DVH Getting Salty In Front of Cameras, Holt’s Heroics + More from Game 3 vs Mississippi State

Peyton Holt, Arkansas baseball, Michigan football, Heisman Trophy
photo credit: SEC Network

FAYETTEVILLE — In its final regular-season home game, Arkansas finished what it started the day before.

After their comeback bid came up short in Game 2, the No. 5 Razorbacks scored nine unanswered runs to rally from an early 6-0 deficit and beat No. 14 Mississippi State 9-6 in the rubber match at Baum-Walker Stadium.

The win gave Arkansas (42-10, 19-8 SEC) its 10th straight SEC series win at home — and 28th in 30 tries since 2018 — and ensures it will head to Texas A&M with a two-game lead over the Aggies in the SEC West. It is also just one game behind Kentucky in the overall standings.

More importantly, though, the Razorbacks avoided back-to-back series losses and showed some encouraging signs with the postseason just around the corner. In fact, Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn called it “probably the best team win of the year.” His players agreed.

“I would say it’s the biggest win of the year just given the circumstances,” outfielder Peyton Holt said. “It’s getting to that time where you’ve got to be hitting the ball and you’ve got to be hot, and I think that showed that we’re starting to do that. It was a big win for a series win. Get some momentum going into next weekend and then into the playoffs.”

Mississippi State (33-18, 15-12) jumped all over the Razorbacks with a five-run second inning and then tacked on another run in the third. Seemingly in control of the finale, there was quite a bit of “chirping” from the Bulldogs.

A trio of two-run homers — first by Jayson Jones in the fifth and then by Hudson White and Holt in the sixth — quieted the visitor’s dugout and whipped the home crowd into a frenzy.

“Their dugout’s about as loud as they can be over there, talking a little bit of bull,” Van Horn said. “And we just kept grinding it out and we got a two-run homer here and a two-run homer there. And uh-oh we got another one and we had the lead.”

It was a bizarre series for Arkansas, which has leaned on its pitching staff for much of the year, but got a big weekend from its much-criticized offense to take two of three against one of the hottest teams in SEC.

The Razorbacks put up 21 runs across the three games, which was their highest total since scoring 23 against conference cellar-dweller Missouri to open the SEC slate. They were averaging just 13.6 runs per series before this weekend.

“We needed that win,” White said. “We need to show that we can score runs, that we can pick up the pitchers. It’s getting to that time of the year where we get it going. I think we’re going in the right direction.”

If there was any doubt heading into the weekend, the Razorbacks essentially locked up a national seed and will host a regional for the sixth time in seven postseasons. Sitting at No. 4 in the RPI with 19 SEC wins, they’re also in a great position to earn a top-8 seed. That translates to hosting a super regional if it wins the regional, regardless of what happens next week at Texas A&M or the following week at the SEC Tournament.

None of that was on Van Horn’s mind in the immediate aftermath of the comeback, though. He was just happy his team shut up the Mississippi State dugout:

Peyton Holt: The Heartbeat of the Hogs

A spark plug. A walking highlight reel. The Patrick Mahomes of baseball. Call him whatever you want, but Peyton Holt is the heart and soul of this year’s Arkansas baseball team.

The Greenwood native’s latest heroics came in the sixth inning of Sunday’s win. With two outs, he broke a 6-6 tie by launching a two-run home run into the Hog Pen. His fourth homer of the season was a 384-foot blast that he took a moment to admire before beginning his jog around the bases.

“It’s a surreal feeling to hit a go-ahead home run, especially at home,” Holt said. “It was a slider. He was a sidearm. He would come over the top, too, and throw his fastball plus slider, but it was a slider from down under and just let it get deep.”

That capped a three-hit day for Holt, who raised his batting average to .325 and is now hitting .308 in SEC play. The second of those hits was a double, after which he struck the Heisman Trophy pose – a la Michigan’s Desmond Howard in 1991.

A former standout wide receiver and quarterback in high school, Holt admitted he’s done that a few times on the gridiron, but Sunday’s celebration was a first on the diamond. It wasn’t premeditated, either.

“I’ve never thought about doing that,” Holt said. “I caught my helmet and I was holding it like a football and I was like I’m just gonna hit the Heisman pose.”

Perhaps the spontaneous reaction was appropriate, as the versatility of his game has resembled that of another Heisman Trophy winner from Michigan: Charles Woodson.

Holt has started games at five different positions in the field, something no other Arkansas player has done in at least a decade, and when he’s not producing at the plate, he’s making plays with his glove.

He didn’t do anything spectacular in the outfield Sunday, but made a great grab in each of the first two games, including one that landed at No. 5 in SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays. Just two weeks ago, he took the top spot with the “Deke Heard ‘Round the World” against Florida.

Throw in the fact that he’s a homegrown talent who had to take the JUCO route before arriving in Fayetteville, plus the attitude and spunk he plays with, and he’s easily a crowd favorite. It also doesn’t hurt that his helmet routinely flies off his head as he runs the bases.

“He’s definitely been a spark plug the second half of the season,” Van Horn said. “He was that guy we were looking for, somebody that could come in and bring a little energy to the lineup and beat you with a swing, but also, he’s been beating people with his glove.

“He’s got some personality. I made the comment to the team before the season, I didn’t know what our personality was. I wanted to see some personality, so I think Holt has brought that to our team.”

The Little Things

It is a bit cliche, but wins and losses in baseball, like many sports, often come down to which team does the little things better than the other. That was on display in back-to-back innings Sunday.

Two pitches before Peyton Holt hit his go-ahead home run in the sixth, Mississippi State should have been out of the inning.

On base after drawing a two-out walk, Jayson Jones took off for second on submariner Cam Schuelke’s first pitch to Holt. He managed to avoid the tag by second baseman Ethan Pulliam, but slid past the bag. Luckily for him, Pulliam didn’t keep the tag down and Jones was able to get back on safely. Had Pulliam stuck with it, the inning would have been over. Instead, Holt gave the Razorbacks the lead.

“I don’t know, maybe it shook them up a little bit stealing,” Van Horn said. “Maybe (Schuelke) thought he had to be a little too fine. He made a good pitch, foul ball and then he hung one.”

In the very next inning, Arkansas second baseman Peyton Stovall didn’t make the same mistake as his counterpart.

On a 3-1 pitch to Joe Powell, Aaron Downs took off for second. Catcher Hudson White came up firing and threw a strike to Stovall covering the bag. He appeared to get the tag down in time, but Will McEntire’s pitch was out of the zone for ball four.

The walk automatically gave Downs second. The problem for the Bulldogs was he slid past the bag and Stovall kept the tag on him because second base umpire Scott Cline never signaled, as he knew it was a walk and the initial tag didn’t matter. However, when he came off the bag, Downs was fair game again, so he was out. That was the third out of the inning.

It was an extremely rare play that few people, even a baseball lifer like Van Horn, have ever seen. St. Louis Cardinals legend Yadier Molina once did something similar in 2017, but even it wasn’t exactly what happened at Baum-Walker Stadium.

“I’m not sure, but I think the other umpire made the call and said, ‘Yeah, he was out’ because he came way off,” Van Horn said. “But no, I’ve never seen that. I mean, that was… They would have had runners at first and second with two down and you never know what’s going to happen.”

The ripple effect could have swung things Mississippi State’s way. Not only would the tying runs have been on base, but it would’ve had the top of its lineup coming up and the Razorbacks may have had to turn to Gabe Gaeckle an out earlier than they hoped.

If he had to pitch in that high-leverage situation, Gaeckle may have run out of gas earlier and Arkansas would have been counting on someone else – likely Jake Faherty or Stone Hewlett – to close out the game in the ninth rather than its typical closer.

That hypothetical situation never came to fruition, though, because Stovall did the little thing that Pulliam didn’t.

New Starter in LF?

Left field has been a revolving door for much of the season, but Dave Van Horn might have found a potential answer this weekend.

Despite not starting an SEC game since March 16, sophomore Jayson Jones was in the starting lineup for two of the three games against Mississippi State, including Sunday. Although he went 0 for 4 in Friday’s game, Van Horn gave him the nod again in Game 3 largely because the Bulldogs were starting a left-hander.

Even though a right-hander was on the mound by the second time he came up, Van Horn stuck with him — a move that paid off in the form of a 383-foot, two-run home run that left his bat with a 103 mph exit velocity.

“I thought Jones had a really good at bat his last at-bat on Friday,” Van Horn said. “He has power. I (thought) maybe he’ll get into one, maybe he’ll hit a home run. And fortunately he did.”

Including his strikeout earlier in the game, Jones had been 0 for 11 in SEC play and entered the game under the Mendoza line at .197.

He opened the season as Arkansas’ starting left fielder and got quite a few starts during non-conference play, but his lack of production led to the aforementioned revolving door that has seen Ross Lovich, Will Edmunson and Peyton Holt each starting multiple games at the position.

Those three accounted for most of the starts in SEC play, with Jones starting only one of the first 24 conference games.

“I thought it was awesome,” Holt said about Jones’ home run. “It just shows the tools that he has. That’s one of the most talented kids I’ve seen ever. It’s tough, but he’s kept going, waiting for his time in the lineup. He got it today again and he made it pay.”

Holt wasn’t just hyping up his teammate when talking about Jones’ talent. The Savannah, Texas, native was once viewed as a potential top-10 MLB Draft pick coming out of Braswell High, but slipped some late in the process and made it to campus. He was ranked as the No. 35 overall recruit in the Class of 2022 by Perfect Game.

An infielder-turned-outfielder, Jones’ top attribute has always been his power. He regularly produces triple-digit exit velocities and once hit a home run in a scrimmage that left the bat at 117 mph.

That’s led to him hitting four home runs in 64 at bats this season, contributing to his .758 OPS despite a .203 batting average. The trio of Lovich, Edmunson and center fielder Ty Wilmsmeyer has combined for only four home runs in 261 at bats.

“It’d be great if we could get him going a little bit and put him in there and hit down in the order, because he brings a lot of power down there,” Van Horn said. “When he becomes an everyday player, and he gets comfortable as he gets older, he’s going to hit for a lot of power. Because he hits the ball hard.”

Another Tough Start for Molina

The reason Arkansas found itself in such a large hole early on is because Mississippi State jumped all over starter Mason Molina.

The left-hander put up a scoreless first frame to start the game, but then failed to record an out in the second inning.

It started with a full-count leadoff walk and then Molina gave up a single, RBI double and three-run home run, the latter of which was the first long ball of freshman Ethan Pulliam’s career. That ended his day.

The Texas Tech transfer faced only eight batters and was charged with four earned runs on four hits and one walk with one strikeout in one-plus inning.

Even though he had just the one walk, Molina fell behind 3-0 to the first batter of each inning, was down 1-0 when the double was hit and also got behind 3-1 in the at bad that ended with a homer.

That is what Van Horn pointed to when asked about his starter’s struggles on the mound, saying it was more mental than anything.

“It’s his battle. We can’t fix it. We can’t fix this,” Van Horn said, pointing at his head. “He’s gotta fix it. He’s gotta relax, know he’s good. We talked to him, we work with him, mechanics… It’s all been addressed. It’s a veteran starter at the Division I level. He’s got to turn the corner. We’ve got to have him.”

Over his last three starts, Molina has pitched just 7 1/3 total innings and given up nine earned runs on nine hits and 11 walks.

Prior to that stretch, he owned a 3.32 ERA and was mostly living up to the hype that followed him from Texas Tech, where he was the ace of a Big 12 program that won 41 games. His ERA has since ballooned to 4.44 and he – along with fellow starter Brady Tygart – is in danger of losing his spot in the starting rotation next weekend.

“That’s obviously the major concern,” Van Horn said. “The win’s awesome, and now we have to really figure this thing out. We’ve got some things we’re thinking about that we’ll probably make a decision if we’re going to start some different people or how we’re going to handle it.”

Bullpen Saves the Day

When Dave Van Horn handed the ball to right-hander Gage Wood as the first reliever of Sunday’s game, his message was simple: Just keep it close, man. We’ve got time.

Unfortunately, the first strike Wood threw was crushed 416 feet for Joe Powell’s first home run of the season. That gave Mississippi State back-to-back home runs by its 8- and 9-hole hitters who had previously combined for 99 at bats with no long balls, as it immediately followed the homer allowed by Mason Molina.

From that point on, though, the bullpen pretty much shut down the Bulldogs’ offense. Wood was charged with another run in the third inning, but it came on an RBI double by Ethan Pulliam that likely should have been a double play. It was a hard grounder right to Stovall, but instead of him fielding it to start the 4-6-3, it deflected off him and into right field.

It was a tough-luck run for the Batesville native, who gave the Razorbacks three solid innings in which he allowed six base runners (four hits, one walk, one HBP) with three strikeouts. It was his second appearance of the weekend, as he also earned the save in Game 1 by retiring Mississippi State in order to leave the bases loaded and seal a 7-5 win.

Right-hander Christian Foutch threw a scoreless fifth inning, using a double play to erase a leadoff single and working around a two-out double.

Arkansas turned to Will McEntire next and he danced around trouble in two scoreless innings of relief. The right-hander gave up a leadoff single and the runner eventually made it to third on a sacrifice bunt and fly out. With two outs, the Razorbacks opted to intentionally walk Hunter Hines and then McEntire stranded the runners on the corners by striking out Amani Larry.

“He didn’t have his best command, but I thought his stuff was better,” Van Horn said. “He’s harder to hit. He ended up walking a few people, but he didn’t give up that big hit, which was huge. We intentionally walked the lefty to get to the next guy, and he struck him out. That was probably the at bat of the game right there for us.”

In the seventh, McEntire worked around a pair of walks with the help of Peyton Stovall’s heads-up play. It was encouraging to see the Bryant product put up a couple of zeroes because he has struggled the last several weeks and also managed to get only one out in his outing Friday night.

Catcher Hudson White said the key for him was using his full repertoire of pitches because teams have a scouting report on McEntire now, preventing him from being able to just stick to two pitches.

“He was awesome,” White said. “He was making a lot of pitches. We were using four pitches tonight. I felt like it was a really big deal. It has been a really big part of his success. He’s turning that corner.”

The Razorbacks recycled another reliever for the final two innings, with Gabe Gaeckle pitching in a rare second appearance on the weekend.

The only other time the freshman pitched twice in a series was at Auburn back in March. He was electric in a Friday night save, throwing only 14 pitches, but then struggled two days later, failing to record an out and giving up three earned runs.

With Arkansas’ three starters giving it only 7 2/3 total innings this weekend, though, Gaeckle was essentially forced into action again after throwing 41 pitches in 1 1/3 innings Friday night.

“Friday didn’t go great,” Gaeckle said. “I think it was just a little mechanical thing. I think I was almost overthrowing a little bit. I just recovered on Saturday and played light catch and got ready to go today to help the team win.”

Gaeckle did strike out two of Mississippi State’s best hitters to strand a couple of runners when he first entered Game 1, but then he lost his command in the eighth, issuing three walks and plunking another batter. He was ultimately charged with two unearned runs.

On Sunday, though, the right-hander retired five of the first six batters he faced and struck out Joe Powell to strand two runners on base in the ninth, earning his seventh save of the season.

“Today, he looked like he always does,” White said. “He was awesome, lights out. That’s what you expect from him. We were joking around about it. He’s been nails all year, but he was bound to have one (bad outing). But he bounced back.”

Over the weekend, Arkansas’ bullpen allowed eight runs in 19 1/3 innings, but only four of those were earned, giving it an impressive 1.86 ERA.

Up Next for Arkansas Baseball

The Razorbacks will hit the road to conclude the 2024 regular season, heading to College Station, Texas, for a three-game series against Texas A&M beginning Thursday.

Ranked No. 1 just a couple weeks ago, the Aggies have lost their last two series. Most recently, they dropped two of three at Ole Miss, but they’re still 42-10 overall and two games behind Arkansas in the SEC West standings at 17-10. They are actually one spot ahead of the Razorbacks in the RPI, checking in at No. 3.

To clinch its fifth division title in six years (excluding the pandemic-shorted 2020 season), Arkansas needs to win just one game. Texas A&M would have to sweep the Razorbacks to win the SEC West.

“I think it will be a really fun challenge for us playing a really good team on the road,” Hudson White said. “But at the end of the day, it’s about what we do. If we play the way we should, if we take care of our business, then we’ll count them up at the end.”

Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits

  • The announced attendance for Game 3 of the Arkansas vs Mississippi State series was 10,410. That brings the regular-season total for Baum-Walker Stadium to 338,892 across 34 home dates, for an average of 9,967.
  • Those fans were treated to a historic home slate in which the Razorbacks went 33-3. They’ll have a chance to break the all-time record of 34 wins at Baum-Walker Stadium set by the 2018 team in the Fayetteville Regional. At .917, it’s currently Arkansas’ best home winning percentage since moving into the building in 1996.
  • As mentioned above, Arkansas has won 28 of its 30 SEC home series since 2018. The only losses were to Ole Miss in 2019 — which it avenged in the Fayetteville Super Regional — and Vanderbilt in 2022. It is an incredible 74-16 over that stretch, which is a whopping .822 winning percentage.
  • Hudson White’s game-tying, two-run home run in the sixth inning was his third long ball in five games. Prior to that stretch, he hadn’t homered since Opening Day. “It felt like I was fighting myself all year, mechanically,” White said. “I felt like there were some certain things that didn’t allow me to get to that power. But Coach (Nate) Thompson has done a great job. He’s really helped me out. We know we’re starting to get it figured out.”
  • Not only is he hitting for power, but White is also just hitting the ball in general. He went 5 for 12 against the Bulldogs, raising his SEC batting average 18 points to a team-high .321. (Peyton Stovall went just 1 for 13, causing his SEC batting average to drop 30 points to .313.)
  • Ben McLaughlin drew yet another walk for the Razorbacks, giving him 47 for the season. He needs one more to crack the UA’s single-season top-10 list. The school record is 68 by Scott Loseke in 1983.
  • In honor of Mother’s Day, catcher Hudson White wore some special pink gear behind the plate on Sunday.
  • Following the first inning, the Arkansas men’s track and field team was recognized for winning the SEC Outdoor Championship a day earlier. It completed the Razorbacks’ 18th SEC triple crown and marked their fourth straight — and 23rd all-time — SEC outdoor title.

Arkansas vs Mississippi State Highlights (Game 3)

Postgame Interviews

Arkansas vs Mississippi State Box Score (Game 3)

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