The Good and Bad on the Mound, Multiple Reunions + More from Game 1 vs Missouri State

Gage Wood, Arkansas baseball, Arkansas vs Missouri State
photo credit: Craven Whitlow

In his first career start, Gage Wood was nearly perfect for Arkansas.

The Batesville native faced the minimum in three strong innings to help the No. 2 Razorbacks remain unbeaten in midweek games with a 12-7 win over Missouri State at Baum-Walker Stadium.

It helped that he was given some immediate run support via Wehiwa Aloy’s first-inning grand slam, which allowed him to relax and finally pitch like the guy who earned Freshman All-SEC honors as last year’s closer.

“I thought Gage Wood came out and did a great job, gave us three really good innings,” Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said. “We had built up a lead after the first inning. That second inning he came out and got them out quick. That’s big.”

On a night that several of Arkansas’ pitchers struggled with their command, Wood notched four strikeouts and allowed only one hit. That base runner was then caught stealing to end the inning. He needed just 43 pitches.

For Wood, it was a nice bounce-back performance from the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, when he retired only one of five Gators he faced. That included an attempted sacrifice bunt on which he tried throwing third for an out, only for the ball to get by Jared Sprague-Lott and allow a run to score.

Even with a few shaky moments along the way, Wood now has a 2.11 ERA with 34 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings and opponents are hitting just .220.

If the Razorbacks (38-7) are going to make a deep run in the postseason, they’ll likely need him to throw some big innings along the way and Tuesday’s outing — albeit against an inferior opponent in Missouri State (18-25) — was a positive step in that direction.

The biggest question is whether or not those innings will continue out of the bullpen or if he could make a push to Arkansas’ fourth starter. It sounds the like the former is more likely, but anything is possible with three weeks remaining in the regular season and the team firmly in the hunt for another SEC title.

“Unless one of our starters struggles or gets banged up a little bit, we’ll probably keep him in more of a leverage role in the middle of a game,” Van Horn said. “Just maybe for the future, just wanted him to start — and the future could be now. You just never know how it’s gonna go.”

The good news is that Wood now has experience starting, so it won’t be new to him if he’s thrust into that role at the SEC Tournament or in the fourth, or fifth, game of a regional.

“They both have their pros and cons, but I would say I feel like I am fully capable of doing them both,” Wood said. “Starting, you don’t have to be as perfect because it’s a fresh game. Coming out of the pen when it’s a late game when it is one-run game or tied or whatever it is, you have to be that much better with your command and pitches.”

HRs Bookend Offense’s Big Day

It has been a very up-and-down year for Arkansas’ offense, but it put up 12 runs on Tuesday — the most it has scored since beating Arkansas State 13-0 in seven innings on April 2.

As a team, the Razorbacks collected 10 hits, with four of them coming before an out was recorded in the bottom half of the first inning.

Peyton Stovall and Peyton Holt singled before Jared Sprague-Lott laid down a perfect bunt to not only advance the runners, but reach with a single of his own to load the bases. On the very next pitch, Wehiwa Aloy hit the ball over the wall in center for a grand slam.

It was his team-leading 11th home run of the season and third grand slam. He hit this one 406 feet with an exit velocity of 102 mph.

“That was a great start,” Van Horn said. “I mean, what more could you want? … It was kind of, you’re on the road, playing in front of a lot of people and the first three batters reached base like that, it was quick.”

That was it for Arkansas in the first inning, but it tacked on an RBI infield single by Holt in the second and then added another four runs in the third thanks to RBI hits from Jack Wagner and Hudson White before a two-run error by the Bears.

At that point, it was 9-0 and it looked like the Razorbacks would cruise to another midweek run-rule win, but Missouri State scored four in the fourth to make it a game again. Like it has so many times this season, though, Arkansas answered in the bottom half and got a couple of those runs back with an RBI double by Ryder Helfrick and RBI single by Jayson Jones.

After three scoreless innings, Sprague-Lott capped the scoring with a solo shot into the Hog Pen in the eighth

His sixth home run of the season had a 101 mph exit velocity and traveled 402 feet.

“He’s keeping the ball fair when he hits it hard,” Van Horn said. “He crushed one foul today, but I’m sure it was a pitch that was in and it would’ve been tough to hit it that hard fair. … I just like the fact that he’s a tough out. I like the fact that he can lay down a bunt for a hit or a sac bunt or hit the ball over your head.”

Rare Midweek Bullpen Struggles

A major key to Arkansas being undefeated in midweek games has been the depth of its pitching staff.

Even though guys like Hagen Smith, Brady Tygart and Mason Molina don’t pitch on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, and top bullpen arms are limited, the Razorbacks have mostly been dominant on the mound in those games.

Texas Tech managed to score 12 runs across two games earlier in the month and UCA had seven back on March 5, but in eight other non-weekend games (including the fourth game against James Madison), Arkansas gave up two or fewer runs.

That was not the case in the first of two midweek games against Missouri State.

Despite finishing with only five hits, the Bears scored seven runs, with walks (6) and HBPs (3) being the main culprit. The nine free passes matched a season high Arkansas had reached just twice before — and one of them was in a 14-inning loss to Oklahoma State. The other was in its Game 2 loss at South Carolina.

It started with right-hander Cooper Dossett, who turned in his worst outing of the season after throwing eight consecutive scoreless innings over his last five appearances. The sophomore retired only one of the six batters he faced, giving up two hits, two walks and one HBP.

Four of those runners scored, including two when right-hander Christian Foutch — who relieved Dossett — gave up a two-run single to Logan Chambers. He wasn’t charged with any runs of his own, though, notching a couple of strikeouts to limit the damage.

“We went to Christian and it was kind of strange,” Van Horn said. “It didn’t seem like he was throwing as hard as normal and then all of a sudden he did. He did a good job for us. Got us in the dugout on about nine pitches. … They really didn’t hit the ball hard off him.”

Left-hander Stone Hewlett worked around a couple of walks in a scoreless fifth inning, but a couple of walks by left-hander Parker Coil came back to haunt him in the seventh.

He actually walked the first two guys he faced and both scored on Taeg Gollert’s three-run home run, but one of those runs was unearned because the walk happened after catcher Hudson White dropped a pop up in foul territory.

“The walks that Coil had, he was ahead in the count on almost all the hitters,” Van Horn said. “Maybe 1-2 and then foul ball, foul ball, whatever. Next thing you know, he’s 3-2 on a lot of guys and I think one got a hit. He gave up a home run early in the count. Walks are what hurt.”

Encouraging Bounce Back by McEntire

Three of the final four pitchers Arkansas used threw a perfect inning, but none were more encouraging than Will McEntire setting the Bears down in order in the sixth inning.

The veteran right-hander had struggled mightily over his last five appearances, as opponents hit a whopping .457 against him and scored 10 earned runs in seven innings of work.

Dave Van Horn said his problem has been being “too predictable,” but that didn’t seem to be the case Tuesday as he induced a fly ball and ground ball sandwiched around a strikeout.

“It was good to see him throw a 90 mph fastball and get a strikeout,” Van Horn said. “Guys are just sitting on pitches and he’s got to pitch in and land that cutter away or to the glove side against both right- and left-handed hitters. He did that a little more tonight so that was really good to see.”

Prior to that rough stretch, McEntire was not only the Razorbacks’ top bullpen arm, but arguably one of the best and most important in all of college baseball. He routinely pitched multiple times in a weekend and his numbers — outside of strikeouts — were comparable to ace Hagen Smith.

Even if he doesn’t quite return to that level, an effective McEntire in the bullpen would be huge for Arkansas’ success down the stretch and in the postseason.

“It felt good,” McEntire said. “Baseball is a rollercoaster sometimes. You are going to have your highs and your lows. Just had to get back on the right track.”

We Meet Again (x2)

That strikeout by Will McEntire was a big one — and not just because it was the second out of the inning.

The victim was Missouri State designated hitter Logan Chambers. Arkansas baseball fans may remember him as the Crowder C.C. recruit at the center of the Dave Van Horn-Tony Vitello kerfuffle three years ago, but he’s also a Bryant native and lifelong friend of McEntire.

The two are very close and played together growing up, dating back to their t-ball days. McEntire played it cool on the field after the strikeout, but proudly declared he has “bragging rights” to reporters afterward.

“I think it was just kind of fate,” McEntire said. “It was cool. Both of our families were here and they all got to watch it. I don’t know who they rooted for. But we’re brothers. We grew up together. He’ll be in my wedding someday. That’s my guy.”

That wasn’t the only reunion of the day. Missouri State’s lineup also featured former Arkansas catcher Dylan Leach, who played in Fayetteville from 2021-22 and spent last season at Missouri before hitting the transfer portal again and joining the Bears.

He received a noticeable cheer from the Baum-Walker Stadium crowd before his first at bat, but unfortunately, his day was cut short when his arm was struck on Wehiwa Aloy’s backswing in the eighth inning.

“He’s always creeped up in there,” Van Horn said. “We used to talk to him about it. When guys have that follow-through, it gets dangerous.”

Before getting hurt, Leach went 0 for 2 with a strikeout and was plunked twice. One of those HBP came with the bases loaded, so he also notched an RBI.

Coming into the game, he was slashing .301/.419/.621 with 13 doubles, 12 home runs and 36 RBIs in 42 games.

“He’s definitely gotten stronger,” Van Horn said. “He’s having a good year offensively if you look at his numbers. Happy for him, I am.”

Arkansas Baseball Injury Updates

The reason Gage Wood got his first career start Tuesday is because usual midweek starter Ben Bybee started the series finale against Florida and Arkansas’ other midweek starter, Colin Fisher, was unavailable.

Dave Van Horn declined to reveal any details about the freshman left-hander’s injury, but did acknowledge he wasn’t healthy.

“He’s injured right now,” Van Horn said. “We’re still trying to get some information, but he’s not throwing tomorrow, let’s put it that way.”

Fisher has been a pleasant surprise for the Razorbacks this season, going 6-1 with a 2.67 ERA in 27 innings across seven starts and three relief appearances, but he hasn’t pitched since April 17 against Texas Tech.

During the game, Jack Wagner — making just his third start at first base this season — had to leave mid-at bat in the sixth inning because of an injury. After the game, Van Horn said it was unclear if it was just a cramp or something more serious like a pulled hamstring because he had yet to be thoroughly examined by the trainers. His status might not be known until tomorrow.

As for previously known injuries, it sounded like good news for left-hander Mason Molina. The Razorbacks skipped him in the rotation last weekend because of a twisted ankle suffered in practice, but it looks like he’ll be back against Kentucky, as expected.

The same can’t be said for freshman Hunter Dietz. The left-hander missed the start of the season after undergoing a procedure to repair a stress fracture in his elbow following fall ball, made a couple of appearances and is now back on the shelf, likely for the rest of 2024.

“He’s probably not going to pitch anymore this year,” Van Horn said. “That’s about all I’m going to tell you. Get him ready for next year.”

Up Next for Arkansas Baseball

The Razorbacks will conclude their midweek slate with another game against Missouri State at 4 p.m. CT Wednesday. Neither team has announced a starting pitcher.

However, Dave Van Horn did indicate on the pregame radio show that right-hander Ben Bybee would get the nod. That said, he’ll likely be on a limited pitch count after throwing 55 pitches in three innings against Florida on Saturday. Beyond that, it’s a mystery.

“We probably used a couple of guys we were going to throw tomorrow tonight,” Van Horn said. “So they might have as well. I imagine both teams will be a little thin on pitching tomorrow with conference coming up and what it means for both teams.”

Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits

  • Tuesday marked the Razorbacks’ third annual Childhood Cancer Awareness game. They wore yellow hats to help raise awareness and recognize the many children and families battling cancer and terminal illnesses.
  • This is Missouri State baseball coach Keith Guttin’s 42nd and final season at the helm, as he will retire at the end of the year. Prior to the game, Arkansas baseball coaches Dave Van Horn and Norm DeBriyn presented him with some fishing rods and an umbrella — the latter a reference to the classic Arkansas vs Missouri State game in the 2017 Fayetteville Regional that ended after 3 a.m. and finished in a heavy rain. Guttin is now 21-36 against Arkansas during his career.
  • For the first time this season, Ben McLaughlin was not in the starting lineup. He had started the first 44 games, mostly at first base and twice at designated hitter, but came off the bench Tuesday after Jack Wagner’s injury.
  • In the midst of a lengthy slump, Kendall Diggs didn’t start or come off the bench against Missouri State. His batting average has dipped to .245 and he’s hitting just .190 in SEC play.
  • The other two pitchers who threw perfect innings Tuesday night were right-handers Gabe Gaeckle and Jake Faherty in the eighth and ninth innings, respectively. They each had a couple of strikeouts.
  • Despite all of the free passes, Arkansas pitchers still combined for 15 strikeouts. It’s the 12th time they’ve hit that mark this season. The Razorbacks are up to 539 strikeouts on the year, which is already 10th on the school’s single-season list. The all-time record is 674 set in 2022.

Arkansas vs Missouri State Highlights (Game 1)

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Postgame Interviews

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Arkansas vs Missouri State Box Score (Game 1)


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