Ethan Westerman is a reporter for the Hawgs Sports Network. He has bachelor's degrees in journalism and marketing from the University of Arkansas.
Free passes bite Broncos in regional loss to Arkansas
Santa Clara pitcher Cole Kitchen meets with catcher Ben Steck on Friday, June 2, 2023, during the Razorbacks’ 13-6 win over Santa Clara in the first round of the NCAA Fayetteville Regional at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Entering its NCAA Fayetteville Regional opener, the Santa Clara pitching staff had allowed the 10th-fewest walks among tournament teams.
What is typically a strong suit of the Broncos was their downfall Friday against Arkansas. Though the Razorbacks were unable to manufacture a hit or run until the fourth inning, they drew 4 walks against Santa Clara starter Cole Kitchen—including 3 in a 4 at-bat stretch— to chase the right-hander after 3 innings.
When he left the game, the Broncos were ahead 2-0. Coach Rusty Filter noted Kitchen's pitches had begun to elevate, and that “he has a hard time getting it back down.”
It was the onset of a theme for Santa Clara pitchers. Key to a 13-6 victory for Arkansas was 10 walks drawn in 8 innings — well above the 3.48 walks allowed per 9 innings by Santa Clara entering the game — along with 3 hit batsmen.
“I can't remember the last time that we've walked 10 batters and hit [three],” Santa Clara coach Rusty Filter said. “That is very uncharacteristic of our club.”
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The Razorbacks grabbed a 5-2 lead — their first of the game — in the fourth inning when designated hitter Kendall Diggs hit a bases-clearing single against Skylar Hales.
Hales, whose fastball was clocked 98 mph, exited to begin the sixth after allowing 4 runs on 5 hits with 1 walk.
“We took some pitches that were more so-called pitcher’s pitches,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said, “and just kept flipping the count, getting it in our favor, and got some big hits. It was really good to see our team do that. We fouled off a lot of pitches and got a couple of big hits.”
Arkansas’ hitters then went through three more Santa Clara pitchers after Hales, continued to punish the Broncos for free passes. Three consecutive walks issued by Blake Hammond with the bases loaded in the sixth inning stretched the score to 10-3.
“We knew going in that Arkansas is probably the only team that we've played all year that sees more pitches per plate appearance than we do,” Filter said. “I think they're 3.98 [in that statistic and] we're 3.92 —really good job being patient, getting their pitch.
“We were unable to get the count into our favor, stay ahead in the count, and they made us pay for it…. a couple home runs, and then once again, the walk totals.”
The Broncos finished with 13 hits — three more than the Razorbacks — but the discrepancy between the teams in free passes made all the difference. Arkansas’ three pitchers — Hunter Hollan, Will McEnitre and Cody Adcock — combined for five walks.
McEntire, who pitched a game-high five innings, issued the fewest walks for the Razorbacks with one.
“He was coming and throwing strikes,” Santa Clara right fielder Michael O’Hara said of McEntire. “He was getting ahead in counts for the most part and that's all you can ask probably from their side of it.”
In the first three innings, Arkansas manufactured four base runners. Over the next four, the Razorbacks produced 19 runners and exploded for 13 runs.
All eight runs in the sixth and seventh innings were scored either by home runs or walks.
“I think even though we didn't have any hits through three, we stayed confident,” said Arkansas center fielder Tavian Josenberger, who hit a two-run home run in the sixth. “We did hit a lot of balls hard right at people, so we just stuck with the approach and finally got some big hits.”
Arizona is the only Fayetteville Regional team which entered allowing fewer walks than Santa Clara. The Wildcats averaged 3.39 walks per nine innings prior to their game against TCU on Friday.
TCU entered allowing 4.21 walks per game (86th national) and Arkansas entered allowing 4.38 walks per game (116th).
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