Rare Assist from SEC Office Helps Arkansas Clinch Series vs Ole Miss

Dave Van Horn, Mike Bianco, Arkansas baseball, Arkansas vs Ole Miss
photo credit: Craven Whitlow

FAYETTEVILLE — It’s hard to boil down an entire nine-inning game to one moment, but that may be the case for Arkansas on Friday.

Both ends of a rare double-challenge went in favor of the No. 1 Razorbacks in the fifth inning and they pulled away late for an 8-3 win that clinched the series against Ole Miss at Baum-Walker Stadium.

Arkansas (26-3, 10-1 SEC) was clinging to a two-run lead at the time and the Rebels (18-14, 3-8) were threatening, loading the bases without a hit and with only one out. Ethan Lege appeared to cut that deficit in half with an RBI fielder’s choice grounder, but that’s when things got weird.

It was a high chopper to third that Jared Sprague-Lott fielded and then threw to Peyton Stovall at second to start a potential double play. However, Andrew Fischer slid into Stovall and knocked him down as he threw to Ben McLaughlin at first.

“Jared went up and got it,” Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said. “I don’t think he got a grip on it right away, then he threw it a little high. Thought Peyton did a really good job. He kind of became a first baseman first and stretched. I think he kept his foot on the bag.”

As soon as the play was over, Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco came out of the dugout and challenged the call at second because he thought Stovall pulled off early. If he was right, a run would have scored and there’d still be just one out with the bases loaded.

Van Horn also wanted the umpires to take a second look at the play because he felt Fischer made an illegal slide. If he was right, it’d turn into a double play that ended the inning and took the Rebels’ run off the board.

Needless to say, a lot was riding on the call, which was now in the hands of the SEC office in Birmingham, Ala.

“Well I was walking out and going to challenge, and then I saw Coach Bianco go out there,” Van Horn said. “He got out there before me. They came over and I asked him what he was doing. They told me he was challenging him being on the bag or not. They asked me, that’s the way they’re supposed to go about it, are you going to challenge as well, and what do you want to challenge if you do? I told him I wanted to challenge the slide. See if he went straight into the bag. Figured, what the heck?”

Unlike in some other sports, when the SEC buzzed back in to the umpires, Arkansas received some good news.

Not only did the out at second base stand, but an illegal slide was called that resulted in Lege being called out to complete an inning-ending double play.

“That’s why you go to the guys in Birmingham,” Bianco said. “Unfortunately they don’t show it a lot here on this board. On our board they would have showed it 25 times. Instead it is all at one time from far angle. So we will certainly have to go back and look at it, but that was a tough part of the game.”

It proved to be a huge part of the game because momentum stayed on Arkansas’ side. 

Sure enough, Wehiwa Aloy hit a two-run home run one inning later before Will Edmunson tacked on an RBI single in the seventh, giving the Razorbacks more than enough insurance to clinch the series.

Second-Year Relievers

The star of the night was Arkansas’ bullpen, which combined for 4 2/3 scoreless innings in which they allowed three total hits and two walks while striking out six. All three relievers were second-year Razorbacks, too.

First out of the pen was Koty Frank, a sixth-year super senior who transferred in from Nebraska before last season. The right-hander got out of a bases-loaded jam thanks to the aforementioned double-review that resulted in a double play and then got a couple of outs sandwiched around two singles in the sixth.

Entering the game with the tying runs on base, sophomore Christian Foutch needed just a couple of 98 mph fastballs to get a ground ball to end the sixth.

The right-hander would have thrown a perfect seventh had it not been for a throwing error by Wehiwa Aloy with two outs. That got him into a little bit of trouble, as Ethan Lege followed with a single, but he got another ground ball to end the inning.

“He’s got that good velocity, but he’s got some sink as well and they’re hitting the top of it,” Van Horn said. “I’m just glad he’s not out there nibbling trying to get strikeouts. He’s trying to pitch to contact a little bit.”

Perhaps the most encouraging performance of the night by any Arkansas baseball player, at the plate or on the mound, was from sophomore Gage Wood.

Last year’s closer, the right-hander retired six of seven Rebels he faced to give him two nearly perfect innings to finish out the game. He struck out five of those batters and the only blemish was a two-out, full-count walk in the ninth. That forced him to face the dangerous Andrew Fischer, who homered twice earlier in the game, and Wood struck him out to end it.

It was probably his best statistical outing since notching a seven-out save against James Madison in the season opener, but Van Horn said it may have been his best overall performance in two years with the program.

“It was really good to see Gage Wood come in and throw the ball like we know he can,” Van Horn said. “That’s as good as he’s been this year. … I like the way he kept the ball down, kept it around the knees. He mixed it up and pitched with a little attitude and I really liked that.”

Wood did not pitch the previous weekend against LSU and gave up three base runners — two hits and a HBP — in just 2/3 of an inning against Auburn the series before that.

Despite having a huge role as a freshman, racking up five saves and throwing 30 innings across 23 appearances, he had fallen down the pecking order out of the bullpen recently, but an outing like Friday night could lead to more opportunities.

“It’s always good to have a little bit of success,” Wood said. “But that’s just one outing. Just got to keep going.”

Big First Inning

Ole Miss jumped out to a 1-0 lead with a first-inning home run, but — in what has become a theme this season — Arkansas wasted no time responding.

The Razorbacks took advantage of a rough first inning by left-hander Liam Doyle, who struggled to find the strike zone, and jumped on him for four runs in the home half of the first.

It started with a single by Peyton Stovall and was aided by a five-pitch walk by Wehiwa Aloy and then a pair of four-pitch walks by Ben McLaughlin and Kendall Diggs sandwiched around a strikeout of Jack Wagner.

The latter of those walks tied the game because it came with the bases loaded. Jared Sprague-Lott followed with a single up the middle to drive in two more runs and then an RBI ground out by Ryder Helfrick tacked on another run to make it 4-1.

To be fair, home plate umpire Kevin Sweeney was really squeezing both pitchers early on and a handful of those balls were actually strikes, according to TrackMan. Still, several of Doyle’s pitches missed by a lot. He ended up throwing 37 pitches in the first, with only 16 of them being strikes.

“Something was out of whack there,” Van Horn said. “He was leaving things up. Pitching fastballs up. But he made a couple of borderline pitches and our guys laid off of them. We drew some walks and got his pitch count up, then we got the big hit from Jared Sprague-Lott that drove in a couple.”

Web Gems by Arkansas Baseball

The Razorbacks snapped their six-game error-free streak and committed two for the first time since March 22, but they still played some excellent defense Friday night. In fact, there were a couple of SportsCenter-worthy plays made by the outfield.

In the fourth inning, Ethan Groff tried tagging up to third on a deep fly ball to center, but Ty Wilmsmeyer threw a dart to get him at third base and complete an 8-5 double play.

“I don’t think they knew he could throw a little bit because he doesn’t really show it in pregame in-and-out,” Van Horn said. “He got behind that ball and he let it fly and it was perfect.”

Later in the game, Kendall Diggs robbed Luke Hill of a bloop hit when he laid out and made a tremendous diving catch right by the line.

“I didn’t think he had a shot at getting to that ball,” Van Horn said. “I thought it was even foul, but I guess the umpire called it fair and obviously out. It was just a great play, because that would’ve been a leadoff double.”

Up Next

The Razorbacks will put their 20-game home winning streak on the line again Saturday when they host the finale of the Arkansas vs Ole Miss series. First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m. CT and it’ll be streamed on SEC Network-Plus.

Right-hander Brady Tygart (3-0, 2.51 ERA) will start for Arkansas and is looking to rebound from a couple of rough starts in which he’s allowed seven earned runs in 7 2/3 innings. It’s unknown who the Rebels will start.

With a win, the Razorbacks would finish off their first sweep of Ole Miss since 2002, which was legendary Arkansas baseball coach Norm DeBriyn’s final season at the helm.

Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits

  • The announced attendance for Game 2 of the Arkansas vs Ole Miss series was 11,234. That’s the highest mark of the season, surpassing the crowd of 11,156 for the Friday night game against LSU a week earlier.
  • The Razorbacks have now won five straight series against the Rebels. That includes the 2019 Fayetteville Super Regional, because that was a best-of-three, but doesn’t include the 2022 College World Series when Ole Miss won two of three matchups because that was in a four-team, double-elimination setting.
  • Left-hander Mason Molina got the start for Arkansas and was charged with three earned runs on three hits and three walks while striking out five in 4 1/3 innings. Dave Van Horn said his issue was landing his secondary pitches for strikes, which allowed Ole Miss to sit back and wait on the fastball, but he wasn’t terrible. “He didn’t have a great outing, but he gave us a chance,” Van Horn said.
  • Ben McLaughlin went 1 for 2 with three walks Friday night. That gives him a team-high 28 walks this season, which includes 14 in SEC play. Incredibly, those marks are more than double his season strikeout total (13) and nearly triple his SEC strikeout total (5), respectively.
  • In a bit of a baseball rarity, Peyton Stovall reached via catcher’s interference when he hit the catcher’s mitt on his swing in the fourth inning. The play is scored as an error on the catcher and doesn’t count as an at bat for Stovall. It’s the first time an Arkansas player has reached base that way this season.
  • Here are the metrics — distance, exit velocity and launch angle — of Wehiwa Aloy’s home run in the sixth inning:
    • Aloy: 398 feet, 105 mph, 29.0 degrees
  • All three of Ole Miss’ runs came on a pair of swings by star third baseman Andrew Fischer. He hit a 393-foot solo home run to left-center in the first inning and then added a 364-foot two-run shot to right in the third inning. Those were the 12th and 13th homers of the year for Fischer.

Arkansas vs Ole Miss Highlights (Game 2)

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Postgame Interviews

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Arkansas vs Ole Miss Box Score (Game 2)


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