Mon June 03, 2024

By Lance Hawley

Hogs See Season End at Regionals
By Otis Kirk

FAYETTEVILLE -- No. 5 Arkansas, which was the top seed in the Fayetteville Regional was eliminated on Sunday afternoon by SEMO 6-3 in an embarrassing end to the season at Baum-Walker Stadium.

Arkansas (44-16) entered the tournament having lost four of its last five games and only managed a 17-9 win over SEMO on Friday in this event. They were sent to the loser's bracket Saturday night 7-6 by No. 3 seed Kansas State. SEMO, the fourth seed and Kansas State are playing Sunday night. If SEMO wins it will force another game on Monday. For the second year in a row, Dave Van Horn saw his highly-ranked team not get out of its own regional.

"Yeah, just what a great job by SEMO’s pitchers today," Van Horn said. "I mean they threw four guys at us that really located. They pitched out of a couple of jams. The starter got them off to a really good start, just throwing strikes and giving their guys an opportunity to to get a lead."

Arkansas started Gage Wood and hoped for a good outing by him that was supported by clutch hitting. In the loss to Kansas State on Saturday night, Arkansas stranded 13 runners to only two for the opponent. The Hogs only managed six hits on Sunday and stranded seven runners again.

"Probably the tough one for us is we’re down 6-1 and get a leadoff single and a double in the seventh," Van Horn said. "We’re thinking if we could just cut this lead in half, get it to 6-3 at a minimum that inning.

"They bring in a reliever and he gets a ground ball to third, a pop up, another ground ball and we don’t score. You know that was difficult. But you’ve got to give them credit. They pitched us good. They kept us off balance. A lot of off-speed, especially the first guy, (Collin) Wilma. He threw against us the other day and he was pretty good, so we’d seen him. But he was better today obviously. He stepped it up. Congratulations to Andy (Sawyers) and those guys getting a chance to move on."

SEMO Coach Sawyers complimented Wilma as well. He worked 4.2 innings allowing just one hit and a run to go with two walks and six strikeouts.

"I thought Simba was masterful today," Sawyers said. "Kind of his unique pitch, when we recruited Collin he was throwing 84 miles per hour and he had this big, slow curveball that he could command with uncommon control with it. We took him because of that breaking ball. 

"In college everybody’s supposed to throw 92, and he’s worked hard at velocity and all that, but always the thing in the back of his pocket was that slow curveball. That was the thing we originally recruited him for. And we get in this environment against a really good team like Arkansas, a bunch of bat-speed hitters, and suddenly that slow pitch becomes even more important. And I thought his ability to throw that  breaking ball for a strike, virtually in any count — hitter’s count, plus count, any time they had leverage — here came that breaking ball."

Logan Katen (2-0) got the win and Kyle Miller earned his eighth save of the season. Wood (3-2) took the loss. He pitched 3.0 innings, allowed four hits, four runs, only walked one and fanned four. In all Arkansas used six pitchers on the day.

Second baseman Peyton Stovall was still in disbelief of Arkansas winning only one game in its regional at home. The Hogs were 33-3 in Baum-Walker entering the regional.

"Yeah, it’s always shocking when you want to go out there and win at home," Stovall said. "We were fighting and wanted to keep playing as long as we could. Just really grateful for this year, Coach Van Horn, my teammates and congratulations to SEMO."

Former Bryant standout Will McEntire was one of Arkansas' pitchers on the day. He worked 1.2 innings, allowing two hits, one run, walking none and striking out four. He was emotional after the game.

"These past five years have been the best five years of my life," McEntire said. "I’ve made lifelong friends, I’ve played against competition I never dreamed or thought I’d play against and I’ve grown as a person and a player. I never thought I’d be in the situations I got to be in."

Van Horn tried to explain how the team could play so well at home most of season and then collapse in the regional.

"Well, we didn’t pitch very well," Van Horn said. "That was pretty obvious the last month. It’s, you know, we were rolling pretty good early. You’ve got bing, bang, boom. You’ve got 1-2-3. You’ve got two lefts and a right, and they’re all going to give you innings. They’re all experienced, and then all of a sudden you can see a little crack in the armor. One got wild. One’s always having issues with his arm. The steady is Smith. Smith was the guy. He was a rock. He carried us. The whole season, that guy carried us. I just think the pitching got a little tired. 

"Offense has been a roller-coaster all year. Whether it’s a shoulder injury or a bad start for different players, we had to fight for so many wins. You just go back and look at our scores, I’m going to say in the SEC we had played 15-to-18 games, win-or-lose by less than three runs.

"Everything was tight. We didn’t blow anybody out. They didn’t blow us out. A lot of 5-4, 3-2. I mean, it was stressful. I think maybe it just beat us up a little bit mentally. By the time we got done at A&M, I was hoping that we had recovered a little bit. I thought we had. We hit at the tournament. We didn’t pitch good at the tournament at all. Gave up nine runs, and I don’t know how many else."

Arkansas' lone runs on Sunday included a home run by Peyton Holt and a two-run shot by Parker Rowland. Holt was on base when Rowland hit his home run.

The season did see Arkansas win the SEC West.