Diamond Hogs Notebook: Always a challenge at Dickey-Stephens Park

By: Matt Jones Matt Jones's Twitter account
Published: Tuesday, May 2, 2023
Arkansas' Harold Coll hits a home run during a game against Lipscomb on Tuesday, May 2, 2023, in North Little Rock.
( Thomas Metthe)
Arkansas' Harold Coll hits a home run during a game against Lipscomb on Tuesday, May 2, 2023, in North Little Rock.

The Arkansas baseball team played another nail biter at Dickey-Stephens Park on Tuesday. 

Such games have almost become predictable for the Razorbacks in North Little Rock. Of Arkansas’ 12 games there since 2010, 9 have been decided by 2 runs or less. 

Lipscomb’s 8-6 victory in 11 innings marked the second time the Razorbacks have lost at the home ballpark of the Class AA Arkansas Travelers. Their other loss was in 2015 when Memphis won 5-4. 

Arkansas has won 5 one-run games in North Little Rock, most recently last season when the Razorbacks defeated Central Arkansas 2-1 in 10 innings. Arkansas also has a pair of two-run victories there. 

“It’s not our home park,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said when asked why the North Little Rock games are usually tight. “It’s a totally different park than ours. This is a huge ballpark and it’s a lot different feel, so it’s really a neutral site. The fans are unbelievable here, but it’s always close.”

Tuesday’s game was the Razorbacks’ fourth that has gone to extra innings at the ballpark. Every game has been played in the midweek. 

Long ball

The two home runs hit Tuesday accounted for a rarity and a first. 

Harold Coll’s three-run homer to left-center field in the first inning was just the ninth by a Razorback at Dickey-Stephens Park. One of those home runs was inside the park by Casey Martin against Grambling State in 2019.

The list of Arkansas players who have homered in North Little Rock reads mostly like a who’s who of program greats — James McCann in 2011; Matt Reynolds in 2012; Andrew Benintendi and Cullen Gassaway in 2015; Chad Spanberger in 2017; and Heston Kjerstad, Zack Plunkett and Martin in 2019.

Lipscomb’s Chase Ketchup became the first Arkansas opponent to homer at the ballpark when he hit a two-out solo shot to center field against right-hander Will McEntire in the third inning. 

The ball might have hit the yellow line at the top of the wall, Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said, but no replay was available because the Razorbacks do not produce a stream for their games in North Little Rock.

“There’s no review here and that’s another problem,” Van Horn said. “We would have asked to challenge that.” 

Role reversal

Zack Morris inherited the bases loaded from Christian Foutch in the fourth inning, three days after Foutch replaced Morris in a bases-loaded jam during the sixth inning against Texas A&M. 

Morris was more effective in a more stressful situation. The Bisons loaded the bases with no outs against Foutch and scored twice to tie the game 3-3 on a pair of fielder’s choice groundouts. 

“We could have left him in, but we felt like we would need him this weekend,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said of Morris. “He is throwing a little bit better.”

When Foutch replaced Morris at the end of his 1 2/3-inning relief appearance last Saturday, there were two outs in the sixth inning of an 8-0 game. All three runners scored.

Foutch was the hero of Arkansas’ Game 3 victory against Tennessee on April 16 when he held the Volunteers scoreless after inheriting runners on second and third base and no outs, but he has failed to record an out in three consecutive appearances.

Foutch faced three batters in each of his outings against Texas A&M last week. Three Lipscomb hitters against him reached on two walks and a hit batsman in 14 pitches. He threw four pitches for strikes. 

Van Horn said Foutch is probably struggling with confidence. 

“What do you do?” Van Horn said. “Now you go to Mississippi State wondering if you can put him in the game.”

Foutch has failed to retire his last 12 hitters. He loaded the bases with no outs in the ninth inning at Georgia on April 22 — the end of a 1 1/3-inning relief appearance. The Bulldogs hit a grand slam and solo home run in back-to-back pitches by Ben Bybee later in that inning to win 9-8.

Bybee bounced back with two strong innings at Missouri State last Tuesday, but has struggled in his last two outings. He did not record an out against the four Lipscomb batters he faced in the sixth inning. 

“The negative is we had two kids who didn’t get an out,” said Van Horn, who added, “I think between the two of them they threw [29] pitches and seven guys are on base. That’s probably what cost us.” 

Local guys

The Razorbacks threw three pitchers who grew up within about 30 minutes of Dickey-Stephens Park. 

Bryant-native right-handers Will McEntire and Austin Ledbetter, and left-hander Zack Morris of Cabot combined to pitch seven innings. 

Ledbetter was the Razorbacks’ most effective pitcher with four scoreless innings after he entered in the top of the seventh. Arkansas trailed 6-3 when he came into the game, but it was 6-6 when he exited. 

“Ledbetter, he pitched really well,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “It was the best he has thrown in a while.” 

Morris also threw two scoreless innings. McEntire allowed one run in the second inning. 

Van Horn indicated Monday that pitchers from the Little Rock area get excited to throw near their hometowns. 

"I had a lot of friends and family come out tonight," Ledbetter said.

A fourth Arkansan, right-hander Gage Wood, threw a scoreless sixth. Wood grew up in Batesville, about 90 miles from the stadium. 

Bolton vs. Lipscomb

Arkansas played Lipscomb for the first time, but it was the fourth time for shortstop John Bolton. 

Bolton lost to the Bisons three times while playing in-state matchups during the 2021 and 2022 seasons at Austin Peay. The Lipscomb campus in Nashville, Tenn., is 55 miles from the Austin Peay campus in Clarksville, Tenn.

Bolton went 0 for 2 and walked once Tuesday. He is 2 for 7 with 3 walks in 4 starts against Lipscomb. 

Andrew Joseph contributed


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