Arkansas Baseball’s Glaring Issue Through 6 Games + More from Oklahoma State Loss

Ryder Helfrick, Arkansas baseball, Arkansas vs Oklahoma State
photo credit: Crant Osborne

Arkansas was involved in another instant classic Saturday night in Arlington, but this time came up on the wrong end of it.

Oklahoma State shortstop Lane Forsythe executed a perfect suicide squeeze bunt to end the 14-inning marathon and beat the No. 2 Razorbacks 2-1 at Globe Life Field.

It was a gutsy call by the Cowboys, as Forsythe did it in an 0-2 count and Donovan LaSalle took off from third before he got it down. However, in a game dominated by pitching, it was probably the only way either team was going to scratch across another run.

“We kind of knew something was going on,” Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said. “Once they got to 0-2, we didn’t think they’d squeeze. I don’t blame them for trying. It worked.”

After all, Arkansas had plenty of chances to end the game much earlier, but failed to get the clutch hit. 

The Razorbacks were a miserable 1 for 14 with runners in scoring position, with the lone hit being Kendall Diggs’ RBI single in the fifth inning.

Seven different players contributed to that stat, with Wehiwa Aloy being the worst offender. He went 0 for 7 overall and four of those at bats came in RBI opportunities — three of which ended the inning. Hudson White, Ben McLaughlin and Ty Wilmsmeyer each went 0 for 2 in those scenarios, while Jack Wagner and Ryder Helfrick went 0 for 1. The other out was made by Diggs, who went 1 for 2 with runners in scoring position.

“It was a tough loss, but give their pitching staff credit,” Van Horn said. “They just kept getting us to roll over balls. We hit a lot of ground balls to the pull side. We had a lot of shots for a hit to grab the lead, but we never got it.”

One of Arkansas’ best chances to add to its 1-0 lead came in the seventh. Oklahoma State had just turned things over to its bullpen after a great start by right-hander Brian Holiday and the Razorbacks had two on with one out and the top of their order coming up. A pair of fly ball outs by Diggs and White ended the threat.

They also had runners on the corners in the ninth, but there were two outs and White grounded into a fielder’s choice. The back-breaker came in the 13th, though, as Arkansas left runners on the second and third when Wilmsmeyer grounded out.

It’s been only six games, but timely hitting has emerged as a perhaps the Razorbacks’ biggest issue so far this season. Van Horn mentioned it — along with poor base running/mental mistakes — as one of his top areas of focus following the James Madison series and Best of Arkansas Sports identified it as the thing to watch this weekend in our preview of the Kubota College Baseball Series.

Sure enough, it has flared up in both games. Against Oregon State, Arkansas got just enough thanks to a couple of clutch two-out hits — a three-run double by McLaughlin and an RBI triple by Peyton Holt — plus an RBI single by Jayson Jones. It was 3 of 11 with runners in scoring position and stranded seven on base.

Including another 15 on Saturday, the Razorbacks have now left 55 runners on base in 55 innings.

Something Van Horn might consider in the finale against Michigan is shuffling his lineup. Aloy had hits in five of his last 10 at bats of the James Madison series, but is 0 for 10 with five strikeouts in Arlington as Arkansas’ cleanup hitter.

White has hit in the 2-hole both games and is also 0 for 10, but he at least barreled a ball Saturday night that nearly gave Arkansas the lead in the 12th. Instead, the deep fly was caught at the wall, mere feet from clearing the left field fence. It may have been a home run at Baum-Walker Stadium.

They aren’t the only Razorbacks struggling, though. Jayson Jones is just 2 for 15 (.133) this season and Ryder Helfrick — who started at DH on Friday and catcher on Saturday — is 1 for 12 (.083).

It’s too early to hit the panic button with Arkansas’ offense, but it’s certainly worth monitoring Sunday and beyond because its pitching has mostly lived up to the hype.

Freshman Arms Deliver

Despite the loss, Dave Van Horn had to like what he saw from his pitching staff, especially the last two arms he used.

Freshmen Gabe Gaeckle and Colin Fisher combined to pitch the final five innings for Arkansas and they had six strikeouts apiece. The veteran coach praised them for doing “a tremendous job against a good team.” 

“Put some freshmen out in some really, really tough situations and they answered the bell,” Van Horn said. “Gained a lot of really good experience tonight.”

Gaeckle, a right-hander from California, inherited a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the bottom of the ninth with the score tied 1-1. He escaped the jam by striking out Charlie Carter and Lane Forsythe, albeit with the help of a questionable call by the umpire on the latter of those.

Prior to a leadoff walk in the 12th, Gaeckle retired the first eight batters he faced, with six of them going down via strikeouts.

“Obviously he showed that he has incredible stuff and he wasn’t scared and the moment wasn’t too big,” Van Horn said. “Seemed like he wanted to be out there and fun to watch.”

The Razorbacks had hoped to save Fisher for their midweek game against Grambling, but they needed the lefty against Oklahoma State and he rose to the occasion. Not counting an intentional walk, Fisher retired the first seven batters he faced with six strikeouts. The last five of those strikeouts came consecutively and were each looking.

“We were hoping for one inning and he’d still be able to start on Tuesday, but hey, we could try to win tonight,” Van Horn said. “He was pitching good, so we just let him go.”

With one out in the 14th, though, he gave up a single to Donovan LaSalle and a sharp grounder to Carter that Jared Sprague-Lott couldn’t quite handle. It was ruled a two-base error instead of a double, though, which made it an unearned run when Oklahoma State executed the squeeze, but Fisher still got the loss.

Another Strong Start for Tygart

He’ll probably be overlooked because of what Hagen Smith did the night before, but Brady Tygart was also dominant for the Razorbacks in his second start of the season.

The right-hander scattered three hits, two walks and a hit batter across six scoreless innings and needed only 78 pitches to do it.

“It was shaky at first, and then really good in the middle,” Van Horn said. “He had more in there. We could have sent him back for another inning. We just felt like mid-70s was a good number for him in the second outing.”

Tygart has now allowed only one run in 11 innings this season and looks like he’s capable of holding down the role as Arkansas’ No. 2 starter.

There probably aren’t many schools who can say their top two weekend starters combined to allow only six hits and three walks while striking out 23 in 12 innings. Opponents went just 6 for 40 (.150) against them and, not only were all of the hits singles, but three of them didn’t even get out of the infield.

Up Next for Arkansas Baseball

The Razorbacks will have a quick turnaround for what is essentially a weekend rubber match after splitting games against Oregon State and Oklahoma State. First pitch against Michigan is set for 1 p.m. CT Sunday, which is about 14 hours after Saturday’s game ended.

It has been a rough weekend for the Wolverines, who are trying to salvage at least one game on their trip to Arlington. They lost to Oklahoma State 9-3 on Friday and then got run-ruled 11-1 in seven innings by Oregon State on Saturday. Those losses dropped Michigan to 2-4.

The Wolverines have yet to announce a starting pitcher, but Arkansas will send junior left-hander Mason Molina to the mound for his second start of the year.

Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits

  • The announced attendance for Arkansas vs Oklahoma State was 16,271.
  • Right-hander Koty Frank was first out of the bullpen and struck out the first five batters he faced before walking his final batter. Prior to the free pass, he had retired 15 straight to start the season. That’s still the only base runner he’s allowed in five innings.
  • For the second day in a row, Arkansas called upon Jake Faherty to as its closer. He got back-to-back strikeouts to cap the Oregon State win, but issued two walks, plunked a batter and gave up a double en route to blowing the save vs Oklahoma State. “He threw 10 pitches yesterday, so he was good to go, 100%,” Van Horn said. “He just didn’t command his fastball like he did last night. They didn’t hit him, really. He got himself in trouble.”
  • Arkansas pitchers combined for another 25 strikeouts — albeit in 13 1/3 innings — Saturday night. That breaks the record of 23 the Razorbacks set a day earlier, which shattered the previous record of 18.
  • Through six games, Arkansas pitchers have 91 strikeouts in 57 1/3 innings. That’s an average of 14.3 per nine innings. At that pace, the Razorbacks would have 842 strikeouts if they pitched the same number of innings has last season. The single-season UA record is 674, which was set in 2022.
  • The Razorbacks had only eight hits as a team and Jared Sprague-Lott had three of them. He went 3 for 5 with two doubles, which were their only extra-base hits of the day.
  • Defensively, there were a pair of web gems that ended the second and third innings and helped Brady Tygart. First, left fielder Jayson Jones threw out a player trying to stretch a single into a double and then Sprague-Lott fielded a high chopper with the bare hand and immediately fired to first for the out.
  • Little Rock Christian product Charlie Carter, a freshman catcher at Oklahoma State, entered the game as a pinch hitter in the ninth and struck out with the bases loaded. He stayed in and ended up laying down a sacrifice bunt in the 12th and reached on an error to set up the game winning play in the 14th. It was a tough error on third baseman Jared Sprague-Lott and arguably could have been scored a double.
  • Former Arkansas standout Craig Gentry threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the game and later did an interview with FloSports. That was during the top of the fifth inning, when the Razorbacks scored their lone run.

Postgame Interview

Arkansas vs Oklahoma State Box Score


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