Friendly Fire Part of Peyton Holt’s All-Time Deke in Nailbiting Florida Win

Peyton Holt, Arkansas baseball, Arkansas vs Florida
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics

FAYETTEVILLE — On a day the best two-way player in college baseball homered and pitched, it was the two-way play of an Arkansas player that stole the show.

Peyton Holt hit a go-ahead home run in the seventh and followed it up with arguably the best defensive play of the season to help the No. 2 Razorbacks clinch their series against Florida with a 6-5 nailbiter in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader at Baum-Walker Stadium.

Led by a Jac Caglianone grand slam, the Gators (22-21, 9-12 SEC) managed to salvage the finale 9-5 and snap Arkansas’ record-tying 27-game home winning streak, but Holt’s heroics with the bat and his glove ensured the Razorbacks (37-7, 16-5) would remain at least tied atop the SEC West standings.

As big of a swing as Holt’s home run was, the Greenwood native’s play the following inning is what went viral and saved the game for Arkansas.

“There were probably a lot of people that didn’t know what the heck happened, and still don’t know what happened, and probably need to go back and watch a replay and have somebody explain it to them,” Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said. “It was just a real head’s up play. A real heady play.”

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The Deke Heard ‘Round the World

The Razorbacks entered the eighth inning with a two-run lead, but that was quickly cut in half thanks to an error that brought a run home. With only one out, Florida had the bases loaded with a chance to take the lead or, at the very least, tie it up.

Colby Shelton seemed to do the latter with a fly ball to center, but that’s when things got weird.

Although it was plenty deep for Brody Donay to tag up and score from third, which would have made it a sacrifice fly for Shelton, Peyton Holt used some deception to prevent the Gators from scoring.

As he camped out under the ball, the infielder-turned-center fielder pretended to catch it by dropping his glove before the ball actually landed in it. Thinking the catch had been made, Donay took off for home. He quickly realized his mistake, though, and raced back to third to tag up again.

Meanwhile, Holt threw a strike to third baseman Jared Sprague-Lott, who then threw home. Hudson White made the tag to complete the unusual 8-5-2 double play and end the inning.

The Gators weren’t the only ones fooled by the play. In fact, there was a bit of friendly fire, as teammate Peyton Stovall didn’t realize what was going on initially – and neither did Florida’s Michael Robertson, who was on second.

“I got deked,” Stovall said. “I was so confused. I remember just being around second and he did that thing with his glove. I thought he caught the ball. I was turning and looking at the runner at third to see if he was going. I turned around and the runner at second, he took off, slipped, tripped, went back.”

Stovall added that Sprague-Lott also seemed confused, as his teammates had to yell at him to throw home.

The only person who knew what was happening the entire time was Holt, and that’s because he planned it all out ahead of time — a perfect example of his elite baseball IQ.

“It was just the perfect scenario,” Holt said. “When the bases got loaded, I ran through it in my head and it was like, ‘I actually have an opportunity to actually pull off a deke right here.’ Perfect fly ball, it was coming straight down, did it, threw it in and Sprag made a good throw home, got the guy and saved a run.”

Not only did the crowd of 11,160 erupt, but so did his teammates both on the field and the bench, with many of them coming out of the bullpen to celebrate with Holt.

“We were pretty much just like, ‘Holt’s HIM,’” Tygart said. “That play saved the game for us. We don’t win that game if that play doesn’t happen.”

The reaction in the other dugout was much more tame. The ESPN2 cameras actually caught Florida baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan looking around with his mouth slightly agape, flabbergasted at what had just unfolded in front of him:

“I don’t really have an explanation other than maybe he got deked by the center fielder,” O’Sullivan said afterward. “But at the end of the day you got back to the bag and if he catches it, you can walk home. If he drops it, you walk home.”

ESPN2 play-by-play man Tom Hart described it as the “ultimate deke” and color commentator Chris Burke, a former All-American and six-year MLB veteran, said he’d never seen that kind of play work.

“That is just one of the headiest plays you’ll ever see,” Burke added.

Holt claimed the play was something the Razorbacks work on every day in practice, but Van Horn seemed to indicate Holt took it more seriously than most.

“They work on it, talk about it every now and then,” Van Horn said. “The guys have fun with it. But Holt actually works on it a little bit. Coach Thompson, he works with the outfielders, and he made that comment to me that Holt likes to play around with it.”

UPDATE: Holt’s deke was the No. 1 play on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays.

Flexibility of Peyton Holt

Making the play even more incredible is the fact that Peyton Holt has primarily been an infielder throughout his baseball career.

He did play some left field while at Crowder C.C. and got some reps out there this fall, but all of his time during the three weeks of practice leading up to the season were spent in the infield because he was the projected starter at third base.

An injury to Peyton Stovall moved him to second for the start of the season and upon his return, Holt found himself as the odd man out because of how well Jared Sprague-Lott was handling the hot corner.

He started just one of the Razorbacks’ first 13 SEC games. Before heading to Alabama, though, Holt was penciled in as the starting right fielder against San Jose State on April 9.

“As the season went along, I was like, ‘I could see myself playing out there,’” Holt said. “I looked at the lineup one day and I was in right field and I guess that was my sign I probably should work on outfield a little bit.”

With its offense scuffling, Arkansas needed to find a way to get Holt’s bat in the lineup and putting him in the outfield, where it had been getting very little production, made the most sense. That was his only game in right, but he’s since started five games in left and four games in center.

Unlike some converted infielders, like Kendall Diggs last year, there was seemingly no adjustment period for Holt. He has regularly tracked down fly balls in the gap, made diving and leaping catches, and thrown out runners on the base paths, looking like a natural outfielder.

“He’s just taken a lot of balls live in batting practice off live bats,” Van Horn said. “That’s how you get better. You can run and catch fly balls from a fungo bat, a machine. But when you’re reading the ball off the bat, working on your first step, because that’s huge on those tough plays.”

It’s not the first time Holt’s high baseball IQ has led to a double play in a big spot. He also did it as a second baseman last year against LSU in the SEC Tournament.

After fielding a throw from shortstop Harold Coll to get a force out at second, Holt knew he didn’t have enough time to complete the traditional 6-4-3 double play, so he faked a throw to first, spun and fired a strike to third. That pump fake led to the LSU runner taking too wide of a turn at third, so third baseman Caleb Cali was able to tag him out diving back into the bag.

Plays like that and the one he made Saturday are why Van Horn told reporters during the offseason that Holt was the ultimate utility guy capable of playing anywhere on the field.

He’s already the first Arkansas baseball player to start five different positions in the field during a single season in at least a decade, so it was only natural that a reporter asked him when fans could expect him to play catcher or get on the mound to pitch.

“You almost saw me catch last year at Georgia,” Holt said. “But I don’t know. That’s a question for the boss man. I don’t know if I can get on the mound. I probably wouldn’t be able to pick up a ball for a couple of weeks.”

Go-Ahead Homer for Arkansas

When a player makes a tremendous defensive play, it feels like they’re almost always due up to hit the next half inning. That’s a typical baseball sequence.

Peyton Holt did those things in reverse Saturday afternoon. In the half inning immediately before his web gem, he crushed a 2-1 pitch from right-hander Luke McNeillie into the seats behind the left field bullpen for a two-run home run.

It left the bat with a 102 mph exit velocity and traveled 394 feet.

“I was just sitting heater, first pitch,” Holt said. “I don’t know what it was but it just looked a lot faster than 92-93 so I was just like I gotta get all over a fastball. Got it in the right location and didn’t miss it.”

The swing capped a five-run inning, broke a 4-4 tie and eventually proved to be the difference in the series-clinching win.

It was also Holt’s second home run of the year, with his first being the two-out, ninth-inning blast at Alabama that forced extra innings. He also had the game-winning RBI triple against Oregon State on Feb. 23, so his .330 batting average is littered with clutch hits.


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