Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Razorbacks rally to win 'trap game' over Grambling
Arkansas reliever Brady Tygart delivers to the plate Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023, during the eighth inning of the Razorbacks’ 9-7 win over Grambling at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas' baseball team avoided what would have been a stunning loss in its home opener Tuesday.
The sixth-ranked Razorbacks overcame a five-run deficit to defeat Grambling State 9-7 at Baum-Walker Stadium.
It was the first game of an 18-game homestand for Arkansas, which is scheduled to host Eastern Illinois for a three-game series beginning Friday at 2 p.m.
Catcher Parker Rowland's walk to lead off the bottom of the eighth sparked a two-run inning for the Razorbacks (3-1). Pinch runner Peyton Holt scored the go-ahead run on Tavian Josenberger’s sacrifice fly to center field that put Arkansas ahead 8-7.
Peyton Stovall added a sacrifice fly in the next at-bat to score John Bolton, who was hit by a pitch when he squared to bunt after Rowland’s lead-off walk. Both runners advanced when Grambling right-hander Javier Martinez threw a wild pitch to Josenberger.
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said he was concerned about the game after the Razorbacks returned home after midnight Monday from the College Baseball Showdown in Arlington, Texas.
"A little bit of a trap game," Van Horn said. "Traveling back, getting back late, big tournament, lot of hoopla, big win on Sunday. Yesterday we don’t have a team practice and you kind of just think, ‘How is this going to go?'"
It didn't go well for the Razorbacks early. Grambling scored twice in the first inning and twice built a five-run lead later in the game.
The Tigers led 7-2 after nine-hole hitter Jose Vargas singled against Will McEntire in the top of the fifth inning.
Grambling (1-3) scored twice during freshman right-hander Ben Bybee's two-inning start, and also hit well against front-line pitchers Zack Morris and McEntire in relief. Morris allowed 4 runs on 5 hits and 1 walk in 1 2/3 innings, and McEntire allowed 1 run and 4 hits while recording 2 outs.
"The first guy (Bybee), we knew he was a freshman so we just wanted to have a wait-it-out approach to see if he could pound the strike zone, and whether he could command his pitches for a strike," Grambling coach Davin Pierre said. "When he couldn’t, we waited on our opportunities and man we swung the bats well tonight."
The Tigers out-hit the Razorbacks 13-9. Arkansas also committed two errors.
"It’s a tough one when you’ve got the big boys on the ropes and you can’t win it," Pierre said.
Koty Frank stabilized things for the Razorbacks with a 2 2/3-inning outing that included 3 strikeouts, and Brady Tygart earned the win with a 2-inning relief appearance that included 4 strikeouts.
Frank induced an inning-ending double play after he replaced McEntire in the top of the fifth inning. From there Grambling had three base runners over the final four innings.
Tygart stranded a runner at third base in the top of the eighth. Kyle Walker singled with two outs and advanced to third base on an errant pick-off throw by Tygart. Trevor Hatton popped up to first base to end the half inning.
Tygart allowed a lead-off single by clean-up hitter Cameron Bufford in the ninth inning, but he struck out two of the final three batters, including Trey Ware to end the game.
It was the second strong outing for Tygart, who retired all five hitters he faced to earn a save during the season-opening 3-2 victory over Texas last Friday.
"He's been really, really good," Van Horn said. "His outing in Texas was the best I've ever seen him when you just talk about all of his pitches. We've seen him dominate with the breaking ball.
"Tonight he threw a lot of fastballs and threw some good breaking balls."
Arkansas pulled to within 7-5 when the first four hitters reached during the bottom of the fifth inning. Jared Wegner’s RBI single scored Josenberger after a walk, and Brady Slavens’ double scored Stovall who singled.
The scoring threat ended when Jayson Jones grounded into one of the Razorbacks’ three inning-ending double plays. Arkansas also had scoring opportunities end with double plays in the first and sixth innings.
"Other than killing the rally and taking the momentum away from us, we still felt like we were going to win the game," Van Horn said. "Frank was on the mound...and we were getting ready to bring Brady in, and I felt like we were going to score because we had been having good at-bats where we weren’t getting ourselves out, chasing pitches in the dirt and all that."
Josenberger doubled home Rowland in the sixth inning to pull the Razorbacks within 7-6, and Jace Bohrofen tied the game with a sacrifice fly to score Wegner in the seventh.
Arkansas had four sacrifice flies.
“They had a big impact," Josenberger said. "We have been working our butts off all fall and all spring to capitalize on situations like that.”
Josenberger finished 2 for 2 with 2 RBI, walked twice, scored twice and had a stolen a base in the lead-off role.
"He’s got a good eye, he can handle the bat, he can bunt, steal bases," Van Horn said. "He brings a lot to the table."
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