Baseball Rarity Almost for Naught As Hogs Hang On Late + More from UCA Win

Wehiwa Aloy, Arkansas baseball, Arkansas vs UCA
photo credit: Craven Whitlow

There isn’t exactly a long history between Arkansas and UCA, but the in-state foes have had some memorable games since they started playing in 2021.

The fifth all-time meeting between the schools was no different, as the No. 2 Razorbacks had to survive a bases-loaded situation in the ninth inning to escape with a 9-7 midweek win over the Bears at Baum-Walker Stadium.

Most of Arkansas’ production came in a seven-run third inning, but the difference ended up being the two insurance runs it tacked on in the eighth. With the win, the Razorbacks improved to 10-2. UCA, meanwhile, dropped to just 7-7, but five of those losses have now been by two runs or less — including two losses to LSU by a combined three runs.

“Pretty much exactly the type of game I thought it was gonna be,” Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said. “Thought it’d be wild, it’d be tight. They’ve played some good teams this year and they’ve played a lot of people close.”

Last season, it was a tie game at the seventh-inning stretch and the Bears brought the tying run to the plate in each of the final two innings before Arkansas hung on for a 6-3 win. The matchup before that, the Razorbacks needed 10 innings to walk-off UCA on a wild pitch at Dickey-Stephens Park.

The first two Arkansas vs UCA games ended in blowout fashion, but featured a bit of history because Robert Moore hit for the cycle in 2021 and then Dylan Leach one-upped him in 2022 by hitting for the cycle while also homering from both sides of the plate.

Tuesday’s matchup had a bit of a mix of all of that.

No one hit for the cycle, but fans at the game were treated to a different kind of baseball rarity when left-hander Stone Hewlett notched four strikeouts in the seventh inning. That was made possible because his third strikeout victim, Preston Curtis, reached on a wild pitch after a swing-and-miss for strike three.

Representing the tying run at the time, Curtis swiped second, but was stranded when Hewlett battled back from a 2-0 count to strike out Bryce Cermenelli.

The Razorbacks used a wild pitch and a Ben McLaughlin sacrifice fly to tack on two more runs in their final at bat and those proved to be crucial. Cermenelli drew a bases-loaded walk to pull the Bears within two and move the tying runs into scoring position — as well as put the go-ahead run on base — but Mason King struck out on three pitches to end the game.

“I know that they are a very scrappy team, an in-state team,” McLaughlin said. “We expected a battle from the start. These midweek games are definitely easy to take for granted and we knew we couldn’t take one for granted today. I wasn’t surprised at all.”

Here are a few other quick takeaways from the win…

First Homers of 2024

Perhaps the best development from the midweek win for Arkansas baseball moving forward was shortstop Wehiwa Aloy finally displaying the power he showed throughout the fall and preseason.

The Hawaii native hit 14 home runs as a true freshman at Sacramento State last year and then followed it up by pacing the Razorbacks in that category during intrasquad scrimmages. However, despite starting every game and leading the team in at bats, Aloy had not hit one — until Tuesday.

It was a well-timed long ball, too, as it came with the bases loaded and Arkansas down 2-0 in the third. With one swing of the bat, which resulted in a 442-foot grand slam, the Razorbacks took the lead.

“I just kept it simple and I just drove the ball,” Aloy said. “Fortunately, it went over the wall. That at bat, I was sitting soft, swung and missed through the first one. The second one, I pretty much just reacted to it.”

That was actually Aloy’s second at bat of the day. His first time up, he launched a ball the other way that looked like it might clear the wall, but right fielder Zeb Allen made a nice catch while crashing into the wall to rob him of extra bases.

Aloy also hit a ball very hard in the series finale against Murray State, but the wind knocked it down and it was caught on the warning track. Even though he’s hitting only .200, there have been enough signs that indicate he’ll get things turned around at the plate.

In addition to those hard-hit balls, Aloy also hasn’t struck out since getting back from Arlington — a span of five games and 20 at bats. Dave Van Horn is still confident in his shortstop, as well.

“That slider was left up and he got all of it,” Van Horn said about Aloy’s home run. “It was really good to see because he works hard, doesn’t complain. Doesn’t make excuses. Goes out and does his job. To see him get hold of one, knock four in with one swing, that was big.”

The Razorbacks weren’t done after the grand slam, either.

Kendall Diggs walked on four pitches, which prompted a pitching change, and then Hudson Polk walked in a full count. That brought up Ben McLaughlin, who was hitting .316, but had yet to hit one that cleared the fence.

That changed when he crushed the 0-1 pitch from Bryce Parlin off the batter’s eye in center for a three-run blast that gave Arkansas a 7-2 lead.

“Those are two guys that have a lot of power, and that’s why they’re hitting in the middle of our order,” Van Horn said. “It’s nice to see that. I think once you get one, you stop thinking about it. Probably get a couple more, pretty quick. Two big swings. Seven runs. Two swings. The guys set it up for them, and they did it.”

Gabe Gaeckle Further Solidifies Closer Role

If there was any doubt about freshman Gabe Gaeckle’s ability to close games for the Razorbacks, he erased it with another save Tuesday against UCA. This one required six outs, as he entered the game to start the eighth inning.

The right-hander made quick work of the Bears in his first inning of work, but ran into problems in the ninth. A couple of singles and a couple of walks put a run on the board for UCA and brought up the aforementioned critical bases-loaded situation.

Despite Gaeckle issuing back-to-back free passes and Jake Faherty warming up in the bullpen, Dave Van Horn chose to stick with his talented freshman and it paid off, as he struck out Mason King to end the game.

“We just felt like Gaeckle still had his stuff,” Van Horn said. “There were a couple of pitches that were borderline and he didn’t get. Sometimes late in the game like that in the 9th, sometimes that zone does shrink a little bit, especially when the team that’s losing is up to bat. You see it. We just felt like he wasn’t shook up. His stuff was good. It wasn’t like bad misses, so let’s let him go.”

Like most highly touted pitchers in high school, Gaeckle had always been a starter before coming to Arkansas. Getting used to pitching out of the bullpen has been an adjustment, but if SEC play were to start this weekend, Van Horn would likely consider him as the team’s closer.

“I think each outing it gets easier,” Gaeckle said. “Not necessarily easier, but you just have more confidence the more you do it. I’m starting to get used to those situations where it’s a tight ball game and I come in the later innings.”

Up Next for Arkansas Baseball

The Razorbacks are still in town this weekend, hosting McNeese State for a three-game series at Baum-Walker Stadium beginning Friday. First pitch of Game 1 is scheduled for 3 p.m. CT and it’ll be streamed online on SEC Network-Plus.

Although they are just 7-5 overall, the Cowboys have won seven of their last eight games heading into Wednesday’s midweek game against Louisiana Christian. They opened the season at Texas A&M and the Aggies beat them three straight by a combined score of 31-1.

Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits

  • Given the starting nod in center field, Missouri transfer Ross Lovich went 2 for 3. It’s his third straight game with multiple hits, but none of them have come in consecutive games for the Razorbacks, as he’s had at least a game off in between each of them. That makes Lovich 8 for 17 (.471) in limited action this year. “Just real happy with Ross right now,” Van Horn said. “He’s been real patient. Just keeps working. Doesn’t say much. You’ve got to like that.”
  • For just the second time this season, Peyton Holt started at third base — the position he was projected to play this year before Peyton Stovall suffered a broken foot. He was tasked with making five plays Tuesday and did so without an error. “I thought Holt did a good job over there,” Van Horn said. “He had a lot of balls hit to him. Just kind of the way it is. You haven’t played over there in a while, first batter hit the second pitch right at him and hit it hard.”
  • Freshman Colin Fisher began his career by not allowing an earned run for 9 2/3 innings, but he finally surrender some against UCA. In fact, he was charged with two on four hits and no walks while striking out four in three innings of work. “He’d get ahead of them, then he’d make a mistake and they’d single,” Van Horn said. “He just wasn’t as sharp as he’d been as far as spotting it up. Then just kind of missing on some pitches and just giving in and instead of throwing the ball to the corner, more to the middle.”
  • Despite being “on the board” as an available pitcher, right-hander Dylan Carter did not get in the game Tuesday, which was exactly 10 months after he had Tommy John surgery.
  • Arkansas used six pitchers and they combined for 11 strikeouts. It’s the eighth straight game — and 10th time in 12 games — that the Razorbacks have finished with double-digit strikeouts. They now have 174 in 108 1/3 innings.
  • Here are the metrics — distance, launch angle and exit velocity — for the Razorbacks’ two home runs Tuesday:
    • Aloy: 442 feet, 28.7 degrees, 106 mph
    • McLaughlin: 420 feet, 30.4 degrees, 102 mph
  • One scary moment during the game came in the fifth inning when UCA catcher Casey Shipley was hit in the face with a pitch. The Farmington native was replaced by a pinch runner, but UA radio color commentator Bubba Carpenter reported that he just suffered a broken nose and was able to watch the rest of the game.

Arkansas vs UCA Highlights

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Arkansas Baseball Postgame Interviews

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Arkansas vs UCA Box Score


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