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.
SEC pitcher of the week McEntire gave Hogs valuable outing
Arkansas pitcher Will McEntire reacts to the final out of a game against Louisiana Tech on Saturday, March 11, 2023, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas right-hander Will McEntire shut down Louisiana Tech last Saturday, but his performance might have been equally as valuable to the Razorbacks’ upcoming week of games.
McEntire’s 97-pitch complete game gave a day of rest to the shorthanded Arkansas bullpen in advance of the sixth-ranked Razorbacks’ first week with five games.
Arkansas is scheduled to play Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the first of two games against UNLV at Baum-Walker Stadium. The team will host Auburn beginning Friday in the first SEC series of the season.
Three of the Razorbacks’ best arms — right-handers Jaxon Wiggins, Koty Frank and Brady Tygart — are injured. Wiggins (torn UCL) and Frank (torn lat) required surgery and are out for the season, and Tygart (sprained UCL) is not expected back until sometime in April.
“We haven’t been getting those 6-, 7-, 8-inning starts recently,” Arkansas coach Matt Hobbs said following McEntire’s gem. “We’ve been getting more like 4 1/3, 5, 6…and then your bullpen is thin because of what our situation is with these injuries. You need your starters to do stuff like that — I’m not saying throw a complete game, but get deep into games and keep the exposure off the bullpen a little bit.”
The SEC recognized McEntire on Monday as the league’s pitcher of the week. He shared the honor with LSU right-hander Thatcher Hurd, who struck out 18 over 11 innings in games against Butler and Samford last week.
McEntire did not allow an earned run, gave up 3 hits, walked 1 and struck out 6 during the Razorbacks’ 6-1 victory over Louisiana Tech. He threw 66 of 97 pitches for strikes.
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It was the first complete game of McEntire’s college career, besting his previous-long outing of seven innings against Auburn at last year’s College World Series. The Bryant native had not thrown a nine-inning complete game since a 2017 American Legion game in New Orleans.
“I feel like I pretty much had everything working for me,” McEntire told Razorback Sports Network following his start against Louisiana Tech. “I’ve got to give credit to [Hudson] Polk my catcher for recognizing that and just took advantage going in and out, up and down, left and right. He called a great game.”
Arkansas’ starting pitchers — McEntire and left-handers Hagen Smith and Hunter Hollan — combined to throw a season-high 19 innings against Louisiana Tech. The previous best weekend for Arkansas’ starters was 15 2/3 combined innings against Wright State.
Last Friday, Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said the Louisiana Tech series was an important time to begin stretching starting pitchers for longer outings.
“With conference play coming up and the injuries that we’ve had, and not really having the experienced bullpen like we thought we were going to have with the injuries, some guys have got to step up,” Van Horn told RSN.
That was a theme Hobbs said he hammered home the day before McEntire’s outing.
“In the huddle after the [Friday] game it’s just like, ‘The only way to win [Saturday’s] game is if people step up,” Hobbs said. “Like Dylan Carter has been stepping up and kind of filling the void of some of these guys we’ve lost. He’s acting like two pitchers right now. Will took the reins and had a huge outing and stepped up and saved the bullpen.”
Some of Arkansas’ bullpen regulars like left-hander Zack Morris and right-hander Austin Ledbetter did not pitch against Louisiana Tech and might be in line to throw multiple innings against UNLV. Freshman left-hander Parker Coil is another potential inning eater after he threw 3 2/3 innings in a start against Army last Tuesday.
The Razorbacks have not announced their pitching plans for the mid-week series.
“We’re going to take one game at a time, obviously, but we're not going to throw guys that we're going to need maybe a couple times on the weekend,” Van Horn said. “If we do [throw those pitchers] it might be for a hitter or an inning. We’re going to have to have some guys step it up this week.”
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