Gage Wood Was First in Line for Directive Hogs Likely Never Imagined

Gage Wood
Credit: Craven Whitlow

This wasn’t in the script.

The script, you see, had the seasoned Hagen Smith leading the Razorbacks to victory in Saturday night’s NCAA Tournament game vs Kansas State and then one of the younger guys he’d helped guide picking up the ball to finish the job today.

Like sophomore Gage Wood, for instance, who just a few days ago spoke glowingly of the way Smith helped lead the pitching staff. “I chat with him a little about what he does in certain situations, when he faces adversity, and anything else that comes to mind,” Wood told Best of Arkansas Sports. “He’s really good at giving feedback.”

Gage Wood’s Big Moment in NCAA Tournament

It’s now time to turn all that feedback into performance in the NCAA Tournament Fayetteville Regional. After serving as reliever for most of this spring, Gage Wood starts on the mound vs Southeast Missouri at 1 p.m. with the season on the line. He does so with no buffer. No margin. No time to wait to grow up anymore.

A sense of shock pervaded Arkansas baseball nation nearly six years ago after a fly ball dropped to the ground among three Razorbacks in Game 2 of the College World Series. The Razorbacks never recovered from that blow, losing that game and the next to let their best shot yet at a national title slip through their fingers.

A similar sense of shock descended on the fans Saturday night as things unraveled for Hagen Smith on the mound in the fifth inning. After establishing himself as the nation’s best pitcher and setting a career strikeout record, Smith suffered his worst inning of the season while giving up six runs.

Arkansas did fight back and finished fairly strong, unlike what had been the case in the last inning vs Oregon State in the CWS finals, but the result was the same: a loss.

Six years ago in Omaha, the Hogs delivered a dud in the following game, falling 0-5. It seemed like they simply couldn’t recover the wind that had been knocked out of them.

This year, based on the way Arkansas fought back last night and how Dave Van Horn practically took the gloves off in the post-game press conference, it will be a surprise if a letdown performance happens again. It should help that this particular do-or-die game is at Baum Stadium.

Still, clearly, the Razorbacks must show up. As unimaginable as it would have seemed yesterday, they are now charged with picking up the slack for their leader who had helped carry them so much of the season. The first in line on this front is Gage Wood, who will need to show the kind of command he flashes here:

Perhaps he and his teammates will rally and take their games to an even higher level despite their star’s struggles, similar to how the 1977 football Hogs trounced No. 2 Oklahoma in the postseason despite missing star running back Ben Cowins.

If that kind of meeting the moment doesn’t happen three games in a row, though, it’s time to go back home for the Hogs.

In the meantime, there’s an actual game to play.

LIVE UPDATES — Arkansas vs SEMO (NCAA Tournament)

Pregame Notes from the Fayetteville Regional

Arkansas is giving Hudson White a day off behind the plate, starting Ryder Helfrick at catcher and putting White at DH.

Right-hander Collin Wilma is starting for SEMO. He pitched in relief against the Razorbacks on Friday, allowing three runs on three hits in three innings. He threw 50 pitches.

B-1st: SEMO 1, Arkansas 0

SEMO struck first with a two-out home run by Ty Stauss. His ninth homer of the year was a 340-foot blast into the left field bullpen.

B-4th: SEMO 4, Arkansas 0

The Redhawks got a leadoff double by Palmer and walk by Stauss put a couple of runners on. Then, after fouling off three straight full-count pitches, Cameron singled through the right side for an RBI. That’s it for Wood.

Diggs’ throw home got by Helfrick and the E9 allowed the runner to take third. That was a big play because the first batter right-hander Jake Faherty faced, Mugan, hit what was essentially a swinging bunt. Faherty tried flipping it to the catcher, but the runner scored on the RBI fielder’s choice. Cannon followed with a sac bunt to move the runners to second and third. McGahan hit a chopper to third and Cameron tried scoring on the play, but Sprague-Lott easily threw him out at the plate.

With two outs, Riley hit a line drive to right for an RBI single. Diggs threw to third on the play and then Sprague-Lott fired to second as Riley tried to take second, but everyone was called safe. The call stood despite a challenge from Arkansas, so there are runners on second and third. Faherty struck out Resetich to finally end the inning.

Wood’s final line: 3 IP, 4 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 4 K on 60 pitches (38 strikes).

T-5th: SEMO 4, Arkansas 1

Wilma struck out the first two batters of the fifth inning, but then Holt crushed a hanging curveball 422 feet for a solo home run, breaking up the no-hitter. Wilma then plunked Helfrick, walked Wilmsmeyer and plunked Stovall to load the bases. That prompted a pitching change. Left-hander Logan Katen entered to face White, who ended up grounding out after what should have been ball four was called a strike.

B-5th: SEMO 5, Arkansas 1

Immediately after getting out of that bases-loaded jam, SEMO got the run back with a solo home run of its own, as Kettering hit a 386-foot blast to right-center.

B-7th: SEMO 6, Arkansas 1

The Redhawks used some small ball to tack on a run in the seventh. After Riley’s leadoff single, Resetich moved him over with a sac bunt and Kettering drove him in with a single.

T-9th: SEMO 6, Arkansas 3

Diggs grounded out to short to start the inning. Holt followed with a single through the right side. Parker Rowland, who entered as a defensive replacement earlier in the game, hit a two-run home run. That prompted SEMO to bring in its closer, right-hander Kyle Miller. He struck out pinch hitter Nolan Souza and got Stovall to fly out to left to end the game.

FINAL – SEMO 6, Arkansas 3

Starting Lineups – Game 5 of Fayetteville Regional

SEMO BaseballArkansas Baseball
1. Brooks Kettering – 2B1. Peyton Stovall – 2B
2. Ben Palmer – SS2. Hudson White – DH
3. Ty Stauss – DH3. Jared Sprague-Lott – 3B
4. Josh Cameron – RF4. Ben McLaughlin – 1B
5. Michael Mugan – CF5. Wehiwa Aloy – SS
6. Bryce Cannon – 1B6. Kendall Diggs – RF
7. Shea McGahan – C7. Peyton Holt – LF
8. Ian Riley – LF8. Ryder Helfrick – C
9. Chance Resetich – 3B9. Ty Wilmsmeyer – CF
Pitching: RHP Collin WilmaPitching: RHP Gage Wood

How to Watch Arkansas vs SEMO (NCAA Tournament)

Date: Sunday, June 2

Location: Baum-Walker Stadium (Fayetteville, Ark.)

First Pitch: 1:06 p.m. CT

TV/Stream: ESPN+


For Wood, that would be his beloved Batesville in northeast Arkansas. It’s a place he’ll almost always carve out time to discuss, even in the thick of the postseason.

Below is an excerpt from an interview that Wood gave to fellow Jace Dunegan, also a Batesville native, on Thursday:

Can you talk a little about the support system you have back home?

My parents have always been there to build me up; they let me know where they think I can make changes, but they always pick me up. Back home, I have a lot of support, including coach (Price) Holmes (HS strength & conditioning coach), who always makes sure to reach out. I really appreciate him and all of my former coaches who still check in with me.

In a nutshell, how would you describe this season for you?

I came out strong on opening day against James Madison but then it went downhill after that for a while. I couldn’t quite get the job done when my name was called. The coaching staff has had a lot of faith in me and things just kept not going my way. I just kept my head down. 

What were some of the causes of the issues?

It just all came down to me, I wasn’t making the right pitch in the right spot. I’ve had some really bad luck. Most of it was my fault but sometimes bad luck happens in baseball.

Where have you felt the most improvement as the year has gone on?

Confidence in myself, you got to step up. I know I was on the verge of not playing anymore this season and getting my name called if I didn’t show what I could do. I had to step up because I knew my time might be done.

What’s it been like getting a first-hand glimpse at Hagen Smith going through his routines and training?

Well you know it’s always great to be around a guy like that. He’s the best in the country at what he does this year, but what makes it even better is he’s an even better person. I’m not taking anything away from him as a player, but he is such a great person. It makes it even better to see a guy that good at what he does treat everyone the way he does. He’s a great guy.


Jace Dunegan contributed to the above feature

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