Stats Back Up Missouri Coach’s Lofty Comparison for McEntire

Kevin Kopps, Will McEntire, Arkansas baseball, Arkansas vs Missouri
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics / Craven Whitlow

FAYETTEVILLE — After two games against Arkansas, Missouri is still looking for its first run of SEC play.

The No. 1 Razorbacks posted a second straight shutout Saturday afternoon, clinching their series against the Tigers with a 6-0 win at Baum-Walker Stadium. That came on the heels of an 8-0 win Friday.

It’s the first time Arkansas has won back-to-back nine-inning shutouts against SEC competition since doing so against South Carolina and Alabama in the 2007 SEC Tournament. It has never done it against the same team since joining the league in 1992.

To find the last time the Razorbacks accomplished the feat against the same team in conference play, you must go back to their Southwest Conference days, when they did it against Texas A&M in 1984.

“It’s hard to do,” Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said. “It’s hard to shut them out once, much less twice. Back-to-back is something else.”

On Saturday, right-handers Brady Tygart and Will McEntire limited Missouri to only one total hit and combined for 12 strikeouts, but did scatter seven free passes (five walks, two HBP) across the nine innings.

It was yet another dominant performance by the pitching staff, lowering the team ERA to 2.43 through 18 games. Arkansas also has 242 strikeouts with only 51 walks in 159 1/3 innings while holding opponents to a minuscule .187 batting average.

“I’ve had some really good pitchers here, I’ve had some really good staffs, (but) I haven’t had this much depth, probably, if everybody stays healthy,” Van Horn said. “It’s been great watching it from the side. … We’re over there, sometimes when things are rolling, you almost become a fan a little bit. You’re like, ‘Wow, this is really impressive.’”

Largely on the back of their pitching, the Razorbacks have now won 12 straight games to improve to 16-2 overall and are one of two SEC West teams off to a 2-0 start in conference play, with Ole Miss being the other.

Here are several other takeaways from Game 2 of the Arkansas vs Missouri series…

Pitchers’ Duel Early

For five innings, Missouri left-hander Javyn Pimental and Arkansas right-hander Brady Tygart matched each other nearly blow for blow in what looked like a Friday night battle between aces.

Pimental actually took a no-hitter into the fifth before Ross Lovich broke it up with a two-out single. Although he did issue a walk and hit a pair of batters, that proved to be the only hit he gave up.

“I thought their left-hander did a tremendous job against us,” Van Horn said. “He tied us up — breaking balls, fastballs in, getting jammed.”

Meanwhile, Tygart allowed only one base runner — a leadoff HBP in the second — through the first three innings before finding himself in a jam in the fourth.

He caught a break when Jackson Lovich lined into a double play on a hit-and-run that wiped out a leadoff single, but then proceeded to walk the next three Tigers to load the bases. It looked like they’d take the lead on a line drive by Matt Garcia, but shortstop Wehiwa Aloy was positioned perfectly and made the leaping catch to end the inning. That said, Van Horn believed the inning should have been over sooner than that.

“There’s no doubt that one of those pitches was strike three in that inning,” Van Horn said. “That’s frustrating that he didn’t get that call. He was frustrated with it. It almost cost a few runs.”

After throwing only 39 pitches over the first three innings, Tygart needed 31 just to get through that fourth inning because, as Van Horn said, he was having a hard time throwing his fastball for a strike.

Luckily for the Razorbacks, the junior still had a nasty curveball to lean on and used it to help him compile seven strikeouts in his 4 2/3 innings.

“The breaking ball was pretty good,” Van Horn said. “He left a few up and in to some righties, but he also could throw it for a strike most anytime he wanted. I think he got two or three backwards Ks on full count breaking balls. If you’re going to throw that with a full count, you really feel like you can command it. He did a great job with it.”

Tygart lowered his season ERA to 0.73 to go with 35 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings. It’s fair to note he’s also issued 11 walks and plunked nine batters, the latter which is by far the most on the team.

Lofty Comparison for McEntire

When Brady Tygart hit a batter and walked another with two outs in the fourth, Dave Van Horn didn’t hesitate to pull him in favor of a reliever. That’s because he knew he had a fresh Will McEntire waiting in the wings.

Once the right-hander got through a couple of innings, Van Horn opted to ride him as long as possible because he wouldn’t be available to pitch again in the series finale and McEntire rewarded his coach with near perfection.

Inheriting a two-on, two-out situation, he struck out Jackson Lovich to end the threat in the fifth inning. That was the start of an outing in which McEntire retired 13 of the 14 batters he faced. Mixing his pitches well, he notched five strikeouts. The only blemish on his final line was a two-out walk in the seventh.

“It’s good to have a guy with experience who has been there and it doesn’t bother him,” Van Horn said. “He’s a veteran and he throws three pitches for a strike. I mean he was throwing his fastball for 90 miles per hour, plus. He’s got that cutter about 84-85. He threw just a few regular curveballs. I really like what I saw from him today.”

That cutter prompted Missouri baseball coach Kerrick Jackson to mention McEntire in the same breath as Kevin Kopps, the Arkansas pitcher who put together the best individual season by a reliever in college baseball history in 2021.

“When you see him throw that cutter, you think about Kopps and how well he was with his cutter,” Jackson said. “But again, we could have made him make some adjustments and understood, ‘Hey this is what he is going to do so let’s try and take that away from him and force him to beat us with something other than that.’ We just really didn’t do that today.”

McEntire has not been quite as dominant as Kopps was during his Golden Spikes Award campaign, but their numbers through nine appearances aren’t as far off as you may think.

2024 Will McEntire24.12-0, 1 save1.750.7810.
2021 Kevin Kopps134-0, 1 save1.381.0015.

By having him finish the game, the Razorbacks once again preserved their bullpen for the next game. Neither Koty Frank nor Gabe Gaeckle have pitched yet this weekend and, with no midweek game before the next SEC series, Colin Fisher will also be available out of the bullpen, if needed, behind starter Mason Molina.

“I think it’s pretty big for a guy like Molina, who’s going to pitch on Sunday knowing that there’s plenty of arms behind him where he doesn’t have to go seven, eight innings or try to go the whole game,” McEntire said. “We have plenty of guys that can back him up.”

Sixth-Inning Explosion

As mentioned above, Javyn Pimental was phenomenal for the Tigers. Not only did he give up just the one hit to the Razorbacks, but he did so rather efficiently.

After a 25-pitch first inning, the left-hander really settled in and zipped through the next four innings. When he got Parker Rowland to fly out to end the fifth, Pimental had thrown only 78 total pitches.

That was a season high for the Hawaii native, but still relatively low for an SEC starter. However, Missouri baseball coach Kerrick Jackson didn’t want him to face Arkansas’ lineup a third time, so he went to his bullpen.

The move immediately backfired on the Tigers. Right-hander Bryce Mayer, who had struggled as their Friday night starter the first four weeks of the season, came in and promptly gave up a home run to Peyton Stovall.

And Wehiwa Aloy.

And Kendall Diggs.

“I think our guys just did a good job of fouling off a few pitches here and there and then got something they could handle,” Van Horn said. “I can’t say that he was tipping anything or we knew what was coming. They just saw it and hit it. I don’t know. Baseball’s funny. Nothing happens for five innings and then we explode for six.”

It was the first time Arkansas has hit back-to-back-to-back home runs since March 1 last year, when Stovall, Diggs and Caleb Cali did it in the seventh inning of a midweek game against Illinois State. That game was also tied at the time, at 5-5, and the Razorbacks eventually won 10-9 in 11 innings.

Prior to that, though, it’s believed that hadn’t happened at Arkansas since Norm DeBriyn took over the program in at least 1970, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

“The way it was going today, it was hard to get a hit,” Van Horn said. “That was a big inning for us, especially in a conference game where we hadn’t done much. They make a pitching change, we get a big hit and now everybody thinks they can hit.”

Diggs has been especially hot for Arkansas, as he’s now homered in three straight games and four of the last five.

The Razorbacks weren’t done, either. Facing his former team and younger brother, Ross Lovich delivered a two-run triple with two outs. He then scored on a wild pitch, making it 6-0.

“Once we got a one-run lead, (it was) a little relief,” Van Horn said. “After we got two and three, you start thinking the way we’re pitching that we’re in good shape.”

Up Next for Arkansas Baseball

The Razorbacks have already clinched their seventh straight series win on opening weekend of SEC play, but are now going for their sixth sweep over that span. First pitch for Game 3 of Arkansas vs Missouri is scheduled for 2 p.m. CT Sunday and will once again be streamed on SEC Network-Plus.

Left-hander Mason Molina (2-0, 3.57 ERA) is set to start for Arkansas, while the Tigers announced they will counter with right-hander Carter Rustad (3-1, 2.79 ERA).

Missouri had left Sunday open as a “TBA,” but Rustad makes a lot of sense because the fifth-year senior has statistically been its best pitcher this season. In addition to his 2.79 ERA, he has a 0.78 WHIP and is holding opponents to a .178 batting average.

Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits

  • The announced attendance for Game 2 of Arkansas vs Missouri was 10,434, which topped Friday’s figure (10,109) for the third-best home crowd of the year.
  • Here are the metrics — distance, exit velocity and launch angle — for the Razorbacks’ three home runs hit Saturday afternoon:
    • Stovall: 404 feet, 104 mph, 27.3 degrees
    • Aloy: 396 feet, 99 mph, 36.2 degrees
    • Diggs: 372 feet, 99 mph, 28.1 degrees
  • Assistant coach Bobby Wernes missed the game because of the flu, according to the SEC Network-Plus broadcast. In his place, Clay Goodwin — the Director of Baseball Operations — filled in as the first base coach. It’s the second time this week that an assistant coach missed a game, as pitching coach Matt Hobbs was sick during the midweek win over Oral Roberts.
  • Grant Bias, a rising country music star who competed in Season 24 of “The Voice” last year, performed the national anthem before the game. Although he eventually moved to Chattanooga, Tenn., Little Rock is listed as Bias’ hometown and he attended White Hall High School.

Arkansas vs Missouri Highlights (Game 2)

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Postgame Interviews

Hear from head coach Dave Van Horn, second baseman Peyton Stovall and right-hander Will McEntire following Game 2 of the Arkansas vs Missouri series:

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YouTube video

Arkansas vs Missouri Box Score (Game 2)


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