Another rough home start for Arkansas ace Hagen Smith

Arkansas pitcher Hagen Smith throws a pitch during a game against James Madison on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, in Fayetteville. (Hank Layton/NWA Democrat-Gazette)

FAYETTEVILLE — University of Arkansas starter Hagen Smith did not get out to the kind of start he wanted, though he notched a milestone strikeout in his brief stint on opening day.

Smith struggled to a 42-pitch first inning and he got burned by allowing a three-run home run to James Madison slugger Fenwick Trimble on a full-count pitch after giving up a walk and a hit batsman on a 0-2 pitch to open the game.

Smith was pushed to four full counts, including the 10-pitch at-bat with Trimble that featured a close check swing on a high fastball with two strikes and a foul tip at the plate that just nicked Trimble’s bat and was not squeezed by catcher Hudson White.

Trimble’s home run looked like a fairly routine fly ball to right center field but it got up into the 15 mph breeze and kept drifting back until it just cleared the wall and center fielder Ty Wilmsmeyer’s glove for a 392-foot shot.

“We put a lot of pitches on him,” James Madison Coach Marlin Ikenberry said. “We knew his stuff was really special. I just thought we did a really good job with two strikes of just fouling balls off, fouling balls off and then getting the big home run by [Trimble] early in the game.”

Two batters later, Smith recorded career strikeout No. 200 against first baseman Coleman Calabrese for the second out of the inning.

The 6-3, 225-pounder from Bullard, Texas, notched 90 strikeouts in 77 1/3 innings as a freshman and 109 strikeouts in 71 2/3 innings last year.

Smith struck out designated hitter Jacob Steinberg looking to end the first inning, giving him 201 for his career, an average of 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings.

“I’m sure the cold affected him a little bit,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said of Smith. “I don’t think it was first-game jitters.

“He just … I don’t know. He’ll be a lot better next week.”

Diamond gem

Jared Sprague-Lott not only homered in his first game, the third baseman turned in one of the best defensive plays of the day.

Sprague-Lott got a good jump on Mike Mancini’s foul pop down the line in left field, sprinted with his back to the ball and made a nonchalant over-the shoulder catch about stomach height just by the wall for the third out in the top of the fifth inning.

“That’s what we thought in the dugout as well,” Coach Dave Van Horn said. “Man, he made that look easy.

“It’s not an easy play, but I think once he got to where he felt like he needed to get, it became easy for him. Yeah, that was impressive, not only that he caught it, but he made it look like it wasn’t that big a deal.”

Arkansas pitcher Will McEntire reenacted Sprague-Lott’s positioning on the catch and thanked him for it when the Richmond transfer was being asked about it.

“Just trying to have fun with it,” Sprauge-Lott said. “Just doing whatever I could to help this guy out.”

Head games

The Razorbacks had two would-be double plays overturned on close calls at first base by umpire Jeff Head.

The Razorbacks nearly turned a phenomenal twin killing in the third inning. First baseman Ben McLaughlin made a back-hand pick on a Ryan Dooley grounder and fired to shortstop Wehiwa Aloy to retire Fenwick Trimble. Aloy’s return throw got to stretching pitcher Will McEntire at first base just as Dooley reached the bag.

Head called Dooley out, drawing a big reaction from McEntire. However, the play was reviewed and overturned. Coleman Calabrese followed with an infield single but he was thrown out by McLaughlin at second base after Peyton Holt’s wild throw to first.

The Razorbacks thought they were off the field in the top of the seventh after the second baseman Holt fielded a soft liner from Wyatt Peifer near the bag, touched the base and fired to first. Peifer was ruled out but replay overturned the call.

Schmidly reunion

The Schmidly family of Charlotte N.C., is gathered in Fayetteville and at Baum-Walker Stadium this weekend.

The likelihood of the reunion 19 years ago had to be very remote when the triplets of Max, Ike and Eli Schmidly were born premature on July 19, 2004, with birth weights of 2 pounds, 9 ounces; 3 pounds; and 3 pounds, 6 ounces. The triplets spent 85 days in the neo-natal intensive care unit.

All developed a love of sports and now all of them are freshmen at Division I programs in separate sports.

Max Schmidly is a 6-3 deep snapper who just completed his first season with the Razorbacks. Ike Schmidly is a 6-2 outfielder for James Madison, which is in town for a four-game season-opening baseball series at Baum-Walker Stadium. Eli Schmidly is a 6-foot golfer at North Carolina-Charlotte.

The trio attended Myers Park High School in Charlotte. Their older sister, Henri, is also in town along with father Jason.

According to Jason Schmidly, all of the children grew up as Razorback fans, frequently visiting family members in Arkansas.

Homer data

The first Arkansas home run of the season went to 8-hole hitter Jared Sprague-Lott on a lead-off shot in the second inning.

The third baseman’s first home run as a Razorback had an extreme launch angle of 42.9 degrees, came off the bat at 100 mph and was a high-arcing shot that landed in the bullpen beyond left field after traveling 364 feet.

Two batters later, catcher Hudson White homered to left center with a shot that had 101 mph exit velocity and went 396 feet.

White hot

The Razorbacks have a rarity with catcher Hudson White batting leadoff. The Texas Tech transfer opened the bottom of the first inning with a strikeout looking, an occurrence Coach Dave Van Horn said is rare.

White battled back to hit a home run to left-center field in the second inning off Todd Mozoki to put Arkansas ahead for good at 4-3.

“I think he was frustrated with his first at-bat because he’s one of those guys, he doesn’t strike out looking,” Van Horn said. “He might strike out, but he’s going to work at it, he’s going to foul off pitches and make you work for that. You could just tell how frustrated he was, so it was good to see.”

Said White, “Yeah, I knew I just had to get that first one out of the way. Just had to move on from it, but my approach didn’t change. My second at-bat, I was just looking for something over the middle of the plate, and I got it.”

Trimble trouble

James Madison center fielder Fenwick Trimble went 3 for 4 with a 3-run home run, double and single, and scored 2 of his team’s runs.

The Dukes’ junior was called out on strikes in the eighth inning on a Gage Wood pitch that TrackMan had out of the zone by a touch.

His three-run home run in the first inning got plenty of carry off Hagen Smith to give his team a 3-0 lead with no outs.

“Their three-hole hitter had a great day,” Arkansas Coach Van Horn said of Trimble.

“He’s just fun to watch and just does some great things,” JMU Coach Marlin Ikenberry said. “Like that three-run home run, he got the barrel there. Then he hits the ball in the four hole and gets off balance on a breaking ball and hits the ball for a double in left center.

“You know he’s one of those guys where he just does something every day when you watch him play.”

Big crowd

Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn called the attendance of 9,432 “amazing” on a game that started with a temperature of 36 degrees at first pitch with a steady wind that made it feel colder.

“I couldn’t believe how many people were here,” Van Horn said. “Man, it was cold. … It’s not good. And they stayed. It was amazing.”

Third baseman Jared Sprague-Lott, in his first game as a Razorback after transferring from Richmond, said, “It was definitely a ton of fun. It was mind blowing to see that many people dedicated to this program and to see all of us.”