiebreaker, which LSU owns, won’t come into play unless Arkansas plays only two games against Vanderbilt.
For LSU to jump back into the top spot in the West, it would have to win two more games than the Razorbacks this weekend. Arkansas can clinch the division with two wins over the Commodores, one win and one LSU loss at Georgia, or two LSU losses.
The overall championship – which the Razorbacks have won just three times since joining the conference (1999, 2004, 2021) – is down to Arkansas, LSU, Florida and Vanderbilt.
With a two-game lead over them, the Razorbacks would have to get swept this weekend for the Commodores to jump them in the standings.
That leaves Florida as the biggest challenger from the East. The Gators are just one game back, so Arkansas would have to sweep Vanderbilt to lock up the title or win two of three to guarantee a share of the title on its own.
Otherwise, it would need Florida to lose a game or two at Kentucky this weekend. The Gators have to win one more game than the Razorbacks to tie them in the standings and two more games to pass them.
“I haven’t talked one time with our team about winning the West or winning the overall,” Van Horn said. “Even when it got close in the last 10 days, I haven’t even brought it up. Don’t even talk about it.
“Obviously, it’s hard to do. I’d love to do it. I’m not going to fall over if it doesn’t happen. Man, I feel great about where we’re at. I’m so proud of our team and how they’ve played all season long with all the adversity and ups and downs of the injuries.”
One thing Arkansas baseball has already locked up is a top-four seed for next week’s SEC Tournament. That comes with a bye into the double-elimination portion of the event, guaranteeing it at least two games in Hoover, Ala.
With a No. 3 RPI, the Razorbacks have also likely locked up the right to be a regional host and might already be locked in to a top-8 seed, which means hosting a super regional if they get that far.
How to Watch Arkansas vs Vanderbilt
Thursday, May 18 – 6 p.m. CT (SEC Network)
Friday, May 19 – 7 p.m. CT (SEC Network)
Saturday, May 20 – 2 p.m. CT (SECN+)
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: 3-0 on the weekend / 39-13 overall, 18-9 in SEC play
Baum-Walker Stadium should be buzzing ahead of Arkansas’ final regular-season home series. The Gamecocks are a top-25 team in some preseason polls, but they’ll run into a buzzsaw this weekend, as the Razorbacks put themselves in the middle of the SEC West race with a sweep.
Actual: 2-1 on the weekend / 38-13 overall, 19-8 in SEC play
It wasn’t a sweep like we predicted, but Arkansas still won two of three against South Carolina last weekend. The Razorbacks are tracking one game ahead of our predictions in SEC play, but are pretty much spot-on with our overall record prediction – the difference being a midweek game against Arkansas State getting rained out.
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 five major polls. (Collegiate Baseball used to be included, but it was dropped due to severe inconsistencies in its rankings.)
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…
|1. Wake Forest||ACC||—||125|
|6. West Virginia||Big 12||+6||92|
|7. Coastal Carolina||Sun Belt||+1||90|
|10. Miami (Fla.)||ACC||—||76|
|11. South Carolina||SEC||-5||71|
|12. UConn||Big East||+1||69|
|13. Campbell||Big South||-2||66|
|14. East Carolina||AAC||—||60|
|16. Dallas Baptist||C-USA||-1||56|
|19. Oregon State||Pac-12||—||43|
|21. Oklahoma State||Big 12||+1||21|
|22. Boston College||ACC||-1||20|
|23. Maryland||Big Ten||—||15|
|25. Southern Miss||Sun Belt||+4||9|
MOVED IN: Auburn (24), Southern Miss (25)
MOVED OUT: UTSA (24), Texas Tech (25)
- SEC: 8
- ACC: 6
- Big 12: 2
- Pac-12: 2
- Sun Belt: 2
- AAC: 1
- Big East: 1
- Big South: 1
- Big Ten: 1
- C-USA: 1
More coverage of Arkansas baseball from BoAS…