FAYETTEVILLE — Will McEntire wasn’t going to embellish how he felt after throwing the first complete game of at least nine innings for Arkansas baseball in nearly seven years.
Asked by a reporter if he could have thrown another inning or two in the Razorbacks’ 6-1 win over Louisiana Tech on Saturday, the veteran right-hander admitted he was done.
“I’m exhausted,” McEntire said with a laugh. “Is that a Maddux though? Is that a Maddux?
By definition, it wasn’t a Maddux — an unearned run in the fifth cost him that — but the namesake of the statistic, Greg Maddux, would certainly tip his cap to McEntire after he got through nine innings on just 97 pitches.
The Bulldogs managed only four total base runners, as Arkansas’ starter scattered three hits and one walk while throwing six perfect 1-2-3 innings.
“Man, his cutter was really good today,” head coach Dave Van Horn said. “It made his fastball look even harder than it was. He was locating pretty much wherever he wanted whenever he wanted and that cutter was really good.”
McEntire kept his pitch count low by getting several quick outs, including 10 within his first two pitches in an at bat. Known more for his ability to pitch to contact, he notched only six strikeouts, but four of them came in his five three innings.
His command was on point, with only 30 of his 97 pitches missing the strike zone. Louisiana Tech hitters had just three three-ball counts all game, with two of them coming in its final eight at bats. McEntire’s lone walk led off the ninth inning.
“I just felt like I had most of my pitches today, and we knew they were going to be aggressive, and I’ve got to give credit to (Hudson) Polk behind the dish,” McEntire said. “He called a great game, getting a bunch of soft contact, and then defense played really well all day.”
It was evident pretty early that McEntire was going to have a good day. He retired the Bulldogs in order to start the game — just the second time an Arkansas starter has done that in 14 games this year — and worked around a one-out bloop single in the second.
Then, in the third, he needed only six pitches to get back in the dugout and preserve a 3-0 lead. At that point, Van Horn had a feeling McEntire would work deep into the game.
“We knew he was going to be good probably going into the third because we had a lead…and he just kept filling it up,” Van Horn said. “We could see from the side that that cutter was really moving and if he didn’t get tired or just run into a bad inning, he was going to be able to go for a while.”
Considering how rare complete games are, though, it wasn’t until much later in the game — as the continued to breeze through innings on minimal pitches — that thoughts started creeping in that he might go the distance.
The second and ninth innings were the most McEntire had to work, but those were only 15-pitch frames. Even when he gave up a pair of singles and the aforementioned unearned run (more on that later), it was just a nine-pitch inning — one of four straight innings with single-digit pitches.
Once he got through the seventh on just 72 pitches, McEntire admitted that he felt like he could finish it off. For the coaching staff, that realization came after he got through the eighth on 82 pitches.
Receiving a nice ovation from the crowd as he jogged back to the mound in the ninth, there was only one thing going through him mind.
Three more outs. Just three more.
No one was warming up in the bullpen, but Van Horn said there were a couple of guys who could be ready quickly. They weren’t needed. Despite facing the top of the lineup for a fourth time, McEntire got three straight outs after a leadoff walk, ending it with a strikeout of Philip Matulia.
It was a spectacular outing from a veteran pitcher who had struggled in his first couple of appearances this year. After failing to get through the second inning in his start on opening weekend, McEntire got knocked around in a midweek relief appearance against Grambling.
Through those two outings, he had a 22.50 ERA and 5.50 WHIP with no strikeouts in two innings, plus opponents were 9 for 14 (.643) against him.
“He was really good down the stretch last year and he got off to a bad start,” Van Horn said. “I think his delivery was a little off whack, to be honest with you. I guess that’s a good way to put it. It wasn’t quite right. Kind of got it figured out a little bit last game and throughout the week and today it was really no bad misses.”
Van Horn first mentioned the tweak in McEntire’s mechanics a couple of weeks ago and he responded with decent, but not great starts against Eastern Illinois and Wright State. He was charged with three earned runs in 9 2/3 innings (2.79 ERA) and his opponent batting averaged dropped to .263 over that span.
Even with those better outings, McEntire still entered Saturday with a 6.17 ERA, 2.23 WHIP and .365 opponent batting average.
“It was frustrating,” McEntire said. “I wanted to start off how I did last year at the end of the year, and then you’ve just got to fight through it and keep getting better, and eventually you’ll find success.”
Those numbers improved drastically Saturday, as he now owns a 3.48 ERA, 1.45 WHIP and .268 opponent batting average.
Such large statistical changes are possible early in the season, especially when you turn in a feat as rare as McEntire did against Louisiana Tech. The last time an Arkansas pitcher went the distance in a nine-inning game was April 23, 2016, when Dominic Taccolini pitched his famous 10-inning shutout at Kentucky.
Since then, the Razorbacks have had only three other complete games and each of them was of the seven-inning variety. Zach Jackson did it to the Wildcats in the second game of a doubleheader that day in 2016, and then Trevor Stephan and Kacey Murphy did it against Tennessee and Florida, respectively, in 2017. That latter of those came in the SEC Tournament.
It couldn’t have come at a better time for Arkansas baseball, which is still reeling from multiple injuries within its pitching staff. Having already lost projected ace Jaxon Wiggins (Tommy John) for the year before the season, the Razorbacks have since lost top middle reliever Koty Frank (torn lat) to a season-ending injury and star closer Brady Tygart (UCL sprain) for 5-6 weeks.
“We’ve had some injuries and we used some guys on Tuesday and we were hoping we wouldn’t have to double them up if any this weekend,” Van Horn said. “For him to go out and give us nine innings in under 100 pitches, that was big for our bullpen.”
Peyton Holt Makes 2nd Start
The only run Louisiana Tech scored in Game 2 was the direct result of a throwing error by third baseman Peyton Holt, who was making his second career start.
Having filled in at second base for an injured Peyton Stovall a couple of weeks ago, the Greenwood native pinch ran for Caleb Cali and then stayed in for the ninth inning Friday night. He made a nice play on the first pitch he was in the field, so Dave Van Horn rewarded him with a start, going with him for defensive purposes.
Holt handled almost everything hit his way, but did throw the ball down the line on a bunt single by Adarius Myers in the fifth inning, allowing him to take second on the play. That put him in scoring position for Karson Evans’ two-out RBI single. Van Horn took some of the blame for the mistake, telling reporters he should have had him playing in a couple more steps.
“I thought he made a really good play, bare hand,” Van Horn said. “If he throws that ball a little bit more inside that line, I think he’s out. I didn’t want Brady (Slavens) coming in there and getting tied up and breaking his wrist over that, so I’m not upset about that play at all.”
Two innings later, Holt got a chance for redemption and made the most of it. With Myers — one of Louisiana Tech’s fastest players — at the plate again, he backhanded a sharp grounder behind the bag and fired a strike across the diamond. It was a close play, but Myers was called out and the call stood after a replay review.
“It was good to actually get him out this time,” Holt said with a smile. “I didn’t know if he was out or safe, and I’m glad the call stood.”
At the plate, Holt went just 1 for 4, but the one hit was a big one. Expecting a fastball in his first at bat of the game, Rawley Hector actually surprised him with a first-pitch slider, but he hung it and Holt crushed it 403 feet to dead center for his first career home run. It left the bat with a 25.7 degree launch angle and 104 mph exit velocity.
“Holt hasn’t played a lot and with his makeup and personality, they threw him a good pitch and he just hammered it,” Van Horn said. “That’s just kind of the way he is, ‘I’m going to try to hit one.’ It was fun to watch.”
The long ball immediately followed a 382-foot opposite-field blast by Kendall Diggs, who hit his with a 105 mph exit velocity and 22.3 degree launch angle, and made it 3-0 in the second inning.
It is the third time Arkansas has hit consecutive home runs in a span of 11 days, with Stovall, Diggs and Cali going back-to-back-to-back against Illinois State on March 1 and Brady Slavens and Stovall going back-to-back in the very next game against Wright State.
Jace Bohrofen, Peyton Stovall Stay Hot
The Razorbacks tacked on another run in the fourth inning when Jace Bohrofen hit a leadoff homer. His was a line drive off the Hunt Center that checked in at 343 feet, according to the UA TrackMan system.
Bohrofen has now homered in four straight games, marking the fourth time an Arkansas player has accomplished that feat in three years. Matt Goodheart did it twice in 2021 and Cayden Wallace did it late last season. Prior to 2021, though, no UA player had done it since Aaron Murphree had a six-game streak in 2008.
That was his only hit in four at bats, dropping his batting average from .462 too .442, but that’s not really indicative of how well he hit the ball Saturday.
He actually hit the ball harder in the first inning than he did on his home run, but his 107 mph scorcher was right to the second baseman for a routine ground out. He also went the other way with a line drive in the sixth inning, but it was right to the left fielder for another routine play.
“He’s seeing the ball good,” Van Horn said. “He’s laying off that early in the count, borderline pitch, and if it’s a ball, advantage him. He’s hot right now. When I see that, I’m thinking he’s going to hit one hard somewhere.”
Peyton Stovall also had a bit of bad luck his first time up, hitting a line drive directly to the shortstop, but then proceeded to get hits his next three at bats.
The sophomore hit a leadoff single in the third, RBI double in the fifth and leadoff triple in the eighth, finishing the game 3 for 4 to raise his batting average to .373 and extend his hitting streak to seven games.
During that stretch, which immediately followed him going 0-for-8 over two games as he battled back from a thumb injury, Stovall has multiple hits in five games and is 15 for 31 with seven extra-base hits and nine RBIs. Throw in a walk and he has a .484/.500/.935 slash line during the hitting streak.
“After (going 0 for 8), he’s been amazing at the plate,” Van Horn said. “They were all impressive, but the 1-2 pitch he went down and just smoked that thing over the first baseman’s head, that was big. They had just scored… That was a big swing for us, kind of threw the momentum back on our side.”
Up Next for Arkansas Baseball
The Razorbacks have already clinched the series against Louisiana Tech, but could finish off a sweep at 1 p.m. CT Sunday. The game will be streamed on SEC Network-Plus.
Left-hander Hunter Hollan (2.30 ERA, 15 2/3 IP) will get the start for Arkansas, while the Bulldogs counter with right-hander Reed Smith (6.75 ERA, 9 1/3 IP).
Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits
- Thanks to Will McEntire’s gem, Saturday’s game lasted only 2 hours and 7 minutes. That is just one minute longer than the Razorbacks’ final game of 2022, when Ole Miss eliminated them from the College World Series with a 2-0 victory that took just 2 hours and 6 minutes.
- Saturday’s win secured the 26th consecutive regular-season non-conference home weekend series for Arkansas. It hasn’t lost one of those series since dropping two of three to South Alabama in 2014.
- Catcher Hudson Polk made his seventh start of the year and went 0 for 2 with a walk. It was the seventh time he’s reached base, but only one of those has been via a hit. He’s now 1 for 19 (.053) this year and the lone hit was a home run against TCU in Arlington, Texas, on opening weekend.
- After missing Friday’s game with a sore neck, Louisiana Tech slugger Philip Matulia was back in the lineup Saturday. He entered with a .283 batting average and leading the team in home runs (6) and RBIs (16), but went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts against the Razorbacks.
- Jared Wegner extended his hitting streak to seven games and notched his 23rd RBI of the season with an RBI single in the eighth inning. He’s 11 for 29 (.379) with 11 RBIs over that stretch. It’s also worth noting that he’s hit safely in 13 of 14 games for Arkansas baseball.
Arkansas vs Louisiana Tech Highlights (Game 2)
Arkansas vs Louisiana Tech Postgame Interviews
Arkansas vs Louisiana Tech Box Score
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