FAYETTEVILLE — It took a lot longer than expected, but Caleb Cali finally showed Arkansas baseball fans what coaches and teammates saw from him in the fall and preseason.
The JUCO transfer collected his first hit with the Razorbacks on Wednesday and it was a big one, as he hit the last of their back-to-back-to-back home runs in the seventh inning of a 10-9 win over Illinois State.
“He went fastball away and he just stayed through it, didn’t try to pull it, and he hit it,” Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said afterward. “That was really good to see. The dugout was excited. They were excited for Cali to finally get a hit and maybe he’ll go on a roll now.”
Although the Razorbacks eventually had to win it in the 11th inning, the three solo home runs in a row were big at the time because they came when it was tied 5-5, so the swing by Cali gave them a three-run lead.
Bigger than the impact it had on a midweek game in March, though, was the fact that it was his first hit after a surprisingly rough start. Cali was easily Arkansas’ best hitter during the offseason. In public scrimmages attended by the media this fall and preseason, he slashed an incredible .437/.500/.845 in 71 at bats.
However, he failed to carry that production into the season. As the Opening Day starter at third base, Cali hit in the 3-hole and turned in an 0-for-5 performance while notching the dreaded “Golden Sombrero” (four strikeouts) against Texas. The only time he put the ball in play resulted in a double play by the Longhorns. He followed it up by striking out in all three of his plate appearances against TCU before getting replaced.
Cali had managed to draw three walks and lined out with a 110 mph exit velocity in his last at bat, but was still 0 for 12 with seven strikeouts when he stepped to the plate in the seventh inning Wednesday afternoon. When the ball sailed over the fence, his teammates reacted accordingly, pouring out of the dugout to greet him with a big celebration.
“That was awesome to see,” teammate Kendall Diggs said. “From this fall and pre-spring, he is probably the most pure hitter I’ve seen in my whole entire life. He’s unbelievable. I’m really happy for him. It was maybe like a weight off his shoulders. Now, he can just sit back and do what he does.”
Although he struck out in his final at bat of the night, Cali’s home run was an encouraging sign that he might still be able to put together a productive season at the plate. After all, Braydon Webb followed up a strong preseason by starting last season 0 for 23 with 10 strikeouts and still ended up slashing .283/.418/.542 with 15 home runs and 42 RBIs. That means he hit .317/.439/.608 the rest of the season.
If Cali can do anything remotely close to that moving forward, it’d be a huge development for a team dealing with injuries and inconsistency on the mound.
His first chance to build some momentum will come in Game 1 of the Arkansas vs Wright State series, which is scheduled for 3 p.m. CT Friday. However, the weather could impact the game, as temperatures have dipped into the 40s and there will be strong winds with gusts up to 40 mph in Fayetteville around first pitch.
Stay tuned here for any developments regarding the start time, as well as inning-by-inning updates…
LIVE UPDATES — Arkansas vs Wright State
Wright State is starting junior right-hander Jake Shirk in the series opener. He was a second-team All-Horizon League selection last season despite posting a 5.55 ERA with only 65 strikeouts in 86 innings. Shirk’s numbers through two starts this year are pretty similar, as he has a 5.40 ERA and 8 strikeouts in 8 1/3 innings. Opponents are hitting .314 against him.
The Razorbacks will counter with sophomore left-hander Hagen Smith, who has yet to give up a run in 9 2/3 innings this season. He’s got 14 strikeouts and has allowed only nine base runners (4 hits, 5 walks).
The other starting pitchers for the Razorbacks in the Arkansas vs Wright State series include right-hander Will McEntire on Saturday and left-hander Hunter Hollan on Sunday.
The Raiders have been to three of the last four NCAA Tournaments, including each of the last two years.
Harold Coll, a JUCO transfer, is making his first career start. He is at shortstop and batting ninth, giving John Bolton a day off.
T-1st: Arkansas 0, Wright State 0
Smith gave up a two-out single to Anglin, but that was it for Wright State. Riemer struck out and Greenwell grounded out to start the inning and then Luikart flied out to left to strand the runner on first. It was a 17-pitch inning.
B-1st: Arkansas 0, Wright State 0
Josenberger made solid contact on the first pitch of the inning, but it was a line drive right at the second baseman. Bohrofen followed with a walk, taking four straight balls after falling behind 0-1. He was stranded on first, though, because Wegner flied out to right and Slavens grounded out to short.
T-2nd: Arkansas 0, Wright State 0
Smith has run into some trouble in the second. He has walked three of the first five batters (and struck out the other two) to load the bases with two outs. Before the third walk, he also had a wild pitch. Facing the Wright State leadoff man, Riemer, Smith escaped the jam with a ground out to short. It was a 31-pitch inning for Smith, who’s up to 48 pitches.
B-2nd: Arkansas 1, Wright State 0
Just like the first inning, Stovall ripped the first strike of the inning – with a 103 mph exit velocity – but it didn’t result in a hit. The shortstop made a great play to snag it and throw to first for the out. Diggs struck out, but Cali followed with a towering home run to center. He hit it 108 mph off the bat and it traveled 438 feet. It was his second home run in the span of three at bats after going hitless his first 12 at bats. Rowland grounded out to second to end the inning.
T-3rd: Arkansas 1, Wright State 0
Command is still an issue for Smith, as he walked Greenwell on four pitches to start the inning. Anglin followed with a slow grounder to third. Cali thought about throwing to second, but wisely took the sure out at first. Smith nearly walked Luikart, falling behind 3-1, but battled back to strike him out. Sass hit a tough chopper down the third base line that Cali fielded and fired to first, but Slavens could quite hang on to the throw on a hop. It is ruled an infield hit. With runners on the corners, Patrick went down swinging. Smith is up to 66 pitches.
B-3rd: Arkansas 5, Wright State 0
In his first at bat as a starter, Coll ripped a leadoff single into left. Josenberger followed with another first-pitch line drive – his first was 100 mph off the bat, this one was 99 mph – and once again it was right to someone, this time the right fielder. Bohrofen was hit by a pitch to put two runners on, but on a pitch in the dirt, Coll took third and Bohrofen was thrown out at second. He got a late jump on it.
That cost the Razorbacks a run because after a walk by Wegner, Slavens hit his first home run of the season. It was an opposite-field shot that landed in the left field bullpen for a three-run bomb. Stovall followed with a home run of his own off the scoreboard. They didn’t replicate the back-to-back-to-back from Wednesday, though, as Diggs grounded out to second to end the inning.
T-4th: Arkansas 5, Wright State 0
Smith mowed down the bottom third of Wright State’s order, notching another couple of strikeouts sandwiched around Arnold.
B-4th: Arkansas 5, Wright State 0
Cali continues to crush the ball, but this time the center fielder made a diving catch to rob him of a hit. It had an exit velocity of 106 mph. It’s the fourth time in five plate appearances that he’s either hit a home run or had an exit velocity of 100+ mph. Rowland and Coll followed with quick ground outs.
It was a five-pitch inning or Shirk, which might not be the worst thing because it gets Smith quickly back out on the mound instead of sitting around in the cold.
T-5th: Arkansas 5, Wright State 1
It has finally happened: Smith gives up his first run of the season in the form of a leadoff home run by Riemer. He had thrown 13 2/3 scoreless innings to start the season. Greenwell grounded out to second before yet another walk, this time by Anglin. With Smith’s pitch count climbing, he got Luikart to hit a slow grounder to second. Stovall tried to tag the base runner and then throw to first, but – after originally being called a double play on the field – the call was overturned.
That put a runner on second with two outs and marked the end of Smith’s day at 105 pitches. The new pitcher is right-hander Dylan Carter. He ended the inning with a strikeout of Sass, who had been 2 for 2.
B-5th: Arkansas 7, Wright State 1
It should have been another 1-2-3 inning for Shirk, but Josenberger reached when the second baseman bobbled his grounder. That started the inning. Bohrofen and Wegner followed with strikeouts. On the third strike to Bohrofen, Josenberger stole second. The error came back to cost the Raiders when Slavens hit an RBI single into right. Stovall drove in another run with a double off the wall in right. All seven of Arkansas’ runs have come with two outs. Diggs walked, but Cali looked at strike three to end the inning.
T-6th: Arkansas 7, Wright State 2
Carter opened the inning with a strikeout of Patrick, but walked pinch hitter Boston Smith and gave up a single to Arnold. That put runners on the corners for another pinch hitter. Dane Thomas hit it deep, but it was caught on the warning track in right, making it a sac fly. Riemer laid down a perfect bunt to third and Cali’s throw to first was late, but Arnold was thrown out trying to take third on the play. Carter covered the bag, making it a 5-3-1 putout to end the inning.
B-6th: Arkansas 7, Wright State 2
After a basic fly out to center by Rowland, Coll gave it a ride to right center, but the center fielder managed to run it down. Josenberger then struck out swinging, making it a 1-2-3 inning for reliever Josh Laisure.
T-7th: Arkansas 7, Wright State 2
Carter opened the seventh with a couple of quick outs, getting Greenwell to line out to center and Anglin to fly out to center on three total pitches. Luikart and Sass followed with solidly hit two-out singles, prompting a visit from Hobbs. He responded by striking out Patrick, giving him the golden sombrero.
B-7th: Arkansas 11, Wright State 2
Bohrofen struck out to start the inning before Wegner drew his second walk of the game. He ended up stealing second during what was a four-pitch walk by Slavens. A wild pitch moved them to second and third. That set up a two-run single by Stovall up the middle.
After a walk by Diggs, Wright State made a pitching change. The first batter Garret Simpson faced was Cali, who hit a sharp grounder that the third baseman couldn’t field. It went down the line for an RBI double. Rowland then hit a sharp grounder that deflected off the first baseman, but the second baseman got it and threw back to first for an RBI 3-4-3 ground out.
Because the run rule is in effect, the winning run was on third at that point, but Coll grounded out back to the pitcher to keep the game going.
T-8th: Arkansas 11, Wright State 2
Left-hander Parker Coil is the new pitcher for Arkansas. Pinch hitter Lucas Johnson leads off the inning with a single into center. Coil then got a strikeout and groundout before Riemer hit a single to put runners on the corners. Stovall made a nice play to get Greenwell on a slow grounder to second.
B-8th: Arkansas 12, Wright State 2
Josenberger looked like he might end it with a leadoff homer, but his fly ball to left was caught on the track. Mason Neville pinch hit for Bohrofen and struck out swinging. Wegner ended it with a two-out homer.
FINAL: Arkansas 12, Wright State 2 (8 innings)
BOX SCORE – Arkansas vs Wright State
Starting Lineups — Arkansas vs Wright State
|Wright State Baseball||Arkansas Baseball|
|1. Justin Riemer – SS||1. Tavian Josenberger – CF|
|2. Julian Greenwell – 1B||2. Jace Bohrofen – RF|
|3. Gehrig Anglin – 2B||3. Jared Wegner – LF|
|4. Jay Luikart – RF||4. Brady Slavens – 1B|
|5. Sammy Sass – C||5. Peyton Stovall – 2B|
|6. Andrew Patrick – CF||6. Kendall Diggs – DH|
|7. Parker Harrison – DH||7. Caleb Cali – 3B|
|8. Luke Arnold – 3B||8. Parker Rowland – C|
|9. Avery Fisher – LF||9. Harold Coll – SS|
|Pitching: Jr. RHP Jake Shirk||Pitching: So. LHP Hagen Smith|
Arkansas Baseball Schedule This Week
Wednesday — Arkansas 10, Illinois State 9 (11 innings)
Friday — vs Wright State — 3 p.m. CT (SECN+)
Saturday — vs Wright State — 3 p.m. CT (SECN+)
Sunday — vs Wright State — 1 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: 1-0 in the midweek / 6-2 on the season
After handing Arkansas its first season-opening loss since 1994 last season, Illinois State returns to Fayetteville for a single midweek matchup in 2023. The Redbirds also gave the Razorbacks a scare in the next two games before struggling to a 20-31 record. They won’t sneak up on Arkansas this year.
Actual: 1-0 in the week / 6-2 on the season
Well, Illinois State dang near snuck up and won, but Arkansas managed to pull out a win in 11 innings despite blowing a two-run lead in the ninth and seeing its star closer leave the game with an injury. But, as they say, a win is a win.
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 was not included last week because it did not update following the first week of the season. The re-addition of it to this week’s Composite Poll – on top of actual results – is what led to a lot of the movement seen in the top 25.)
|3. Wake Forest||ACC||+1||132|
|t-6. Ole Miss||SEC||+3||113|
|11. East Carolina||AAC||+8||77|
|12. Miami (Fla.)||ACC||+2||74|
|14. TCU||Big 12||-3||70|
|15. Virginia Tech||ACC||+1||66|
|16. Texas Tech||Big 12||+5||57|
|17. Texas A&M||SEC||-13||52|
|18. Florida State||ACC||+14||50|
|19. Oklahoma State||Big 12||+1||45|
|20. North Carolina||ACC||-7||40|
|21. North Carolina State||ACC||+2||35|
|22. Oregon State||Pac-12||+5||22|
|23. Maryland||Big Ten||-6||19|
|t-24. UC-Santa Barbara||Big West||—||16|
MOVED IN: Florida State (18), Oregon State (22)
DROPPED OUT: Southern Miss (t-17), Oregon (22)
- SEC: 8
- ACC: 8
- Big 12: 3
- Pac-12: 3
- AAC: 1
- Big Ten: 1
- Big West: 1
More coverage of Arkansas baseball from BoAS…