FAYETTEVILLE — Even though the knockout punch it has so often delivered so far this season never came, Arkansas baseball still found a way to come out on top Friday afternoon.
The Razorbacks hit a pair of early two-run homers and managed to scratch across few more runs, all while leaving plenty more on the base paths, in a 7-4 series-opening win over Louisiana Tech at Baum-Walker Stadium.
Instead of getting the big hit that led to it pulling away for a comfortable victory, what proved to be the difference for Arkansas in this game were three bases-loaded RBIs that scored without a hit.
“We couldn’t get that big blow that blew the game open, maybe a bases-clearing double,” Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said. “We’ve gotten a lot of those hits this year. Sometimes that’s just the way it goes, but I was really glad to see that we kept fighting and finding ways to put a little pressure on ‘em.”
Having already scored four runs the previous inning and with ace Jonathan Fincher’s pitch count climbing, Arkansas had a chance to put the game away much earlier when it loaded the bases with no outs in the fourth.
However, Kendall Diggs narrowly beat out a throw at first to avoid a double play and notch an RBI fielder’s choice and then Parker Rowland did ground into a double play, so the Razorbacks scored just one.
The loaded the bases twice in the fifth inning, first with one out and then again with two. Diggs delivered another RBI with a sacrifice fly before John Bolton grounded out.
After coming up empty in a two-out, bases-loaded situation in the sixth, Arkansas loaded the bases again in the seventh and again scored via a sacrifice fly, this time by Peyton Stovall.
In all, the Razorbacks went 0 for 3 with three RBIs in five bases-loaded plate appearances. That was part of an 0-for-10 performance with runners in scoring position — a situation in which they had been hitting .349 this season, which ranked fifth in the SEC.
Even without the big hit, though, Arkansas did force Louisiana Tech to get into its bullpen by chasing Fincher after just four innings. That is something that could pay dividends the rest of the weekend.
“We used a little bit of their bullpen, as well,” Van Horn said. “The more pitchers you can get up in the other team’s bullpen can be a plus maybe tomorrow or for sure on Sunday. Whether they pitch or not, they’re going to be a little bit more tired, you’d think.”
Big Second Inning for Arkansas Baseball
After a seven-pitch first inning, Jonathan Fincher — the C-USA Preseason Pitcher of the Year — failed to retire any of the first seven batters he faced in the second inning, granted one of those players reached on an error and was erased when he was caught stealing.
The two big swings were courtesy Jace Bohrofen and Parker Rowland, as each of them hit a two-run home run to give Arkansas an early 4-0 lead.
Bohrofen hit the first one and it was a towering shot with an incredibly 39.5-degree launch angle. The ball did leave the bat at 103 mph, though, so he hit it good, but the wind may have helped carry it 351 feet and over the wall, hitting the Hunt Center.
“We thought it was going to get out of the park because the wind was out of the northeast,” Van Horn said. “The higher you hit it, the more you’re going to feel that wind. He backspun that ball, had a lot of spin on it, so it was going to travel.”
In less than half as many at bats, Bohrofen already has more home runs (4 vs. 3) and total hits (18 vs. 17) than he had all of last season. He easily leads the team in all three slash categories, at .462/.600/.872, which gives him an incredible 1.472 OPS through 13 games.
Rowland’s long ball was hit quite as high, as it had just a 25.4-degree launch angle, but it traveled much further. It needed all of its 404 feet to just clear the wall in center, giving him his second long ball of the year.
“I was just looking for a fast ball in the middle of the plate and trying to put a good swing on it,” Rowland said. “I ended up connecting with it. I didn’t really know if I got it, I knew I got it well, but I probably knew right around first base that I got it.”
Command Struggles Persist for Hagen Smith
Hagen Smith took a no-hitter into the fifth inning against Louisiana Tech, but his command issues once again reared their ugly head.
The left-hander walked three of the first five batters he faced, spanning the first and second inning, and handed out another free pass before giving up his first hit. All of those walks contributed to him being at 53 pitches though just three innings.
He did seem to settle into the game, though, retiring 10 of the next 11 batters he faced after his second-inning leadoff hit. That includes a perfect, 11-pitch fourth inning.
“I thought he had good stuff,” Van Horn said. “I think the fourth inning might have been his best…when he was ahead of the hitters and got to throw that hard breaking ball. They chased a little bit, and he wanted to throw it down there. He just needs to put more of those type of innings together. If he does, he’s going to give us seven or eight innings, and that’s what we’d love.”
Even though Smith struggled with his pitch count, he still made it through five innings on 86 pitches and earned the win. He nearly got through the outing unscathed, but gave up a two-run single to Dalton Davis. The hit came in a 1-2 count and with two outs.
Both of those runs were earned, as Smith also allowed four hits and four walks while striking out seven. He is now 3-0 with a 1.40 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings this year, plus holding opponents to a minuscule .167 batting average.
“I thought Hagen did a great job,” catcher Parker Rowland said. “In my eyes, I don’t think he had his best stuff, but I think he competed as well. He did a great job and kind of got in a groove there in like the second, third and fourth.”
Concerning Trend for Cody Adcock
As the first pitcher out of Arkansas’ bullpen, right-hander Cody Adcock got off to about as strong of a start as he possibly could, striking out the first two batters he faced.
However, as has happened several times this year, the Texarkana native ran into trouble after that. Following a two-out single by Walker Burchfield, Karson Evans launched a 398-foot bomb to left.
Even the final out of the inning, a ground out to short, had a triple-digit exit velocity. The hard hits continued in the seventh, walking the leadoff man and then giving up another single with a high exit velocity.
Something similar happened in Sunday’s win over Wright State. He got a pair of quick ground outs to end an inning and then gave up back-to-back first-pitch singles when he came back out for the next inning.
“Yeah, it is a concern,” Van Horn said. “I feel like he goes out, he’s locked in, he gets it done, and then they got a two-out hit, and I don’t know what he thought, he just laid it in there. I’m not going to say he’s careless, I’m not going to say he made a mistake, but give that hitter credit, but yeah, he’s got to finish.”
Dylan Carter Delivers (Again)
For the fourth time in a span of six games, Dylan Carter was called upon in a tight spot Friday afternoon.
Against the Bulldogs, Carter entered the game with the tying runs on base and no outs, but faced the minimum in a three-inning save, the first of his UA career.
“(Carter) comes out there every time he get the opportunity and he just competes,” catcher Parker Rowland said. “He fills up the zone with what he has got that day and I think he did a great job today of coming in during a big spot and shutting it down for us.”
Of course, several of Louisiana Tech’s out came on hard-hit balls straight at the Razorbacks. Davis hit a line drive to center for the first out of his performance and Carter also benefited from a slick defensive play by Brady Slavens that ended the seventh-inning threat.
The veteran first baseman snagged a sharply hit ground ball by former Arkansas baseball player Ethan Bates and then calmly tossed to Carter covering the bag.
“Ball was hit by a left-handed hitter on the ground toward the right-field line and Brady, he just made a great play,” Van Horn said. “The ball took kind of a funny hop there at the end, kind of jumped out and up on him. He tracked it. That was a big play for us.”
Louisiana Tech also had a leadoff single in the eighth, but that base runner was promptly erased with the help of a 6-4-3 double play.
Over his last four appearances, Carter has asserted himself as arguably the most reliable reliever on the staff, especially with Koty Frank done for the season and Brady Tygart out for 5-6 weeks.
He’s gone at least 2 1/ 3 innings in each of those games and given up just two earned runs in 10 2/3 innings for a 1.69 ERA. That includes three innings against Army in the midweek game on Tuesday.=
“I think he’s a guy that can pitch at least twice on the weekend, it just depends on how much he throws,” Van Horn said. “If he throws Tuesday, he could throw Friday like he did today. Or if he just threw an inning today, maybe he could go tomorrow. Will he go tomorrow? I doubt it. Sunday, probably not, but you never know. We’ll see how it goes.”
Up Next for Arkansas Baseball
The Razorbacks can clinch the series with a win over Louisiana Tech in Game 2, which is scheduled for 2 p.m. CT Saturday. Unlike the first game, this one will be streamed on SEC Network-Plus.
Right-hander Will McEntire (6.17 ERA, 11 2/3 IP) will get the start for Arkansas, while the Bulldogs will counter with right-hander Rawley Hector (4.40 ERA, 14 1/3 IP), a transfer from Texas A&M.
Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits
- Arkansas baseball assistant coach Nate Thompson missed Friday’s game in order to attend a funeral for his uncle. He usually coaches third base, so the Razorbacks had to move some pieces around. Volunteer assistant Bobby Wernes went from first to third and then Arkansas got a waiver to allow Clay Goodwin, their director of baseball operations, to coach first base.
- The Razorbacks’ leadoff man reached six times in eight innings, doing so via four hits (all singles) and two walks. Four of those six times, that runner came all the way around to score, accounting for four of their seven total runs. “Some of those were 0-2 counts and they fought back, got walked, got hit, singled, whatever,” Van Horn said. “We did a great job of getting their pitch counts up, working their pitchers hard.”
- It was a collegiate debut to remember for Louisiana Tech freshman Karson Evans. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound first baseman went 2 for 4 with a double and home run — the former breaking up a no-hitter and the latter pulling his team within 6-4.
Arkansas vs Louisiana Tech Highlights (Game 1)
Arkansas vs Louisiana Tech Postgame Interviews
Arkansas vs Louisiana Tech Box Score
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