FAYETTEVILLE – In his first Razorbacks start freshman right-hander Will McEntire of Bryant made a pitch to start again.
Throwing six complete innings of Arkansas’ 6-1 victory over the Grand Canyon University Antelopes Tuesday night before 2,522 ticket scanned recorded fans at Baum-Walker Stadium, McEntire, other than a home run by David Avitia leading off the third, pitched unscathed through seven GCU hits. McEntire struck out three against but one walk and on 68 efficient pitches made short worked of the Antelopes handing lefty reliever Caden Monke a 6-1 lead to start the seventh.
Monke also impressed, Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said, throwing three shutout innings allowing just one hit and no walks with one strike out.
McEntire earned the start striking out four without a hit or a walk debuting in two relief innings of Arkansas’ 15-2 victory over South Alabama last Saturday. He’s now in the running to start next Tuesday night’s nonconference game against the Oklahoma Sooners in Oklahoma City if not used Sunday in SEC relief against Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss.
“I thought he did a great job first start ever at this level and facing a team that’s starting to get their offense going,” Van Horn said. “ If you throw strikes and get ahead in the count and you play a little defense, you’ve got a really good chance to be in every game. That’s what he did. He threw a lot of strikes and pitched backwards a little bit and threw his fastball when he needed to, a lot of cutters and mixed in a few breaking balls.”
If McEntire ever was nervous he didn’t give it time to show with scant time between pitches.
“I just kind of like working fast because it kind of gets me in a pace to keep me going through the entire game,” McEntire said. “Pacing to me is a very important key to keep the same rhythm the whole game.”
Heston Kjerstad 3 for 3 with a RBI then removed for a pinch runner after being hit an eighth-inning pitch above his wrist.
Van Horn and Kjerstad postgame both said Kjerstad is fine and that he was replaced to the arm iced immediately.
Robert Moore, 3 for 4 with an RBI, paced a 12-hit Arkansas attack marred by striking out 13 times against GCU pitchers Cal Lambert and Brodie Cooper-Vassalakis and left 11 on base.
“We let some at-bats slip away and some really big opportunities slip away,” Van Horn said. “We’re fortunate that they didn’t make a run at us because we would’ve been in trouble. Any time you leave as many runners as we left on base the first five innings a lot of times it’ll come back and get you. A lot of singles tonight and some good plays in the field. But offensively just didn’t do a very good job with runners in scoring position.
Arkansas, 10-5, and GCU, 9-8 of Phoenix, Ariz. and the Western Athletic Conference, finish their 2-game series at 3 p.m today.
Friday through Sunday Arkansas opens SEC play at Mississippi State.
Tuesday night Arkansas jumped left-handed GCU starter Lambert for four runs in the second inning.
Braydon Webb, Opitz, Jacob Nesbit and Moore opened with singles. The Nesbit and Moore singles respectively drove in Webb and Opitz. Cole Austin’s forceout at second scored Nesbit from third. Matt Goodheart’s 2-out single scored Austin after a Kjerstad walk.
Not so fast Antelopes base running, Juan Colato was thrown trying to steal for the first inning’s last out, and Dominic Grisson ended the second thrown out by Arkansas center fielder Christian Franklin to run first to third on Tayler Aguilar’s single, wasted three hits off McEntire the first two innings.
“Oh, that was awesome,” McEntire said of the Opitz and Franklin throw-outs. “Any time the defense makes a great play for you the momentum goes to your dugout. So as soon as those two plays happened I knew I was going to have a good night because that momentum got on my side.”
For GCU’s fourth hit, eighth-hitting catcher Avitia wasted a McEntire pitch his home run over left leading off the third. McEntire retired the next three.
McEntire joked his intrasquad games experiences against Preseason All-American Kjerstad helped him put Avitia’s blast in the rearview mirror.
“Heston did a good job for me on that,” McEntire said. “I think he’s hit four off me. So that’s nothing new trying to shake off a home run and go on to the next batter.”
Arkansas left bases loaded without scoring in the third. Arkansas’ leading hitter entering the game, .426, Franklin on the final out struck out for the third time against lefty Lambert on a creeping, 69 miles per changeup after an 87 mph fastball.
The Razorbacks re-loaded them with none out chasing Lambert for reliever Cooper-Vassalakis in the fourth netted just one run unearned. A GCU error enabled Casey Opitz to log a sacrifice fly instead of a fourth inning-ending out.
Kjerstad’s third single netted a fifth-inning run for Arkansas’ last tally.
END OF STORY, LINESCORE FOLLOWS)
Grand Canyon…001 000 000 – 1 8 1
Arkansas……….040 110 00x – 6 12 0
Lambert, Cooper-Vassalakis and Avitia; McEntire, Monke (7) and Opitz.
HR-Grand Canyon: Avitia (1).
W-McEntire (1-0). L-Lambert (0-2)
Photos courtesy of Craven Whitlow, CW3 Sports Action