Diggs delivers knockout swing

Arkansas designated hitter Kendall Diggs (5) is greeted by teammates after he hit a game-winning home run during the 11th inning of a game against Texas A&M on Wednesday, May 24, 2023, at the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala.

HOOVER, Ala. — University of Arkansas baseball Coach Dave Van Horn said he was hoping his Razorbacks could string together some hits for an extra-inning rally against Texas A&M.

“I had just made the comment to the guys, ‘Let’s get three singles in a row and get out of here,’ ” Van Horn said. “I guess Kendall didn’t take my advice and decided to hit a homer.”

Kendall Diggs, Arkansas’ sophomore designated hitter, led off the bottom of the 11th inning by sending a 2-1 fastball from Ty Sexton over the right field fence for a game-winning home run as the No. 4 Razorbacks beat the Aggies 6-5 Wednesday in an SEC Tournament matchup at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.

“When it left the bat, I thought, ‘There’s a double. … It might go,’ ” Van Horn said. “I was actually begging it to get out of the park.

“We were running out of players. We didn’t want to use any more pitching. The first game of the tournament and we’d already played 11 innings.

“We all were ready to go, and I was super excited to see that ball disappear.”

Arkansas (40-15) will play No. 3 LSU (43-13) in a winners bracket game at approximately 4:30 p.m. today after the Tigers beat South Carolina 10-3 in Wednesday’s opener.

Texas A&M (33-24) will play South Carolina (39-18) at 9:30 a.m. today in an elimination game with the winner staying alive to play the Arkansas-LSU loser on Friday.

“Going up there, I didn’t want to jump on something that really wasn’t over the plate,” said Diggs, who leads the Razorbacks with 57 runs batted in this season. “I wanted to make him come to me, and he did with that first pitch fastball.

“Next two were really good pitches, probably balls down, so 2-1 count. I knew he was going to challenge me with something.

“I was just trying to get the [bat] head out, and it was good.”

Diggs’ teammates tore off his jersey when they celebrated with him as he touched home plate.

“I’m a big college baseball fan, I’ve watched Arkansas a lot on television,” Texas A&M Coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “Diggs is one of those guys that’s just a clutch player.

“I don’t know him. I assume he’s an awesome kid and competitive. Just when you think you’ve got him, he shows up.

“He’s gotten a lot of big hits for them. I’ve seen them rip off his jersey a few times this year.”

Van Horn said he believes Diggs is a clutch hitter because he stays calm and knows the strike zone.

“I just think it’s his makeup a little bit, and he wants to be up there in that situation,” Van Horn said. “I don’t feel like he went up there trying to hit a home run.

“He was trying to get on base and he worked himself into a decent hitter’s count and he got something he could handle.”

Arkansas took a 5-4 lead in the seventh inning on Jared Wegner’s grand slam off Brandyn Garcia.

Austin Bost led off the bottom of the eight inning with a home run against Will McEntire to tie it 5-5.

“I just feel like there’s a little bit of calmness about the team,” Van Horn said of the Razorbacks’ residency, especially in a season in which they’ve been hit hard by injuries. “They’re still fighting. You could hear them talking amongst each other in the seventh inning about getting on base, getting [the Aggies] late.

“All they’ve been through this year, they don’t get too uptight. They’re just kind of like, ‘OK, that happened. Let’s go do this.’ And then they do it.”

McEntire and Zack Morris combined to pitch 9 innings in relief and held Texas A&M to 2 runs, 5 hits and 2 walks with 8 strikeouts.

Morris, a junior left-hander from Cabot, went five innings after replacing starter Cody Adcock with the bases loaded and no outs in the second.

Texas A&M took a 3-0 lead, but Morris prevented it from being a bigger inning. The only run he was credited with allowing was Ryan Targac’s home run in the seventh inning that extended the Aggies’ lead to 4-0.

The Aggies also got quality relief from Shane Sado, who went four innings and held the Razorbacks to one run.

“I thought Sado for us and Morris for them did a great job,” Schlossnagle said. “The middle innings felt like they were being played under water. Everything was just kind of slow.”

Wegner, a senior left fielder playing his fourth game since missing four SEC series recovering from surgery to repair a broken left thumb, got things sped up for the Razorbacks with his go-ahead grand slam.

Last weekend at Vanderbilt, Wegner was 1 for 11 in his return to the lineup. He started 0 for 2 on Wednesday with a hit by pitch before hitting his 13th home run of the season.

“Coming back off the injury, it’s been a struggle kind of getting my timing down,” Wegner said. “After that [grand slam] swing, I feel confident.”

The Razorbacks improved to 4-0 against the Aggies this season, including a three-game sweep in April at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville.

“I think if Coach Van Horn’s not the best coach in the country, he’s in the top one or two,” Schlossnagle said. “They play outstanding baseball. They don’t screw the game up.

“They hang around. There’s enough pitching. They played good defense.

“They just play very sound baseball. They’re balanced through the order. They can beat you in a lot of ways.

“The job they’ve done with the injuries they’ve had with a next-man-up mentality, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to get going in College Station.”

Diggs said he doesn’t do anything in particular to prepare for delivering in clutch situations.

“I think our team as a whole, we’re just playing for each other,” Diggs said. “It’s a really selfless group of guys, so I’m just doing whatever I can to help the team win.”

On Wednesday that meant Diggs hitting his 11th home run.

“Exciting way to end the game,” Van Horn said. “Walk-off homer is about as good as it gets, and I’m just proud of the guys for hanging in there.”