FAYETTEVILLE — Sandwiched between a sweep of Auburn and a looming showdown with No. 1 LSU, Tuesday had all the makings of a classic trap game for Arkansas baseball.
Sure enough, the Razorbacks were locked in a battle for five and a half innings before erasing any hope Southeastern Missouri State had for an upset with a 10-run sixth inning. That led to them winning 12-2 in seven innings at Baum-Walker Stadium.
Despite using a lineup that featured six players who didn’t start over the weekend, Arkansas extended its winning streak to 14 games — its longest within a single season in 27 years, when it opened 1996 with 18 straight wins.
“I think the guys are enjoying hanging out with each other and playing hard,” Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said. “They’re pulling for each other and I just felt like it was a chance to get some other guys in there. Yeah, I don’t want to lose the game, but at the same time, I have to get some of these guys some experience. I’m just glad it worked out for us.”
The Razorbacks found themselves clinging to a 2-1 lead entering the sixth inning. Caleb Cali got things started by reaching on a throwing error by third baseman Ben Palmer and then the wheels fell off for the Redhawks.
Before an out was made, all nine Razorbacks had reached base and each of them came around to score. There were hits — including a pair of doubles by Harold Coll, the latter of which drove in two runs, plus two-run singles by Jayson Jones and Jared Wegner and an RBI single by Hunter Grimes — as well as gifts from SEMO, including a run-scoring wild pitch, a bases-loaded walk and three errors.
“It kind of went one guy at a time, and it went through the whole lineup,” freshman Reese Robinett said. “That was just real fun seeing everybody compete and just fight. No matter if it was a walk or a big hit, it just kind of passed down to the next guy in the lineup.”
Winning via run-rule is the result you’d expect when a top-5 team faces a sub-.500 squad, but one Van Horn had expressed concern about the game because of when it fell on the schedule.
He counteracted that by inserting all of the aforementioned backups, whom would make the most of a rare opportunity to play, but it also helps that the Razorbacks — despite having so many newcomers — still have some solid veteran leadership.
“I guess other people could look at it that way, but we (treat) every opponent we face (with) the same amount of seriousness, whether they play in a different conference, whether they play in the SEC,” Morris said. “Like, we played SEMO the same way we played Auburn.”
Jared Wegner Stays Hot
Only one player has appeared in — much less started — all 21 games this season: Jared Wegner.
The Creighton transfer was the only true regular in the lineup Tuesday afternoon and he delivered, going 2 for 4 with a double and two RBIs.
Wegner’s double came in the first inning and he crushed it. The ball left the bat at 110 mph and hit the left field wall on one hop. His RBIs came in the big sixth inning, as he drove them in with a single.
“I kind of joked with him before the game, I said ‘You came all the way down here from Nebraska. I bet you want to play everyday, don’t you?’” Van Horn said. “He goes ‘Yes sir.’ And I said ‘Well, just plan on it then.’
“I still needed to have one power-type bat two, three or four in the lineup to drive in some runs and that experience.”
Jace Bohrofen still leads the team in batting average (.406) and on-base percentage (.541), but Wegner has the top slugging percentage at .805.
He is slashing .390/.510/.805 with nine home runs and 35 RBIs — the latter of which is 11 more than any other player on the team — and riding a 14-game hitting streak. In fact, Wegner has hit safely in 20 of 21 games with the Razorbacks, with an 0-for-4 showing in the Game 3 loss to Eastern Illinois being the only time he was held hitless.
Another Solid Start by Ben Bybee
He wasn’t quite as sharp as he was last week against UNLV, but right-hander Ben Bybee did enough to earn his second victory of the season Tuesday night.
The freshman allowed only one run on one hit and three walks while notching a career-high five strikeouts. That lowered his season ERA to 2.31 in 11 2/3 innings.
“I thought that Bybee threw the ball pretty well,” Van Horn said. “Didn’t have the velocity he had last week, but had a good breaking ball. Didn’t command it really after the first, second inning. … Take away the walks, he had a good outing.”
The lone blemish on Bybee’s stat line was a one-out home run in the fourth inning by Josh Cameron, who hit a line drive off the Hunt Center beyond the right field wall.
That swing snapped a streak of 10 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings for the Overland Park, Kan., native.
“He left a changeup in to a lefty,” Van Horn said. “The pitch was supposed to be a changeup, but if it’s away, I feel like he could get a swing and miss or a ground ball. But kind of started at him and drifted into the barrel and the guy hammered it.”
Bybee lasted only two innings in his first start, against Grambling on Feb. 21, and then had to wait another three weeks to get another real opportunity.
Since getting that second chance, he’s been very good and seems to be on the brink of locking down the role of midweek starter. In starts against UNLV and SEMO, he’s allowed just one earned run on seven hits and four walks while striking out eight in nine combined innings.
“(I’ve been) just finding out a lot about myself as far as a pitcher, what works, what doesn’t,” Bybee said. “It’s just felt a little bit easier on the nerves to go out there each time, and I think that’s just the big part of it.”
Another Three-Inning Save
For the fourth time in five games, Arkansas baseball had a pitcher earn a three-inning save. This time, it was Zack Morris, who also had the first such save in this particular stretch.
The left-hander didn’t allow an earned run in three innings last week to finish off the Razorbacks’ second win over UNLV, but did allow one earned against SEMO.
That run came in the seventh inning with the game already well in hand, but he did work through a bases-loaded jam when it was still a one-run game.
Morris struck out the first two batters he faced before Ben Palmer, the 9-hole, laid down a perfect push bunt to reach on a two-out single. Then he plunked Carlos Aranda and walked Gunnar Doyle, but got out of the jam when Chance Resetich flied out to center.
It was a 51-pitch outing, so he likely won’t be available to pitch Friday at LSU, but Van Horn said he could see the mound Saturday or Sunday.
“His situation for the weekend is we’ll still use him in the weekend,” Van Horn said. “He’s always been more of a middle reliever for us, maybe a long reliever and a spot starter. But I do believe he’s getting better and he’s making a move. That was really good to see.”
Prior to those two outings, Morris had a 14.21 ERA in 6 1/3 innings across four appearances — a stark contrast to his performance last season, when he was one of Arkansas’ most reliable bullpen arms with a 2.31 ERA.
It appears that he’s getting closer to that level of play, an assessment he agreed with when talking to the media after Tuesday’s game.
“I feel like I am,” Morris said. “Rough start of the season for me, but as far as the way I’ve gone about the work in between the first three outings of the season, I’d say I’m pretty satisfied with how the work’s gone and working my way back into this bullpen.”
Up Next for Arkansas Baseball
Arkansas jumps back into SEC play this weekend and it will be its toughest challenge yet, as it heads to Baton Rouge, La., for a three-game series against unanimous No. 1 LSU.
With midweek wins over Central Arkansas and SEMO, respectively, on Tuesday, the Tigers and Razorbacks will enter the series with identical 19-2 overall records. It will be a top-5 showdown, as Arkansas is ranked as high as No. 3 in the major polls.
First pitch for Game 1 of the series is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT Friday and will be televised on ESPN2. Saturday’s game is at 1 p.m. CT on SEC Network and the finale is at noon CT Sunday on ESPN.
Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits
- Including his time in the junior college and Division II ranks, Tuesday was Dave Van Horn’s 1,400th career victory.
- Freshman Reese Robinett, starting at first base, hit his first career home run Tuesday, launching an opposite-field homer that landed in the left field bullpen. “Robinett showed us that if you hit the ball left-handed, you can get that ball to kind of slice out and that’s what he did,” Van Horn said. “That was a big swing for us because we had just given up the lead.”
- The Razorbacks have now hit was least one home run in 17 straight games and in 19 of 21 games this season. They have 38 total home runs.
- With John Bolton getting a day off, Harold Coll started at shortstop and ripped a couple of doubles down the left field line in his 2-for-4 performance. He’s now 8 for 23 (.348) with 11 RBIs since moving into the starting lineup against UNLV. “Harold has swung the bat extremely well, fielded the ball well,” Van Horn said. “I’m not saying that he’s got it locked up, but right now he’s our third baseman.”
- Starting in center field and batting ninth, freshman Mason Neville went 0 for 2, but did notch his first career RBI on Tuesday by drawing a bases-loaded walk in the sixth inning. He’s the 17th different Arkansas baseball player with an RBI this season. That’s the most it has had in one year since 2018, when it also had 17 — but that included a random RBI single by pitcher Kole Ramage in his lone plate appearance.
Arkansas vs SEMO Postgame Interviews
Arkansas vs SEMO Box Score
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