Wed May 01, 2024

By Lance Hawley

Gage Wood Very Sharp in Opener
By Otis Kirk

FAYETTEVILLE -- No. 2 Arkansas got an impressive start from former Batesville standout Gage Wood who made his first career start in a 12-7 win over Missouri State Tuesday night at Baum-Walker Stadium.

Wood pitched three innings, allowing just one hit and striking out four while facing just nine hitters. Wood (3-1) exited with Arkansas leading 9-0 after three innings which included a grand slam from shortstop Wehiwa Aloy in the first inning. Dave Van Horn liked what he saw from Wood.

"I thought Gage Wood came out and did a great job, gave us three really good innings," Van Horn said. "We had built up a lead after the first inning. That second inning he came out and got them out quick. That’s big. We came in and scored another one and left one or two out there. But came back and scored four more in the third. We kind of cruised after that. Their pitching settled in a little bit. They took advantage of a couple of walks.

"(Cooper) Dossett walked them a couple of times, gave up a hit and just struggled out there. We went to Christian (Foutch) and it was kind of strange, it didn’t seem like he was throwing as hard as normal and then all of a sudden he did. He did a good job for us. Got us in the dugout on about nine pitches. Because they’d already punched in enough. I know the one seeing-eye - I call it a seeing eye - single that got under (Peyton) Stovall’s glove. But they really didn’t hit the ball hard off him."

Wood is a key member of Arkansas' bullpen. He was asked how comfortable he was starting?

""As comfortable as you can get I guess," Wood said. "It was more fun than anything."

More comfortable as a starter or reliever?

"They both have their pros and cons but I would say I feel like I am fully capable of doing them both," Wood said. "Starting, you don't have to be as perfect because it's a fresh game. Coming out of the pen when it's a late game when it is 1 run game or tied or whatever it is, you have to be that much better with your command and pitches."

Van Horn was asked if Wood could become a starter at some point?

"Maybe not so much this year but it could happen," Van Horn said. "You know if we had a couple of more mid-week games I guess I could see it. But unless one of our starters struggles or gets banged up a little bit we’ll probably keep him in more of a leverage role in the middle of a game. Just maybe for the future, just wanted him to start. And the future could be now. You just never know how it’s gonna go. But it was just good to see him go out there and throw the ball over the plate and make them swing the bat and he mixed pretty well."

As noted, Aloy (1-for-4, HR, 4 RBI) swatted his team-leading 11th home run in the bottom half of the first, connecting on his third grand slam of the year to put the Razorbacks up, 4-0, before recording an out. After Peyton Holt (2-for-5, RBI) added an RBI single in the second inning, Arkansas scored four more in the third, including RBI base knocks by Jack Wagner (1-for-4, RBI) and Hudson White (1-for-4, 2B, RBI), to open a commanding 9-0 advantage at Baum-Walker. Van Horn liked the start with the grand slam.

"That was a great start," Van Horn said. "I mean, what more could you want? You got a two-strike base hit by Stovall, Holt singles and then Sprague lays down a great bunt with the third baseman deep. You figure at the minimum if you get something down, you’re at least going to get a sac out of it. He ends up laying down a base hit and then… I think they were a little… It was kind of, you’re on the road, playing in front of a lot of people and the first three batters reached base like that, it was quick. Stovall’s at bat took some time, Holt’s at bat was quick, the bunt was quick and then Aloy hit a homer on the first pitch, I think. You gotta give him credit. He recovered, got through the inning. I was hoping we could score another run, like starting the inning over, but we didn’t. But it was good to score again, that run there, and get his pitch count up in the second."

Missouri State would answer with four runs in the top of the fourth and three more in the top half of the seventh, but Arkansas, which used seven pitchers in relief, would maintain a healthy lead throughout Tuesday night’s ballgame. Ryder Helfrick (1-for-4, 2B, RBI) added to the Razorbacks’ edge with his run-scoring double, while Jared Sprague-Lott (2-for-4, HR, RBI) jacked a solo home run in the bottom of the eighth to strengthen the Hogs’ advantage.

The Arkansas pitching staff combined for 15 strikeouts Tuesday night, led by Wood’s four punchouts. In relief, Dossett (0.1 IP, 4 R, 1 SO), Foutch (0.2 IP, 2 SO), Stone Hewlett (0.2 IP, 2 SO), Will McEntire (1.0 IP, 1 SO), Parker Coil (1.0 IP, 3 R, 1 SO), Gabe Gaeckle (1.0 IP, 2 SO) and Jake Faherty (1.0 IP, 2 SO) contributed to the Hogs’ strikeout total.

" Just trying to get some guys some work," Van Horn said. "Really wanted McEntire to get out there and throw an inning tonight and he did a good job with it. And we wanted Gaeckle to throw one inning tonight and that’s why we didn’t bring him back out. We probably used a couple of guys we were going to throw tomorrow tonight. So they might have as well. I imagine both teams will be a little thin on pitching tomorrow with conference coming up and what it means for both teams. But it was an opportunity to play some other guys tonight and just did it. Seemed like a lot of guys contributed and it was a good win for us."

Arkansas and Missouri State close out the midweek series Wednesday at Baum-Walker Stadium, with first pitch between the Razorbacks and Bears is scheduled for 4 p.m. Wednesday, May 1, on SEC Network+. With a midweek series sweep against Missouri State, Arkansas can finish unbeaten in midweek contests for the first time since 2005.

Photos Courtesy of Craven Whitlow CW3 Sports Action