Hogs Take Advantage of Murray State’s Brain Freeze at Pivotal Time + More from Sweep of Racers

Arkansas baseball, Murray State baseball, Arkansas vs Murray State
photo credit: Craven Whitlow

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas baseball fans got a refresher on the infield fly rule Sunday afternoon and, by the look of it, Murray State needed one, too.

In one of the critical moments of the series finale, the Razorbacks took advantage of the Racers’ mental mistake on such a play and eventually hung on for a 5-3 win that completed the sweep at Baum-Walker Stadium.

Clinging to a 4-2 lead with one out in the sixth inning, Arkansas turned to its bullpen when Murray State had the bases loaded and Taylor Howell — who homered earlier in the game — up to bat. On the fifth pitch he saw from Will McEntire, Howell hit a high pop up in the middle of the infield.

The umpires immediately invoked the infield fly rule, which meant Howell was out regardless of what happened next. With the wind swirling, third baseman Jared Sprague-Lott wasn’t able to catch it and the ball landed on the pitcher’s mound.

In a twist of fate, the ball then bounced right to catcher Hudson White, which was good for Arkansas because Carson Garner, who was on third base, thought he still had to run. However, the rule states that runners advance at their own risk at that point. He could have stayed put and the bases would have been loaded with two outs.

Instead, White chased after him to get him in a rundown. He threw to Wehiwa Aloy, who threw it back to McEntire for the tag at the plate that completed the unconventional double play.

“We were screaming as loud as we could for them to tag him and not to just step on the plate,” Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said. “Haven’t been involved in one like that for a while. A little confusing when the ball went in the air. The first thing I said was ‘That’s an infield fly rule.’

“But then when the ball hit the ground and started running away from people, I was kind of getting a little on edge. But give credit to the guys. They didn’t panic. Even though they probably couldn’t hear a word we were saying — (because of) the crowd, the wind — they knew how to get that last out.”

Even after the play, there was confusion. McEntire knew it was the final out of the inning, as he flipped the ball back to the mound and started walking to the dugout. Everyone else was unsure, with Aloy even running after the ball just in case play continued.

It took home plate umpire Jeff Wright holding up three fingers for several seconds to indicate three outs before the rest of the Razorbacks joined McEntire in the dugout.

“I didn’t really think anything of it,” McEntire said. “I heard him yell infield fly rule, so a drop doesn’t matter. It’s an automatic out. But it threw me off when he took off for home, so luckily I had my chance to backup home and the ball got to me and I just made the tag.

That wasn’t Murray State’s final chance to tie it up, but it did feel like things were going Arkansas’ way when the play unfolded as it did.

Will McEntire Closes it Out

That double play gave Will McEntire his first two outs and the right-hander didn’t leave the game until notching the final one, recording an 11-out save.

It was actually the second straight day he pitched for the Razorbacks, as he also faced the minimum in two scoreless innings in Saturday’s win. He threw only 16 pitches to get those six outs, though, which made him available again Sunday.

“He really wanted to get back out there today,” Van Horn said. “We didn’t know if he was going to give us an inning (or) two innings, and he felt really good.”

Even though he finished off the win, it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing for the Bryant product.

He did give up a solo home run to Murray State leadoff man Drew Vogel — who also homered off Hagen Smith on Friday — when an 0-2 pitch caught too much of the plate with two outs in the seventh, but that was the only damage during his 3 2/3 innings. That’s not to say it was the only time the Racers threatened though.

In addition to getting out of the bases-loaded situation he inherited, McEntire also saw the tying run get into scoring position thanks to an error in the eighth, but he got Ethan Krizen to pop out on one pitch to end the inning. In the ninth, McEntire gave up a two-out single to Vogel to bring the tying run to the plate, but Dustin Mercer lined out to end the game.

“I bet as a pitcher I probably should not say I enjoy guys on, but I kinda enjoy the pressure of it,” McEntire said.

The key to his success, despite not feeling like he had his best stuff in the bullpen, was pounding the strike zone.

Of the 43 pitches he threw, 37 of them were strikes. That’s a whopping 86.0%.

“That strike percentage is something else,” Van Horn said. “Some of them were strikes they took. Some of them were pitches they thought were strikes that were out of the zone, and that’s what a good pitcher can do to you. They fool you a little bit. That’s amazing… That’s awfully, awfully good.”

With the performance, McEntire now has a 2.08 ERA in a team-high 17 1/3 innings across six appearances. He has 18 strikeouts with only two walks and opponents are hitting just .180 against him. The closest Arkansas baseball player to him in terms of innings is Saturday starter Brady Tygart (16).

“I just go until I’m told I’m not going anymore,” McEntire said. “So I always have that mindset.”

Mason Molina Reaches Personal Milestone

With his second of the game Sunday, which came against the second batter he faced, Mason Molina reached 200 career strikeouts. The first 179 of those came during his two seasons at Texas Tech.

The left-hander notched No. 200 when he got Dustin Mercer to whiff, but he wasn’t done there. Molina ended up striking out 10 in five innings — despite not having his best stuff, Van Horn said.

“He’s hard to square up,” Van Horn said. “He pitches. He’s a good pitcher. He throws the ball 90, 92, 93. Good changeup. Today his breaking ball was just OK. So he basically went with two pitches. He threw a couple sliders that were good.”

Much like Hagen Smith and Brady Tygart in the two prior games, Molina gave up just one run and it came via a solo home run. This one was a 443-foot blast by Taylor Howell with two outs in the second inning.

Aside from that, the California native allowed only three other base runners, who reached on a single, walk and HBP. What kept him from working deeper in the game was his pitch count. He was already at 50 through three innings, but got through the fourth on only 10 pitches and then battled through his fifth and final inning.

Each of the first two batters reached, but he retired the next three in order to strand them. The final out came on a dribbler by Drew Vogel that Molina actually fielded and took to first base by himself.

They weren’t quite as good as they were in Arlington, but the Razorbacks’ three weekend starters were tremendous against Murray State, combining for a 1.69 ERA, 32 strikeouts and three walks across the three games. The Racers came into Fayetteville with a .319 batting average, but ended up hitting only .111 against the trio of Smith, Tygart and Molina.

  • Friday — Smith: 6 IP, 1 H, 1 R (1 ER), 1 BB, 12 K, 81 pitches (54 strikes)
  • Saturday — Tygart: 5 IP, 3 H, 1 R (1 ER), 1 BB, 10 K, 76 pitches (51 strikes)
  • Sunday — Molina: 5 IP, 2 H, 1 R (1 ER), 1 BB, 10 K, 77 pitches (53 strikes)

Over the last eight games, Arkansas’ starting pitchers – which includes a couple of starts by freshman Colin Fisher – have combined to give up just three earned runs on 15 hits and eight walks while striking out 70 in 39 innings. That works out to a 0.69 ERA and 0.59 WHIP, plus 16.2 strikeouts per nine innings.

Freshman Delivers Again

After coming through with what Dave Van Horn described as the “biggest hit of the game” following Saturday’s 11-1 win over Murray State, Nolan Souza made his second straight start in the series finale.

His two-run single with the bases loaded made it 3-0 and sparked the back-to-back big innings by the Razorbacks, so it wasn’t particularly surprising to see him still in the lineup in place of regular starting second baseman Peyton Holt.

It was partially a reward, Van Horn said, but it was also strategic considering the way the wind was blowing and how he might hit with it.

Sure enough, in his first at bat of the game, Souza smacked a 1-0 pitch the other way and it went 398 feet for a leadoff home run in the third inning.

“He’s played solid defense, really good runner,” Van Horn said. “I just felt like he deserved to get another game in back-to-back. … It’s fun to watch freshmen that have success and you know you can play them this year and you know you can build around them for the future.”

The very next inning, Souza was up again and was initially asked to bunt the runners over to second and third. However, a wild pitch moved them up and allowed him to swing away. It’s a good thing, too, as he smoked a single back up the middle with a 108 mph exit velocity to drive in two and make it 4-1.

“It was a lot of fun,” Souza said. “I was just really happy that I could go out there and perform for my teammates. I know they have my back, so I was really happy that I could just go out there and do my job for them.”

Now with four starts under his belt, Souza is off to a hot start in limited playing time. He’s 5 for 12 (.417) with two doubles and a home run, plus five RBIs – all of which have come in the last two days. He also has more walks (4) than strikeouts (3).

It’s a surprising start to Souza’s Arkansas baseballl career because, despite his status as a top-100 recruit on Perfect Game, he struggled quite a bit in intrasquad scrimmages in the fall and preseason. In open scrimmages, he went just 7 for 44 (.159) with 24 strikeouts.

“In the fall, I struggled a little bit just with pitch selection,” Souza said. “As I’ve gotten more at bats, it’s just been something that has been coming a lot more. I think it’s been helping me a lot at the plate. Just swinging at better pitches. That’s been allowing me to hit better.”

Up Next for Arkansas Baseball

The Razorbacks will continue their 12-game home stand by hosting in-state foe Central Arkansas for a single midweek game Tuesday afternoon. First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m. CT and it’ll be streamed online on SEC Network-Plus.

Even though the Bears are 7-6, they have played a lot of close games this season, with nine of their first 13 games being decided by two or fewer runs. They have a 5-4 record in those games, including 2-0 and 4-3 losses at LSU earlier in the season.

Arkansas leads the all-time series with UCA 4-0, with each of those games being played since 2021.

Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits

  • Even though the lineup hasn’t produced like Dave Van Horn may have hoped, Arkansas hitters have struck out only 68 times in 11 games. That is down from the 80 they had in the first 11 games of last season. “We are putting the bat on the ball and advancing runners,” Van Horn said. “We’re just doing the little things there that are helping us win games while our pitching is really good right now. The offense will get there.”
  • Here are the metrics for Nolan Souza’s home run: 398 feet, 108 mph exit velocity and 35.0 degree launch angle.
  • In between Mason Molina and Will McEntire, right-hander Gage Wood pitched just 1/3 of an inning. He should have recorded a second out, but an error was made. After striking out the first batter he faced, the sophomore gave up hits to three of the next four Racers. “The game can be really fragile sometimes and he’s struggling a little bit,” Van Horn said. “He needed a game where he can gain his confidence. Hopefully we’ll put him back out there on Tuesday.”
  • With Phil Elson in Oxford, Miss., to call the women’s basketball game at Ole Miss, the Razorbacks called on Chuck Barrett to fill in for the baseball broadcast.

More on Arkansas baseball here:

Arkansas vs Murray State Highlights (Game 3)

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Arkansas Baseball Postgame Interviews

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Arkansas vs Murray State Box Score (Game 3)


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