Hogs 1 win from SEC title after strong start at Vandy

By: Matt Jones Matt Jones's Twitter account
Published: Thursday, May 18, 2023
Arkansas pitcher Will McEntire throws during a game against Vanderbilt on Thursday, May 18, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn.
( Nathan DeSutter, Arkansas Athletics )
Arkansas pitcher Will McEntire throws during a game against Vanderbilt on Thursday, May 18, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The second-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks got a solid start Thursday night from their lineup and a great finish from an unexpected source.

Arkansas scored four runs in the first inning and right-hander Will McEntire threw four scoreless innings in relief of Hagen Smith as the Razorbacks defeated Vanderbilt 8-2 in the first game of their series in front of 3,802 at Hawkins Field. The teams are scheduled to play again Friday at 7 p.m.

“I just think they came out and kind of played the way they have been — very confident, loose, not worrying about what everybody else is doing and just played baseball,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “Really we just tried to take care of business tonight, try to do it again tomorrow. I really liked what I saw; really good approach.”

Arkansas (39-13, 20-8 SEC) moved one step closer to winning an SEC championship. The Razorbacks can clinch at least a share of the title with a win or losses by Florida at Kentucky, and LSU at Georgia on Friday. 

Arkansas would win the league outright with one more victory coupled with one loss by the Gators.

Florida won 10-3 in its series opener at Kentucky on Thursday. The Gators trail the Razorbacks by one game in the standings with two games to play.

“Twenty [wins] in this league is tough, really tough to get to,” Van Horn said. “That's a big number….At first, you just try to get to 15. You get to 15, you feel like you've got a chance to be in a regional. Anything after that might lead to having a chance to win something.”

Arkansas also kept a 1 1/2-game lead over LSU in the SEC West standings and can win the division with one more victory or one LSU loss. The Tigers won 8-5 in 12 innings at Georgia on Thursday. 

Vanderbilt (35-17, 17-11) was eliminated from championship contention overall, but is still alive to share the SEC East title with Florida. The Commodores lost their fourth consecutive game.

“We just didn’t play well in any category,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. “We didn’t get off to a good start and we did ourselves in too many times, and you can’t do that with a good team. We put too many guys on base.”

Brady Slavens’ two-run home run gave the Razorbacks a 4-0 lead against Vanderbilt right-hander Patrick Reilly in the first inning. Slavens’ 398-foot shot came on a 1-2 count with two outs and scored Caleb Cali.

Cali reached on one of two Vanderbilt errors in the inning. Second baseman RJ Austin misplayed a grounder off the bat of Cali, which allowed Tavian Josenberger and Jared Wegner to score.

Josenberger walked and Wegner was hit by a pitch during Reilly’s 36-pitch first inning that included four walks. Reilly was taken out of the game after walking two more batters in the top of the second.

He allowed 5 runs, but only 1 earned, on 2 hits, 6 walks and 1 hit batsman in 1 2/3 innings.

“We knew his percentage of strikes was not as high as, I guess, a strike thrower,” Arkansas left fielder Jared Wegner said. “We needed to make sure he threw the ball in and we got good pitches to hit. We didn’t need to swing at borderline pitches early in counts, and he just gave us quite a bit and we capitalized on it.”

The first inning could have gone much differently. After he drew a lead-off walk, Josenberger was caught in a rundown after a pick-off throw by Reilly, but first baseman Parker Noland threw wide of shortstop Jonathan Vastine at second base.

Vanderbilt committed a season-high four errors. The Commodores entered the game with the best conference-only fielding percentage of .986.

“They are young kids and they are pressing,” Corbin said. “I can see it, you can see it. That’s not us.”

Kendall Diggs drew a one-out walk against Reilly in the first, but was thrown out trying to advance to third base on a pitch that was bounced. Slavens hit his ninth home run moments later.

Cali singled home Josenberger in the second inning to give the Razorbacks a 5-0 lead. Arkansas led 7-0 midway through the fourth inning on an infield single by Peyton Holt and Vanderbilt’s third miscue — a throwing error by Vastine.

Batting seventh, Holt went 3 for 4 and scored on a wild pitch by right-hander Sam Hliboki in the seventh inning to give the Razorbacks an 8-2 lead. He also made two strong plays from his position at second base to rob hits, including one to end the fifth inning on a well-hit ball by RJ Schreck. 

Playing on the outfield grass, Holt slid on his knees to make a play to his right, then threw a two-hop ball across his body to Slavens at first base for the out.

“He just had a great game,” Van Horn said. “It’s nice having somebody down there in the bottom third of the order starting rallies and also driving in runs.”

McEntire relieved Smith after five innings. It was a stray from recent outings for McEntire, who piggybacked Brady Tygart’s last three starts in the second game of series against Texas A&M, Mississippi State and South Carolina.

By closing the game, McEntire saved freshman right-hander Gage Wood for later in the series.

“We had four innings to go,” Van Horn said. “We didn’t feel like we needed to bring Gage in right there and we went with Will.”

McEntire allowed 1 hit and struck out 6 during his 52-pitch outing. It came five days after he threw 98 pitches against South Carolina.

“I felt good,” McEntire said. “It wasn’t hard. The offense gives us a big lead and I’m just going up there trying to pump strikes and get outs.”

Smith allowed 2 runs, 5 hits and 2 walks, and struck out 7 during his 84-pitch start. He threw 57 pitches for strikes.

Smith faced the minimum through the first three innings. Noland had an RBI single against him in the fourth inning and Enrique Bradfield hit an RBI single in the fifth.

“Hagen Smith is real,” Corbin said. “That’s a really good arm, a really competitive kid.”

Hliboki pitched 5 1/3 innings after replacing Reilly in the second inning. He gave up 4 hits, walked 2 and struck out 7 during his 75-pitch outing that included 53 strikes.

Arkansas improved to 9-1 in its last 10 SEC games.

CORRECTION: An earlier version did not mention LSU's role in the clinching scenario. It has been corrected.


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