Third Time’s the Charm for Arkansas + More from Game 1 vs Ole Miss

Wehiwa Aloy, Arkansas baseball, Arkansas vs Ole Miss
photo credit: Craven Whitlow

FAYETTEVILLE — It may be cliche, but the third time truly was the charm for Arkansas on Thursday.

Ole Miss starter Riley Maddox was cruising until his third time through the order, when Wehiwa Aloy knocked him out of the game with a three-run homer that lifted the No. 1 Razorbacks to a 5-2 series-opening win over the Rebels.

Not only did the win extend their home winning streak to 19 games, adding to what was already a Baum-Walker Stadium record, but Arkansas is now 9-1 in SEC play for the first time ever. That’s part of an incredible 25-3 overall mark.

That streak appeared to be in jeopardy early on, though, as Ole Miss scratched across a couple of runs in the third and its 2-0 lead looked larger than it was because of the way Maddox was pitching.

Normally a patient team known for working counts, fouling off pitches and drawing walks, the Razorbacks did none of that the first two times they saw the right-hander. They came to the plate swinging early in at bats and grounding out, resulting in Maddox throwing just 55 pitches in five innings.

“Seeing him three times, it made a big difference,” Van Horn said. “He probably started to get a little bit tired, as well. The ball probably wasn’t sinking quite as much. But he got us out pretty quick there for a while. He didn’t throw very many pitches and it looked like he was going to give them seven or eight innings if we didn’t do something. And we finally got to him a little bit.”

Sure enough, the sixth inning started with Peyton Stovall drawing a leadoff walk in a full count and Ben McLaughlin following with a four-pitch walk. That set the stage for Wehiwa Aloy to hit his team-leading seventh home run of the season.

The Hawaiian’s opposite-field shot was a line drive (19.5 degree launch angle) over the right field wall and drove in three runs, turning a one-run deficit into a two-run lead in the blink of an eye.

That also chased Maddox from the game despite him having thrown just 68 pitches. Afterward, the Ole Miss starter was kicking himself for the free passes that preceded Aloy’s blast.

“I am pretty disappointed in myself,” Maddox said. “I know the first five innings were pretty good, but the sixth inning should never have happened. I should have never walked those guys right there. I was pitching scared. I wasn’t scared, but that is what it looked like. I am pretty disappointed that happened. So what, he hit the homer, but walking guys I could control that. I shouldn’t have walked those guys there.”

Right-hander Josh Mallitz was first out of the pen for the Rebels and got Kendall Diggs to ground out, but Jared Sprague-Lott tacked on another run when he jumped on a first-pitch curveball for a solo homer.

It looked like the ball might hook foul, but it hit off the left field foul poll for a 342-foot long ball that made it 5-2. The Richmond transfer — who also had an RBI ground out in the fourth — now has three home runs this season.

“That was big for us,” Van Horn said. “All of a sudden we shocked them — two walks, home run, they’re winning the whole game, now they’re down two. Two hitters later, a guy hits one off the foul pole and you’re kind of going, ‘Two to three, now we need at least three to tie.’ It gets difficult and there’s only so many outs left in the game, so it was a really big swing.”

That four-run sixth inning proved to be the difference in Game 1 of the Arkansas vs Ole Miss series.

Assessing Hagen Smith’s Start

Despite not being as sharp as normal, Hagen Smith still turned in a quality start for the Razorbacks.

Ole Miss certainly made the left-hander work for it, though. He issued a season-high four walks and threw a season-high 105 pitches, but fought through six innings while allowing only two earned runs and racking up 11 strikeouts in the process.

“Hagen didn’t have his best stuff, but he still went 6 innings and only gave up 2 runs,” Van Horn said. “I just saw he struck out 11. The four walks hasn’t kind of really happened this year. So that’s where the stuff, the command wasn’t where it’s been, but he still had a quality outing, gave us a chance,”

Smith cruised through the first inning on just 13 pitches, with a pair of strikeouts sandwiched around a 101 mph line drive he snagged right in front of his head.

The next three innings weren’t nearly as smooth. Ole Miss put at least two runners on base and made him throw 23 pitches in each inning. However, it broke through just once.

In the third, the Rebels got three straight singles — only one of which got through the infield — to load the bases with one out. They got two runs out of it when Jackson Ross drew a walk and Ethan Groff followed with a sacrifice fly. It’s the first time an opponent has manufactured something against Smith, as all six run he’d allowed prior to Thursday came on home runs.

That was all the damage, though, because Treyson Hughes grounded out to strand runners on second and third and keep it a 2-0 ballgame.

“He’s the best pitcher in the country for a reason,” Ole Miss baseball coach Mike Bianco said. “We got him out in the sixth, but you would like to have done a little more damage, obviously, but it’s hard. We get a few hits, we got some walks and were able to bunch them together. That was the hope and that’s the thing. When he is that good, he is throwing the ball in the mid- to upper-90s with that kind of slider. This is what he does every week.”

During that inning, and the fourth, reliever Will McEntire started to stir in the bullpen, but he didn’t have to enter until the seventh because Smith pitched better as his pitch count climbed.

The touted prospect retired seven of the final eight batters he faced, including a perfect fifth inning in which he needed only eight pitches. That quick frame, despite putting him at 90 total pitches, convinced the coaches to send him back out in the sixth and, after a leadoff walk, he retired the next three Rebels.

“They got his pitch count up there a little bit in the second and third inning, and then he settled in a little bit for us,” Van Horn said. “I felt like he was getting better. The only reason he came out was because of his pitch count. His stuff was great, so (I’m) proud of him for hanging in there, but getting through that sixth inning was the key. It kind of fired us up and got us to within nine outs if we could just get the lead, and that’s what happened.”

It’s the sixth time in his last seven starts that he’s pitched exactly six innings, as well as reached double-digit strikeouts. The performance raised his ERA to 1.76 and gives him 83 strikeouts in 41 innings this season.

“My first year here, I would have never done that,” Smith said. “I probably would have thrown three innings. It was good to get back and coach (Matt) Hobbs has done an amazing job with mechanics over the past two years. It got me to where I am right now.”

Bullpen Delivers Again

Given a three-run lead and needing to eat up only nine outs, the game was essentially over when Arkansas turned to its bullpen in the seventh.

Not surprisingly, right-hander Will McEntire followed Hagen Smith and got the first eight of those outs. He pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings, but they weren’t exactly easy.

Ole Miss really challenged McEntire by taking pitches and fouling them off. He needed 24 pitches to get through the seventh despite allowing only one base runner. The seventh was even better, with a three up, three down inning, but McEntire still threw 16 pitches.

“I thought his cutter was really moving,” Van Horn said. “It was just running away maybe just off the plate. He made an adjustment the second inning and threw pretty good.”

It looked like McEntire might close it out for his fourth save of the season, but after giving up a two-out singles to Luke Hill, Van Horn wanted his left-on-left specialist to face the dangerous Andrew Fischer.

Stone Hewlett delivered, needing only six pitches to strike him out and earn his second save in as many weeks. The Kansas transfer now has 15 strikeouts in just 6 1/3 innings, including at least one in all 12 of his appearances.

“He’s one of their best hitters,” Van Horn said. “He’s got 11 home runs. For sure we would’ve brought him in if he would’ve been the tying run. We thought this is one reason he’s here — to get lefties out — and let’s bring him in. He did it.”

Up Next for Arkansas Baseball

The Razorbacks will be going for their 20th straight home win when they try to clinch the series against Ole Miss on Friday. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. CT and the game will be streamed on SEC Network-Plus.

Left-hander Mason Molina (3-0, 3.00 ERA) will start for Arkansas, while the Rebels will counter with left-hander Liam Doyle (2-1, 6.04 ERA), who is coming off a rough start against Kentucky. In that game, he was charged with six earned runs in just 2 2/3 innings.

“When he is Liam, he can be really good and I don’t think it really matters who he is facing,” Bianco said. “So that’s the key tomorrow. He is excited because of what happened last week to get back out there.”

Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits

  • The announced attendance for Game 1 of the Arkansas vs Ole Miss series was 10,231. It’s the ninth time the Razorbacks have drawn 10,000-plus fans this season.
  • With 11 more on Thursday, Hagen Smith now has 282 career strikeouts. That is one shy of tying David Walling for third on the UA’s all-time list. After him, the only two Razorbacks with more are Matt Carnes (301) and Nick Schmidt (345).
  • In the sixth inning, immediately following Sprague-Lott’s home run, Ross Lovich laid down a perfect bunt to the left side of the infield for a single that beat the shift.
  • Here are the metrics — distance, exit velocity and launch angle — of the two home runs hit by Arkansas baseball on Thursday:
    • Aloy: 346 feet, 107 mph, 19.5 degrees
    • Sprague-Lott: 342 feet, 94 mph, 30.7 degrees
  • Saturday is Military Appreciation Day, but the Razorbacks are wearing their camo hats all week in honor of the occasion.
  • Former Arkansas standout Cayden Wallace was in attendance Thursday night. He was recently assigned to the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, the Double-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals.

Arkansas vs Ole Miss Highlights (Game 1)

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Postgame Interviews

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Arkansas vs Ole Miss Box Score (Game 1)


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