Matt Jones is the editor of the Hawgs Sports Network. He is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has a bachelor's and master's degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas.
Razorbacks beat Santa Clara in NCAA regional opener
Arkansas second baseman Peyton Holt slides into home plate during the fourth inning of an NCAA regional game against Santa Clara on Friday, June 2, 2023, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — An early scare gradually gave way to a comfortable victory for the Arkansas baseball team Friday at Baum-Walker Stadium.
Powered by a pair of five-run innings and a long relief outing from right-hander Will McEntire, the Razorbacks defeated Santa Clara 13-6 in the first game of the NCAA Fayetteville Regional.
Arkansas (42-16) advanced to the winner’s bracket of the regional and will play Saturday at 8 p.m. against the winner of tonight’s game between TCU and Arizona. The loser of tonight’s game will play Santa Clara in an elimination game Saturday at 2 p.m.
McEntire pitched five innings in relief after starter Hunter Hollan lasted only 2 1/3 innings. McEntire entered with Arkansas trailing 2-0, but left to a standing ovation in the eighth inning and the Razorbacks ahead 13-4.
McEntire allowed 3 runs on 8 hits and 1 walk, and struck out 2. He threw 55 of 81 pitches for strikes, but was more in command than his final line would indicate. Ten of his pitches outside the strike zone came in his final inning as he tired on a humid, 87-degree day.
"We wouldn't have won if he hadn't have come in there and slowed them down and gave us an opportunity to gain a little confidence and score some runs," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said.
Santa Clara (35-19) scored twice against Hollan in the first with an RBI single by Efrain Manzo. Dawson Brigman and Michael O’Hara singled and doubled with one out and scored on Manzo’s one-out single.
Hollan’s velocity might have been down slightly, according to the in-stadium radar gun, with a fastball that topped at 92 mph. His slider was effective against the Broncos’ hitters, but the fastball was hit hard.
"I just feel like that they were on him," Van Horn said. "Maybe it just wasn't a good matchup, so we just said we're going to need to make a move here, and it worked out."
The Razorbacks scored five runs in the fourth and sixth innings after they forced the Broncos to their bullpen. Santa Clara right-hander Cole Kitchen no-hit Arkansas through three innings, but struggled with command and was replaced after he walked Caleb Cali in five pitches to lead off the fourth.
Hard-throwing right-hander Skylar Hales — a high-round prospect for this year’s MLB Draft — gave up four singles and walked a batter after he replaced Kitchen in the fourth. Parker Rowland’s one-out single and John Bolton’s sacrifice fly tied the game, and the Razorbacks took a 5-2 lead when Kendall Diggs cleared the bases with a two-out bloop single that went off the glove of diving center fielder Coleman Brigman.
The hit improved Diggs’ batting average to .471 with the bases loaded. The team leader with 61 RBI, Diggs has driven in 27 runs with the bases loaded.
"I think even though we didn't have any hits through three or four, we stayed confident," said Tavian Josenberger, the Arkansas center fielder who had a hit in the inning. "We did hit a lot of balls hard right at people, so we just stuck with the approach and finally got some got some big hits."
Arkansas’ go-ahead inning followed a run-saving defensive play by second baseman Peyton Holt to end the top of the fourth. With runners at first and second base, lead-off hitter JonJon Berring hit a liner to the right of Holt, who charged and made a leaping catch to bring life to the announced crowd of 11,078.
"I think the ball was going to get to the gap and drop in there," Van Horn said. "They were going to score one and have runners first and third with two outs again."
Arkansas scored five more runs in the sixth inning. John Bolton singled to lead off and Josenberger followed with a two-strike, two-run home run to opposite-field right after he failed to lay down a bunt. It was Josenberger’s first home run since an April 16 game against Tennessee, and first homer from the right side since a March 18 game against Auburn.
Three more runs scored in the inning when right-hander Blake Hammond walked Jared Wegner, Rowland and Bolton with two outs and the bases loaded. Bolton’s second RBI gave the Razorbacks a 10-3 lead.
Cali hit a three-run home run with one out in the seventh to make Arkansas’ lead 13-3.
Santa Clara scored twice against McEntire in the eighth, including a solo home run by Eamonn Lance. Arkansas right-hander Cody Adcock stranded two base runners in the eighth and allowed a two-out run in the ninth.
Arkansas walked 10 times against Santa Clara pitching, including four times against the starter Kitchen.
"I can't remember the last time that that we walked 10 batters and hit two," Santa Clara coach Rusty Filter said. "That's very uncharacteristic of our club."
The Razorbacks loaded the bases with a hit batsman and two walks against Kitchen in the third inning, but came away empty when Brady Slavens grounded out to first base.
The Broncos out-hit the Razorbacks 13-10. Both teams stranded double-digit base runners — 12 for Santa Clara and 10 for Arkansas.
The Razorbacks won their eighth consecutive regional opener dating to 2014. The Broncos are playing in a regional for the first time since 1997.
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