FAYETTEVILLE — It may have been against a 4 seed, but Dave Van Horn wasn’t messing around in Arkansas baseball’s opening game at the Fayetteville Regional.
The veteran coach pulled his starter in the third inning and turned things over to Will McEntire, who gave the No. 3 Razorbacks a starter-like outing out of the bullpen in their 13-6 win over Santa Clara at a packed Baum-Walker Stadium.
McEntire inherited a two-run deficit, but by the time he walked off the mound for the last time in the eighth inning, his offense had put up 13 runs and Arkansas held a comfortable lead.
“We wouldn’t have won if he hadn’t come in there and slowed them down and gave us an opportunity to gain a little confidence and score some runs,” Van Horn said. “If you are an offense and you are just trying to chase two runs and then three, four or five, it’s tough.”
Giving up three earned runs on eight hits and one walk with only two strikeouts in five innings doesn’t exactly jump off the page, but McEntire kept the Broncos at bay by getting them to strand a runner in scoring position in each of his first four innings.
The moment that Van Horn specifically mentioned after the game came in the sixth inning, when Santa Clara had a runner on third with just one out and McEntire induced back-to-back pop ups to end the threat. Instead of cutting the lead in half, the Broncos gave up another five runs in the bottom of the inning, essentially sealing the victory for Arkansas.
“The mission was just keep it where it was and let our offense get going,” McEntire said. “Once our offense did get going and we got that lead, just eat up innings and pass it on to the next guy to finish off the game.”
Santa Clara baseball coach Rusty Filter admitted that McEntire gave his lineup fits early on because they weren’t used to seeing someone with his repertoire.
After going 2 for 9 the first time through the order, though, the Broncos at least saw the ball better and went 4 for 8 the second time seeing him — but those hits resulted in only one run.
“I think what he did is he’s got the cut fastball, throws the curveball, tries to elevate the fastball with two strikes, and his execution was really good early on,” Filter said. “We were able to get guys in position, we just couldn’t win the spot, and he was able to do that.”
With multiple guys warming up in the bullpen, it looked like McEntire might be done after the seventh inning. He had thrown just 64 pitches in 4 2/3 innings, but Arkansas extended its lead to 13-3 in the home half of the seventh.
Considering Van Horn’s desire to pitch him multiple times this weekend, it would have made sense to pull the right-hander at that point, but McEntire went back out. He threw another 18 pitches and recorded only one out while allowing a couple of runs before he was finally relieved.
Even at 82 pitches, McEntire told reporters he would “find a way” to pitch again in the Fayetteville Regional, which echoed what he had already told his coach.
“He was joking around out there with me that he would be ready for Saturday,” Van Horn said. “I told him that tomorrow’s Saturday. He said, ‘Yeah, I know.’ Maybe Sunday, maybe Monday. We’ll see how it goes. He likes throwing and he doesn’t use a lot of energy. He doesn’t try to throw 95. He can throw hard, but he just pitches in the upper 80s, 90, 91 and move it around a little bit.”
It’s also worth noting that right-hander Brady Tygart was warming up at one point before the score got out of hand in favor of Arkansas. He could start the Razorbacks’ third game this weekend, but Van Horn said that with him being 100% healed from a UCL strain that caused him to miss two months of the season, he could also close a game, if needed.
Left-hander Zack Morris was up and down in the bullpen all game, too, and he’s been one of Arkansas’ top relievers the last couple of weeks. Even right-hander Cody Adcock, who threw the final 1 2/3 innings, leads the team in total appearances this season.
It was abundantly clear that Van Horn respected Santa Clara and carried his one-game-at-a-time attitude from SEC play into the postseason.
Even though it loaded the bases in the third inning, Arkansas was still looking for its first hit entering the fourth inning — but that’s not to say it hadn’t had any hard contact up to that point.
That bases-loaded jam ended when Brady Slavens hit a sharp grounder that left the bat with a 106 mph exit velocity, but right to the first baseman. In the fourth, things started to fall.
“I think even though we didn’t have any hits through three, we still stayed confident,” Tavian Josenberger said. “We did hit a lot of balls hard right at people, so we stayed with the approach and finally got some big hits.”
A leadoff walk by Caleb Cali chased Santa Clara starter Cole Kitchen and reliever Skylar Hales — who has touched 100 mph on the radar gun — took over. He struck out Jace Bohrofen start his outing, but then Jared Wegner muscled a single the other way to break up the no-hitter.
Parker Rowland — he of the .176 batting average entering the day — followed with a blooper that found grass in right field, driving in the Razorbacks’ first run of the day, and John Bolton tied it up with a sacrifice fly. Both of those guys added another RBI later in the game, despite having by far the fewest RBIs of any Arkansas regular.
After a Josenberger single and Peyton Holt walk to load the bases, Kendall Diggs hit a blooper of his own toward left-center with two outs. However, center fielder Coleman Brigman didn’t get a great read on it and couldn’t make the diving catch.
“That’s just a tough play in a new ballpark — a big swing and not much contact,” Santa Clara baseball coach Rusty Filter said. “Coleman Brigman has been a great defensive player for us all year. He came in and had to dive for it, and he almost caught it. He did break back, and then broke in to make the play. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to get there.”
Diggs is now 8 for 17 (.471) with 27 RBIs when batting in bases-loaded situations this season, as his hit cleared the bases to give Arkansas a 5-2 lead. He also leads the team with 61 RBIs this season.
“Every time he comes up in a big situation like that, it seems like he comes through,” Josenberger said. “It wasn’t a big surprise. It wasn’t the usual liner in the gap or ball over the wall but got the job done.”
Roughing Up Santa Clara’s Bullpen
Looking over Santa Clara’s statistics before the Fayetteville Regional, it appeared that one of the Broncos’ strengths was their bullpen. After all, they landed two relievers on the All-WCC second team and a third earned honorable mention accolades.
Chasing starter Cole Kitchen in the fourth meant the Razorbacks got an early look at those guys and the first out of the pen was Skylar Hales and his triple-digit velocity. Despite touching 97-98 mph, he was on the mound for the aforementioned breakthrough inning by the Razorbacks.
He was charged with four earned runs on five hits and one walk while striking out just one in two innings.
“When they brought in Hales, we knew exactly what we were getting, but we get that in the SEC every weekend,” Van Horn said. “We’re used to it. He’s got a really good arm. He’s going to pitch in the big leagues if he stays healthy.”
The Razorbacks also racked up four runs against left-hander Nick Sando, with the first two of those coming on a Tavian Josenberger opposite-field home run.
It was Josenberger’s eighth long ball of the season, but just his second while hitting from the right side of the plate. It came just a couple of pitches after he fouled off a bunt attempt, as Van Horn had given him the sign to try to bunt for a hit because they wanted to put some pressure on Santa Clara’s defense. Needless to say, the coach was okay with the result.
“Coach gave me bunt and I didn’t get the bunt down,” Josenberger said. “I mean, looking back, it’s a good thing now. I got a fastball middle-away and put a pretty good swing on it and put it in the bullpen.”
The other two runs charged to Sando actually came around to score with right-hander Blake Hammond on the mound. One of the two second-team all-conference selections, along with Hales, he plunked the first batter he faced and later issued three straight bases-loaded walks to put the game out of reach for Arkansas.
In all, the Broncos’ pitching staff issued a season-high 10 walks and hit another three batters, leading to Rusty Filter describing it as a “very uncharacteristic” outing for his pitchers.
“We knew going in that Arkansas was probably the only team we’ve played all year that sees more pitches per plate appearance than we do,” Filter said. “Really good job being patient and getting their pitch. We were unable to get the count into our favor and stay ahead in the count and they made us pay for it.”
Hunter Hollan’s Short Outing
The reason Arkansas needed such a long outing from Will McEntire is because Hunter Hollan turned in his shortest start of the season.
The left-hander was in trouble from the jump, giving up three straight one-out hits in the first inning. The last of those was a two-run single by Efrain Manzo that put Santa Clara up 2-0.
He also had to work around a one-out walk in the second inning and he issued a leadoff walk in the third. It was after a groundout following that last walk that Van Horn pulled Hollan and turned the game over to McEntire.
“I felt like they were on Hunter Hollan pretty good,” Van Horn said. “He was mixing, throwing strikes, but they just fouled a lot of pitches off and did a great job and got his pitch count up. We just felt like we needed to go right-handed against them.”
It was the fewest innings (2 1/3) and pitches (49) Hollan had thrown all season, with his previous lows coming in his last start — 2 2/3 innings and 55 pitches at Vanderbilt int he regular-season finale.
Santa Clara had a right-handed heavy lineup, plus came into the game hitting 15 points higher against lefties than righties, but the move may have been twofold. Not only did it get a right-hander in the game, but Hollan might be able to pitch again this weekend.
Van Horn told reporters that one reason Hollan made his first relief appearance of the season at the SEC Tournament was because he might throw twice in the regional, as he has the ability to bounce back — especially if the Razorbacks have to play the “if necessary” game on Monday.
Tyler, er, Peyton Holt Injury Update
One of the best stories with the Arkansas baseball team down the stretch of the season has been the play of Peyton Holt, an in-state product who was inserted into the lineup when preseason All-American Peyton Stovall was shut down with a season-ending injury.
He turned in another solid game Friday, reaching base four times in a 1-for-3 performance that extended his hitting streak to 10 games. Over that stretch, he’s slashed .528/.614/.722 with seven RBIs and 12 runs — leading to Van Horn moving him up into the 2-hole against Santa Clara.
In the field, Holt made a leaping grab to rob JonJon Berring of an RBI single and end the fourth inning. It proved to be a huge play, as it kept the score 2-0 and Arkansas immediately followed with five runs.
HOLT GOT HOPS! pic.twitter.com/iMPXbp718t— Arkansas Baseball (@RazorbackBSB) June 2, 2023
“Peyton Holt got up pretty good and robbed that base hit there with two outs,” Van Horn said. “It kept them off the board again and we slowly started flipping the momentum.”
Despite his incredibly high level of play over the last several weeks, the crew calling the game on the ESPN-Plus broadcast apparently had a hard time remembering his name, repeatedly calling him “Tyler.”
That got Arkansas baseball fans up in arms, but they eventually had bigger things to worry about, as Holt had to leave the game half an inning early because of an injury.
Replays showed him in obvious discomfort after rounding first base on his line out to left that ended the eighth inning, so Harold Coll played second base in the top of the ninth. Van Horn sounded optimistic that he’d be able to play Saturday, though, when asked about Holt afterward.
“I think he’s got something with a lower back or something going on, so we just got him out,” Van Horn said. “He wanted to stay in, but I just took him out.”
Up Next in the Fayetteville Regional
With the win, the Razorbacks move into the winner’s bracket. They’ll face TCU, which beat Arizona 12-4 in Friday’s nightcap, with a chance to get in the driver’s seat of the Fayetteville Regional with the coveted 2-0 start.
Including their win over the Wildcats, the Horned Frogs are 38-22 this season. They are one of the hottest teams in the country, winning seven straight and 13 of their last 14.
Left-hander Hagen Smith expected to get the ball for Arkansas. A first-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball, the sophomore is 8-1 with two saves and a 2.69 ERA with 102 strikeouts in 67 innings this season. Opponents are hitting just .199 against him.
“It’s a dominant left-handed fastball with some attitude to go with it, in a good way,” TCU baseball coach Kirk Saarloos said about Smith. “He’s very confident in the fastball. We’re going to have our work cut out for us and we know that.”
Saarloos declined to announce his starter during his postgame press conference.
First pitch is scheduled for 8 p.m. CT and it will be televised on ESPNU and streamed on ESPN-Plus. The elimination game between Arizona and Santa Clara is set for 2 p.m. and will also be streamed on ESPN-Plus.
Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits
- The announced attendance of the Arkansas vs Santa Clara game was 11,078. That is the largest crowd of the year at Baum-Walker Stadium, just topping the 11,076 that were at Game 2 of the Tennessee series on April 15. “I would say the atmosphere here was awesome,” Santa Clara right fielder Michael O’Hara said. “It’s one-of-a-kind. It’s a special thing for sure.”
- Officially, John Bolton was just 1 for 2 on Friday. However, he did a little bit of everything at the plate, as he also walked, was hit by a pitch and notched a sacrifice fly. He also made a great play in the hole at shortstop, making a strong throw despite falling down as he did it.
- After hinting he might do it at the SEC Tournament, Dave Van Horn did shuffle his lineup some for the Fayetteville Regional. Peyton Holt was moved up from the 7-hole to the 2-hole, while Jace Bohrofen and Jared Wegner slid down into the 6- and 7-hole, respectively.
- In addition to his 10-game hitting streak, Peyton Holt has now reached safely in 12 straight games. That’s actually the second-longest active streak on the team behind Jared Wegner, who went 2 for 4 and walk to extend his on-base streak to 13 games.
- With two long balls Friday, Arkansas baseball now has 84 home runs as a team this season. That moved them past the 2017 team and and into a tie with the 1999 team for the sixth-most on the UA’s all-time single-season chart.
- Home plate umpire Billy Van Raaphorst had to be replaced following Caleb Cali’s seventh-inning home run because the heat got to him. Linus Baker, one of the umpires for the nightcap, filled in for the last couple of innings.
- Santa Clara baseball coach Rusty Filter has actually made several trips to Arkansas in the past because his parents have lived in Harrison. His father passed away about three years ago, but his mother is still there and made the trip to Fayetteville for the game. “Obviously she is a Rusty Filter fan first, (but) she loves her Hogs, man,” Filter said. “She loves football, she loves baseball. She’s all about it. So I think it was nice for her — wanted us to win, but just a great experience and…a special moment for me.”
Arkansas vs Santa Clara Highlights (Fayetteville Regional)
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Arkansas vs Santa Clara Box Score (Fayetteville Regional)
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