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.
Sixth inning saved Tygart for another day
Arkansas center fielder Tavian Josenberger (12) celebrates Friday, June 2, 2023, with designated hitter Kendall Diggs after hitting a two-run home run during the sixth inning of the Razorbacks’ 13-6 win over Santa Clara in the first round of the NCAA Fayetteville Regional at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — As Arkansas’ hitters came to the plate for a decisive sixth inning Friday, a kettle of vultures flew high above Baum-Walker Stadium.
From behind home plate it appeared as if the birds were circling Santa Clara’s bullpen. Above the Razorbacks’ bullpen was a clear June sky.
It was an ominous sign for the Broncos just before Arkansas blew open a tight game. The Razorbacks’ 5-3 lead midway through the sixth inning became 10-3 by inning’s end.
Arkansas went on to beat the Broncos 13-6.
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The Razorbacks led 5-2 after Kendall Diggs cleared the bases with a three-run hit in the fourth inning, but Santa Clara scratched back with a run in the top of the fifth to close the deficit to 5-3.
It appeared the Broncos might inch closer when seven-hole hitter Malcolm Williams led off with a single and went to second base on an errant pick-off throw by Will McEntire. Williams went to third base on a sacrifice bunt.
Ben Steck could not advance Williams when he popped up to Peyton Holt at second base. Williams was stranded after lead-off hitter JonJon Berring fouled out to third baseman Caleb Cali.
Then came the game’s most important swing.
Following a lead-off single by John Bolton in the bottom of the sixth, Tavian Josenberger tried unsuccessfully to put down a bunt that would have advanced Bolton into scoring position. Josenberger went into swing mode with two strikes and ran the count full when Nick Sando missed with a 2-2 pitch.
On 3-2, Josenberger blasted a two-run opposite-field home run to Arkansas’ bullpen. That gave the Razorbacks a 7-3 lead and was the start to their second five-run inning.
After Josenberger and two-hole hitter Peyton Holt, the left-handed Sando would have seen consecutive lefties in the order, Diggs and Brady Slavens.
“We feel like with one out and a runner at second base, we’re in a pretty good spot to control the inning,” Santa Clara coach Rusty Filter said. “It doesn’t always go that way. Unfortunately we left the ball up over the plate, and that’s not where it’s supposed to be.
“That was a definite, definite momentum change for them. That was a big play in the game.”
It was the third career home run from the right side for Josenberger, a switch hitter. He homered once against a left-hander in two seasons at Kansas and also homered from the right side during a March 18 game against Auburn.
Prior to Friday, Josenberger had not homered at all since April 16.
“Coach gave me bunt and I didn’t get the bunt down,” Josenberger said. “Looking back, it’s a good thing.”
As key as the big sixth inning was to the outcome against Santa Clara, it could be equally as crucial to Arkansas’ prospects to win the regional. Once the Razorbacks took a comfortable lead, right-hander Brady Tygart was able to sit down in the Arkansas bullpen.
“He was coming in,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “We had a two-run lead and then it went to four [on Josenberger’s home run]. We said if it gets to six or more he’s not coming in, and that’s what happened.”
Tygart has not pitched in relief since he returned from an elbow injury April 28. He has started all five of his appearances since then in an effort to manage the intensity level of his outings.
By preparing to return to a bullpen role, Van Horn said it is an indication Tygart is 100% healed from an ulnar collateral ligament sprain he suffered March 1.
“We just informed him today…that if we have a chance to win the game and we’ve already used a couple of guys, we have to finish it with him if we have that opportunity,” Van Horn said. “He was all about it.”
Van Horn said there is a chance Tygart might pitch in relief in Game 2 or start Game 3 — or do both.
That scenario probably wouldn’t have been in play without the events of the sixth inning.
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