Stovall’s Dream the Start of Something Special as Hogs Keep Rocking Gorilla Mask vs Little Rock

Will Edmunson, gorilla ball, Arkansas baseball, Arkansas vs Little Rock
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics

FAYETTEVILLE — Perhaps it’s no coincidence that about the time Arkansas adopted its “gorilla ball” mantra on offense, it found its power stroke.

The No. 1 Razorbacks have now homered in 10 straight games after swatting another four Tuesday afternoon en route to an 11-0 run-rule win over Little Rock at Baum-Walker Stadium.

Considering the fact that Arkansas has been one of the top power-hitting teams in the country since 2017, a 10-game homer streak would not typically be something to get excited about. After all, last year’s team had a 32-game streak.

However, this year’s team got off to a really slow start in that department. The Razorbacks failed to homer in seven of the first 13 games of the season, including a five-game drought — their longest since 2014. They had just 11 long balls at that point.

The current 10-game streak started in the second game of the Murray State series, a day before a pregame comment by assistant coach Bobby Wernes led to an idea by hitting coach Nate Thompson of adopting a gorilla doll as an award.

“Coach Wernes, he was like, ‘Let’s play big. Let’s play gorilla ball. Hit doubles, homers, hard contact,’ stuff like that,” second baseman Peyton Stovall said. “Then Coach Thompson mentioned getting a gorilla-type something after the game to be the kind of MVP for the game for the hitter and stuff. The person that got it the game before would give it to the person who got it that game.”

The doll has gone viral on social media, as well as a gorilla mask that players put on in the dugout after hitting home runs.

Stovall, who hit a 382-foot opposite-field blast against the Trojans, took credit for the mask idea. He said it came to him one night just before falling asleep.

“Brought the idea to the guys and they were on board with it,” Stovall said. “It’s been super cool, we got more engaged, more involved and stuff. It’s been super cool to see.”

The term “gorilla ball” is nothing new to college baseball. It was actually used to describe the era of the game in the 1990s when home runs were hit at an incredibly high rate because of the bats used in that time.

Arkansas isn’t hitting the ball out of the ballpark at a ‘90s heyday rate, but it does have 22 home runs in its last 10 games. That’s a good number for the Razorbacks because they are drawing a lot of free passes — they had 12 (eight walks, four HBP) against Little Rock — that turn the homers into multi-run shots. On top of that, dominant pitching minimizes the need for as many long balls.

Free passes helped end Tuesday’s game after just seven innings. Stovall’s homer followed a hit by pitch and Wehiwa Aloy’s grand slam came after Arkansas loaded the bases without a hit. That accounted for six of the Razorbacks’ 11 runs.

Long Ball Notes

The four home runs Arkansas hit matched a season high, as it also had that many against McNeese State (March 9) and Missouri (March 15). Both of those games are part of the active 10-game home run streak.

The first two times the Razorbacks left the yard, it doubled their score.

After taking a 2-0 lead with two non-hit RBIs (sacrifice fly and bases-loaded HBP) in the first inning, Peyton Stovall made it 4-0 with a 382-foot opposite-field home run in the second. It was his third home run in 11 games since returning from a broken foot.

It looked like Arkansas might run away with things, but Little Rock kept it from scoring again until the sixth inning. That’s when the Razorbacks used a hit by pitch and two walks to load the bases for Wehiwa Aloy, who then hit his second grand slam of the year — as many as the rest of the team combined.

Aloy now has five total home runs, which is tied with Kendall Diggs for the most on the team.

Tuesday’s other two long balls came later in the sixth and were hit by first-year Razorbacks who haven’t played a ton this season.

In his first appearance since March 3, Tarleton State transfer Jack Wagner started at designated hitter and hit a solo bomb two batters after Aloy. Van Horn revealed afterward that Wagner has been dealing with a foot injury suffered when he fouled a pitch off it in practice.

“He’s been great in the dugout,” Van Horn said about his lack of playing time. “He has been very mature about it. … The team was super excited for him, because he pulls for them all the time. It was really good to see. Happy for him.”

Then, after Little Rock third baseman Nico Baumbach booted a ground ball by Peyton Holt to extend the inning. Will Edmunson — starting his third straight game after a solid showing in Auburn — immediately made the Trojans pay with a two-run shot.

It was the first home run of the year for both Wagner and Edmunson, meaning 14 different Razorbacks have homered this year. The only two who’ve played and haven’t hit one are Holt and backup catcher Parker Rowland.

The Rich Get Richer

As good as Arkansas’ pitching staff has been this year, it may have gotten even better Tuesday afternoon.

After battling a hamstring injury in the preseason and missing the first six weeks of the season with mono, Ben Bybee made his season debut by starting the midweek matchup and was nearly perfect for three innings.

The sophomore right-hander allowed just one hit and struck out five. He sat 94 mph with his fastball and mixed in a breaking ball and changeup, showcasing the stuff that made him arguably the frontrunner to be Arkansas’ fourth starter until leaving an intrasquad scrimmage start a couple weeks before the season with the aforementioned hamstring injury.

“I thought Bybee was really good,” Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said. “Velocity was good, location for the most part was pretty good. I felt like the ball was coming out of his hand good.”

Bybee didn’t pitch the final week of the preseason and just as he got healthy, he came down with mono and had to miss several weeks. Although he was available in the midweek game against Oral Roberts on March 12, he was not called upon.

With usual midweek starter Colin Fisher throwing 39 pitches in the series finale at Auburn on Saturday, it opened the door for the Razorbacks to make the move to Bybee against the Trojans.

“Just staying ready,” Bybee said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of guys that can throw. Just waiting my turn and making the most of it when it happens. … Definitely had to be patient, but glad I got my opportunity.”

The performance will make Van Horn’s job even more difficult as he tries to finalize the 27-man roster for each SEC series, as he already has a ton of arms at his disposal. That will make it interesting to see what he opts to do with Bybee.

He could lock down the midweek starting role, allowing Fisher to fully move to the bullpen, or have a dual role like Fisher has had much of the season. Van Horn seems fine with either option.

“I like him starting, but I don’t have a problem if he came in as a middle reliever and piggybacked on somebody and went four or five innings,” Van Horn said. “Today he threw around 50 pitches and that’s really all we wanted him to throw. He could have gone back for more, but again we’re still trying to figure out how to get this roster squared away and it’ll probably fluctuate from weekend to weekend.”

Adding to a Loaded Arsenal

It wasn’t just Ben Bybee who shut down the Trojans on Tuesday. Three relievers accounted for the next four innings and helped Arkansas finish off its fourth shutout in seven games.

Making his third appearance of the season since a quicker-than-expected recovery from Tommy John surgery, right-hander Dylan Carter was first out of the pen and went six up, six down in his two innings of work. He gave up some hard contact, but nothing was seriously in danger of falling for a hit.

Right-hander Christian Foutch made his fourth appearance of the year Tuesday and gave up one hit in a scoreless sixth inning of work. He may throw harder than anyone on the team, including Hagen Smith and Jake Faherty, but he’s added a pitch that could lead to him getting more opportunities sooner rather than later.

“He’s got a little different pitch going and it’s got a little sink on it,” Van Horn said. “Threw it last week to some live hitters. Didn’t pitch this weekend. Threw it tonight. Still touched 98-99 tonight. Then he threw one about 96 and it had some sink on it. That’s the one I like, because that one is hard to square up. And then he’s got another one or two, but I think that could be the difference maker for him, and it might even be a career-maker for him if he can get that sinker going up with that velocity.”

With the run rule in effect, Arkansas turned to left-hander Stone Hewlett to close it out and he did just that with a perfect seventh inning in which he notched another strikeout. He now has 12 in 5 1/3 innings and at least one in all nine of his outings – most of which have been as a left-on-left specialist on the weekend.

While Hewlett already has a set role on the pitching staff, the other three are more wildcards, but Van Horn said they showed him they’re at least worthy of consideration to be included on the 27-man roster for SEC series.

That’s a classic example of the rich getting richer, as Arkansas already has the best pitching staff in the country. It entered Tuesday leading the country in ERA (2.59), WHIP (1.03), strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.20), strikeouts per nine innings (13.4) and hits allowed per nine innings (6.07).

“Their depth is as deep as it’s ever been and maybe the best pitching staff they’ve ever had,” Little Rock baseball coach Chris Curry said. “We knew they were really good, and we respect them for that.”

That doesn’t even include left-hander Hunter Dietz, the talented freshman who is nearing a return from minor offseason surgery.

Up Next for Arkansas Baseball

Tuesday marked the start of a 10-game home stand for the Razorbacks. It’ll continue with a three-game series against No. 8 LSU beginning Thursday. First pitch of Game 1 is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT and will be televised on ESPN2.

The reigning national champions are coming to Fayetteville with a 2-4 SEC record after dropping series against Mississippi State and Florida to open conference play. Both series came down to a rubber match in which the Tigers were run-ruled. Even with those losses, they were 20-6 overall after beating Southeastern Louisiana in a midweek game Tuesday night.

Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits

  • Little Rock challenged a first-inning pickoff attempt at second base and Wehiwa Aloy appeared to be out, but after the review, obstruction was called and Aloy was granted third base. It’s scored as an error on the shortstop, whose foot was blocking the bag.
  • Another one of the highlights of the first inning was a 13-pitch at bat by Peyton Holt with the bases loaded. He fouled off seven two-strike pitches, including six straight with a full count, before getting hit by the 13th pitch to drive in a run and make it 2-0. He also worked the count full in two of his other three plate appearances. Even with the other being a one-pitch out, Holt saw 27 total pitches in four trips Tuesday.
  • Not only did Aloy hit a grand slam, but he went 3 for 3 at the plate to raise his batting average to .273 to go along with his team-high 24 RBIs. Since his rough weekend in Arlington, the Sacramento State transfer is hitting .328.
  • Here are the metrics – distance, exit velocity and launch angle – of the four home runs Arkansas hit against Little Rock:
    • Stovall: 382 feet, 98 mph, 26.3 degrees
    • Aloy: 413 feet, 105 mph, 23.2 degrees
    • Wagner: 388 feet, 106 mph, 22.2 degrees
    • Edmunson: 387 feet, 98 mph, 19.6 degrees

See our latest on Arkansas baseball here:

Arkansas vs Little Rock Highlights

Postgame Interviews

Arkansas vs Little Rock Box Score


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