Stovall’s Return Complicates DVH’s Looming Decision + More from DH Sweep vs. McNeese State

Peyton Stovall, Peyton Holt, Arkansas baseball, Arkansas vs McNeese State
photo credit: Crant Osborne

With Peyton Stovall back in the mix, Arkansas suddenly has a good problem on its hands.

The star junior returned to the lineup as the designated hitter and notched three hits across Saturday’s doubleheader against McNeese State, which the Razorbacks swept with 3-1 and 11-1 wins at Baum-Walker Stadium.

It was a bit of a surprise to see Stovall playing this weekend, as head coach Dave Van Horn said earlier in the week that he didn’t expect him back until next Tuesday’s midweek matchup with Oral Roberts or next weekend’s SEC-opening series against Missouri.

Instead, not only did he play against the Cowboys, but he supplied one of the highlights with a three-run home run that made him 3 for 8 at the plate and helped Arkansas win the night cap via run rule.

“That was a really, really pretty swing,” Van Horn said. “He stayed back and used his hands and kept it right inside that foul pole. I thought he looked really good. It looked like he hadn’t really skipped a beat.”

Before Stovall could fully celebrate the home run, though, he had to wait out a challenge by McNeese State, which thought the ball went foul.

Luckily for the Razorbacks, there wasn’t a great camera angle and the call stood, giving him a 412-foot homer that made it 10-1 in the eighth inning of Game 2.

“Please let the call stand, please,” Stovall recalled thinking during the review. “That would have been another gut punch. That would have been like me fracturing my foot again. When I hit it, I kind of knew. It looked like it went right over the foul pole.”

After missing the first 12 games of the season because of a broken foot suffered in a scrimmage on Feb. 5, Stovall’s foot was tested immediately when he had to beat out an infield single in his first plate appearance of 2024.

That was his only hit in Game 1, but he notched a single to center in his first at bat of Game 2 before adding the home run in his final at bat. He also drew a walk in the night cap.

Stovall was considered the favorite to start at second base and hit leadoff before the season. He could still end up occupying both spots, but it may be another couple of days before he takes over at second.

“He’s real close to being in the field,” Van Horn said. “I don’t feel like I’ll play him tomorrow, but maybe Tuesday in the field. Again, I’ll see how he feels tomorrow in the morning after running around the bases a lot.”

When that happens, Van Horn will be forced to shuffle his lineup once again — and determine who gets left out. That won’t be easy because Peyton Holt and Nolan Souza have played well in Stovall’s absence.

Holt, a fifth-year senior, collected a pinch-hit RBI single in Game 1 and followed it up with two more hits and a walk in Game 2. Souza, a heralded freshman, went 3 for 4 in the night cap and would have been 4 for 4 had the first baseman not been perfectly positioned to snag his line drive. He also walked in Game 1.

One potential solution would be to move Holt to third base, where he was projected to start before Stovall’s injury, but that’d take Jared Sprague-Lott out of the lineup and he’s been arguably Arkansas’ best hitter.

Stovall also has experience at first base, but Ben McLaughlin has hit well and played excellent defense at that spot, so he’s firmly entrenched there.

Some fans may be clamoring for Sprague-Lott or Souza to get a chance at shortstop considering Wehiwa Aloy’s struggles at the plate, but even he is seemingly starting to turn a corner with a couple of home runs, a few near misses and nine RBIs in the last three games.

His long ball in Game 2 traveled a whopping 468 feet with an exit velocity of 114 mph and drove in three runs to break the game open.

“I’m not so much settled in yet because we can always get better,” Aloy said. “I’ve just been playing loose, just relaxing. My teammates, the coaches, always believing in me, that’s pretty much it.”

Aloy’s numbers are still down compared to the other infielders mentioned, but Van Horn has described him as a “streaky” hitter and he’s played pretty solid defense, so his position is likely safe for the time being.

However, Van Horn might have to get creative to get all six of these guys at bats:

  • Sprague-Lott: .410/.531/.590, 6 RBIs
  • Souza: .400/.538/.650, 5 RBIs
  • Stovall: .375/.444/.750, 3 RBIs
  • Holt: .350/.435/.400, 5 RBIs
  • McLaughlin: .320/.433/.460, 12 RBIs
  • Aloy: .228/.302/.368, 13 RBIs

Only four of those six can play in the infield at the same time and a fifth could be the DH, but that still leaves one on the outside looking in.

“It’s a good situation,” Van Horn said. “You never have enough. … You’ve got guys that are good, but they’re not all swinging it at the same time. So you can go to the next guy and they can pick the guy up a little bit. It’s nice to have options.”

Starters Good, Not Great

Arkansas’ starting pitching has been so good that a combined eight scoreless innings and 17 strikeouts in a doubleheader is viewed as just decent. However, that’s probably a fair assessment given the bar set by Hagen Smith and Brady Tygart.

In Game 1, Smith struggled with his command early on. He threw only two first-pitch strikes to the first nine batters he faced and issued three walks in the first two innings.

That led to Smith’s pitch count ballooning to 42. However, he needed only 22 total pitches to get through the third and fourth innings, when he retired six of seven Cowboys.

“Just couldn’t find my stuff early, missing arm-side, mechanical adjustments,” Smith said. “Coach Hobbs and I talked about it and kind of made an adjustment, started going a little better, but obviously with the pitch count I talked about, wasn’t going to be able to do that.”

On a normal day, Smith likely would have stayed in, as he’d thrown only 64 total pitches, but the game being postponed from Friday to Saturday meant he’ll have less time to get ready for next week’s SEC opener against Missouri.

Instead, he had to settle for four scoreless innings in which he allowed only one hit and the aforementioned three walks while striking out nine. That lowered his ERA to 2.12 and gives him 40 strikeouts in only 17 innings. Incredibly, Smith has struck out 40 of the 65 batters he’s faced this year, which is 61.5%.

“We had Smith on a pitch count and when he got to it, that’s why we didn’t send him out for the fifth,” Van Horn said. “He’s pitching next Friday and…we just don’t want him to overdo it because he’s on one less day (rest).”

The issue for Tygart in the tight cap was fastball command. In his four innings, he issued two walks and plunked three batters. Similar to Smith, he was working from behind quite a bit, throwing only nine first-pitch strikes to the 19 batters he faced.

“Brady would tell you and you saw it, he just didn’t command his fastball like he did last week,” Van Horn said. “Last week it was great. Today he used that breaking ball a lot. I think in the third inning he got it going a little better, but hit pitch count got up there in the fourth.”

Throw in the three hits hit allowed and he put eight Cowboys on base in four innings, but managed to wiggle out of it without allowing a run.

When he loaded the bases in the second inning, Tygart got out of it by striking out Gage Trahan and Connor Westenburg. He loaded the bases again in the fourth, but needed a lucky break to get out of it unscathed, as Westenburg’s single to the right side struck a base runner for the third out instead of getting through for a pair of runs.

“He’s so good at working out of a jam,” Van Horn said. “He got himself in a jam, he got himself out. I think a little bit of that experience that he gained two years ago when he was finishing games early in the season for us is really helping him as a starter.”

The performance lowered Tygart’s ERA to to a minuscule 0.90 in 20 innings.

Up Next for Arkansas Baseball

The Razorbacks will have a chance to complete the sweep of McNeese State on Sunday. First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m. CT and the game will be streamed online on SEC Network-Plus.

Left-hander Mason Molina (2-0, 1.98 ERA) will start for Arkansas, while the Cowboys will counter with left-hander Alexis Gravel (0-1, 4.91 ERA).

Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits

  • In the very next at bat after Peyton Stovall’s home run, Kendall Diggs crushed a 449-foot home run off the batter’s eye in dead center to invoke the run rule. It was the Razorbacks’ fourth home run of the game, as Jayson Jones also hit a solo shot in the fifth before Wehiwa Aloy’s blast.
  • Here are the measurements — distance, launch angle and exit velocity — of those four long balls for Arkansas baseball:
    • Jones: 409 feet, 21.9 degrees, 108 mph
    • Aloy: 468 feet, 24.7 degrees, 114 mph
    • Stovall: 412 feet, 29 degrees, 101 mph
    • Diggs: 449 feet, 27 degrees, 104 mph
  • With nine more on Saturday, Hagen Smith now has 239 career strikeouts. That moved him past Kevin Kopps (230) for sixth on the UA’s all-time list. Next up: Blaine Knight with 244.
  • As a team, the Razorbacks racked up 15 strikeouts in Game 1 and 12 strikeouts in Game 2. They’ve notched double-digit strikeouts in 10 straight games and 12 of 14 games overall. Arkansas is now averaging 14.4 strikeouts per nine innings.
  • Ben McLaughlin went 2 for 4 with a double in the first game, extending his on-base streak to 13 games, but failed to reach in four plate appearances in the night cap to snap that streak.
  • Starting at catcher in Game 1, Hudson White went 2 for 4 with an RBI double. He had been just 2 for 21 since opening weekend. “More than anything, this game is so mental, you gotta get over it and sometimes you just gotta say, ‘To heck with it,’ and quit worrying about everything,” Van Horn said. “I saw him a little freer today.”
  • Both games featured an eight-out save, with freshman Gabe Gaeckle earning the first and sixth-year super senior Koty Frank notching the second. Both of them have three saves apiece this season.
  • One negative of Diggs ending the second game after eight innings was the fact that the Razorbacks didn’t get to pitch the top of the ninth inning. Had they needed to, right-hander Dylan Carter likely would have gotten the ball for his first outing since undergoing Tommy John surgery 10 months earlier. He got “hot-hot” in the bullpen, as Van Horn described it, so he might not be available to pitch Sunday, but he could throw Tuesday. “If it was a leverage situation, I don’t have a problem putting him in even though he hasn’t pitched in 10 months,” Van Horn said. “Because I’ve seen him throw to our guys in live hitting and he’s held his own out there.”
  • For the second time this season, Arkansas baseball wore its new pinstripe uniforms Saturday.

Arkansas vs McNeese State Highlights

Game 1

YouTube video

Game 2

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Postgame Interviews

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YouTube video

Arkansas vs McNeese State Box Scores

Game 1

Game 2


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