Hogs’ Touted Depth Sure Delivered Sooner Than Expected + More from James Madison Win

Will McEntire, Arkansas baseball, Arkansas vs James Madison
photo credit: Craven Whitlow

FAYETTEVILLE — Will McEntire probably knew he’d get a chance to pitch on Opening Day, but he never could have predicted Arkansas would call on him so early.

With ace Hagen Smith struggling, though, he had to get ready in a hurry. The right-hander did just that and turned in the kind of outing you’d expect from a veteran, allowing the Razorbacks to rally from an early 3-0 deficit and beat James Madison 6-4 on Opening Day.

“The game settled down a lot because of Will McEntire,” Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said. “He just did a tremendous job of coming in out of the pen and just letting us climb back in the game and get the lead.”

McEntire told reporters that he only got to watch a couple of batters in the first inning before being sent down to the bullpen, where he had to rush his warm up. He entered the game to start the second inning and didn’t walk off the mound for good until the seventh.

In between, the Bryant product threw 5 2/3 solid innings of relief. He gave up just one run on three hits and one walk while striking out six — a good first outing in his “hybrid super reliever” role, as pitching coach Matt Hobbs described it to Best of Arkansas Sports in October.

“That’s his role,” Van Horn said. “We really like him there, long relief. He could come in the seventh, finish the game. He’s going to do everything.”

On this particular day, the Razorbacks needed him to eat innings and preserve the bullpen for the rest of the four-game series against the Dukes.

As he typically is, McEntire was very efficient. He was an overturned double play away from getting through the seventh inning on his own and doing it on just 71 pitches.

“I just think I commanded the ball pretty well,” McEntire said. “(Catcher Hudson White) helped me steal some strikes and just let them put the ball in play and get themselves out.”

Although he mixed in a couple of curveballs, Van Horn said McEntire primarily used his cutter and fastball, with the latter appearing harder than it was because he got the Dukes looking for the cutter.

It honestly probably should have been a scoreless outing for the fifth-year senior, but Jayson Jones — who’s still relatively new to playing left field — took a bad angle on Fenwick Trimble’s leadoff hit to the left-center gap in the sixth. Instead of being a single, it was a double and he came around to score on back-to-back ground outs.

That was really the only blemish on McEntire’s line. One of the other two hits he gave up was a slow chopper that Peyton Holt fielded in front of the second base bag, but couldn’t make the out at first.

“That’s just what Will does, man,” White said. “Every time I’ve caught him, he’s been like that. Super consistent, does a great job keeping hitters off balance. Hits spots. He’s just done an awesome job.”

Rough Outing for Hagen Smith

To say Hagen Smith’s first outing of the season didn’t go well would be quite the understatement.

Named the preseason SEC Pitcher of the Year by multiple outlets and viewed as a potential top-10 pick, the left-hander struggled with his command and didn’t even make it to the second inning.

His final line — 1 IP, 1 H, 3 R (3 ER), 2 BB, 2 K — was ugly, but upon closer inspection, he wasn’t too far off from being closer to what most fans would have expected from him.

After a great leadoff at bat by Mason Dunaway ended with a full-count walk, Smith got ahead 0-2 on Mike Mancini and plunked him trying to go inside with a fastball.

That brought up James Madison’s best player, preseason All-Sun Belt selection Fenwick Trimble. He also worked the count full and fouled off several pitch — including one that Hudson White nearly held on to for a strikeout.

White said after the game that he believed he dropped the ball on the transfer, which would have made it a strikeout, but that’s not how the umpire called it and that is not a reviewable play. On the very next pitch, Fenwick hit a fly ball to right-center that looked like a fly out off the bat, but it got up in the strong wind and flew over the fence for a 392-foot home run that made it 3-0.

Smith did retire three of the next four batters, but two of them — including the one who reached, via a walk — took the count full, further driving up his pitch count.

“I don’t think it was first-game jitters,” Van Horn said. “I’m sure the cold affected him a little bit. The game’s funny. It’s so fragile. … He hits a guy 0-2, a foul tip jumps out of the glove and all of a sudden you’re down 3-0. He just… I don’t know. He’ll be a lot better next week.”

With temperatures in the upper-30s, Van Horn said they didn’t give any thought to sending Smith back out in the second inning after throwing 42 pitches in the first.

Despite the rough outing, none of his teammates or coaches — all of whom saw a much more dominant version of Smith in preseason scrimmages — sounded too concerned about him moving forward.

“We’ve got a lot of trust in him, a lot of faith in him,” White said. “He’s going to have an awesome year this year. He’s got some of the best stuff in the country and we trust it.”

First Long Balls of 2024

After getting a couple of RBI singles in the first inning, Arkansas used the long ball to tie it up and take the lead in the second inning.

Jared Sprague-Lott had the honor of hitting the first home run of 2024, turning on a fastball in a 1-0 count and skying it to left. It was an incredibly high home run, leaving the bat at a whopping 42.9 degree launch angle, and landed in the bullpen to make it 3-3.

Two batters later, Hudson White jumped on the first pitch he saw and sent it into the Hog Pen to give the Razorbacks a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. It was his second time up after striking out on three pitches — the last of which he watched — to lead off the home half of the first.

“I think he was frustrated with his first at bat because he’s one of those guys, he doesn’t strike out looking,” Van Horn said. “He might strike out, but he’s going to work at it, he’s going to foul off pitches and make you work for that. You could just tell how frustrated he was, so it was good to see.”

Here are the TrackMan metrics — distance, exit velocity and launch angle — for both home runs:

  • Sprague-Lott: 364 feet, 100 mph, 42.9 degrees
  • White: 396 feet, 101 mph, 25.0 degrees

JSL Delivers in Debut

Two weeks ago, Jared Sprague-Lott seemed destined to start the season on the bench. That changed when Peyton Stovall broke his foot in a scrimmage, opening the door for the Richmond transfer to start on Opening Day.

Known more for his defense, he also made an impact with the bat Friday by going 2 for 2 with two home runs and two walks, the last of which was intentional.

“It was definitely a ton of fun to get out there with the rest of the guys,” Sprague-Lott said. “The last two weeks, the coaching staff and all my teammates have done a lot to prepare me. It was just fun to be out there.”

Both of hits hits were big, too. In addition to hitting the game-tying home run in the second, he also had a clutch two-out RBI single in the third. He got caught in a rundown on that play, but he did stay alive long enough for Peyton Holt to score from third.

Defensively, he didn’t have to do too much at third, but did make a tremendous over-the-shoulder catch in foul territory to end the fifth inning.

“It’s not an easy play, but I think once he got to where he felt like he needed to get, it became easy for him,” Van Horn said. “That was impressive — not only that he caught it, but he made it look like it wasn’t that big a deal.”

Up Next for Arkansas Baseball

The Razorbacks will be back in Baum-Walker Stadium for a 2 p.m. CT first pitch against James Madison on Saturday.

Right-hander Brady Tygart is set to start for Arkansas, while the Dukes will counter with left-hander Max Kuhle.

The game will be streamed on SEC Network-Plus.

Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits

  • Sophomore right-hander Gage Wood notched a seven-out save for the Razorbacks, allowing only one hit and striking out four in 2 1/3 scoreless innings. “I really liked the way he threw the ball around the plate,” Van Horn said. “Even his misses were right there.”
  • Even though it wasn’t a good outing, Hagen Smith did reach a milestone Friday afternoon. His strikeout of Coleman Calabrese was the 200th of his career. He added one more and now sits at 201, which is 22 shy of cracking the UA’s all-time top 10 list.
  • It was not the best day for first base umpire Jeff Head. Twice he called a runner out at first to complete a double play by the Razorbacks, only for video replay to overturn it.
  • The star of the day for James Madison was center fielder Fenwick Trimble, who went 3 for 4 with three RBIs and two runs. He was a triple shy of the cycle, striking out in his final at bat. “He is one of those guys where he just does something every day when you watch him play,” James Madison baseball coach Marlin Ikenberry said. “He’s just a really good baseball player.”

Arkansas vs James Madison Highlights (Game 1)

Arkansas Baseball Postgame Interviews

Arkansas vs James Madison Box Score (Game 1)

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