Sat May 11, 2024

By Lance Hawley

Hogs Top Mississippi State 7-5
By Otis Kirk

FAYETTEVILLE -- No. 3 Arkansas rallied to come from behind Friday night to defeat No. 14 Mississippi State 7-5 thanks to a bases-loaded save from Gage Wood at Baum-Walker Stadium.

It took heroics from both Wood and Hudson White to pull off the win. The Bulldogs took a 5-4 lead with two runs in the top of the eighth. The Hogs rallied for three in the bottom half of the inning.

Peyton Holt singled to start off the rally. Jared Sprague-Lott followed with a one-out single. Wehiwa Aloy then hit another single to plate Holt making it 5-5. Ben McLaughlin then walked to load the bases with one out. White then added two more runs batted in with a single to right field providing the final margin of victory, White had hit a two-run blast over the fence in the fourth inning thus finishing with four runs batted in for the night. Dave Van Horn has seen this version of White at the plate in recent games.]

"We talked about it in Lexington that his Thursday batting practice was the best I’d seen him hit the ball in a long time and his bat speed was up a little bit," Van Horn said. "He made the comment that … I said something about ‘You’re getting it going, you’re getting hot.’ And he said that’s kind of what it’s all about. Getting it going at the end fo the year is better than at the beginning. Hey, whatever it takes. Whatever mindset you’ve got to have. But he’s been swinging the really, really good, obviously."

White, who transferred to Arkansas from Texas Tech prior to the season, is now hitting .273 after a very slow start to the season talked about what has changed.

"It was just a few adjustments in my swing, something that I’m kinda battling with all year," White said. "I finally felt like I turned that curve and it feels a lot better."

Wood, who has seen his stock rise more than any pitcher on the staff outside of Hagen Smith, in recent weeks came to the rescue in top of the ninth. Will McEntire (4-0) who got the win, allowed a walk and two singles to start the ninth. That is when Van Horn opted to bring in Wood from the bullpen. Wood got a pop up to second base, a strike out and then game-ending pop up to earn his second save of the season.

"What I saw was somebody that just went out there and competed and just seemed to enjoy being out there in that type of situation," Van Horn said. "I gave him the ball, I said, ‘hey, bases loaded, no outs. Have fun’. I walked off. I just tried to loosen him up a little bit. He just threw that high-spin, carry fastball and got a pop up. I don’t know, a strikeout and another pop up. He didn’t even throw a breaking ball. He threw a couple changeups. Really proud of him just going in there and kind of taking the bull by the horn, so to speak. He said, okay, I’m the guy. I’m going to get it done, and he did."

Wood, who is a candidate to start once the tournament's start, talked about his thoughts entering the game in a very tough situation.

"I just told myself that this is the moment that I dreamed about since I committed here and I’ve been in those positions before," Wood said. "Tonight, I pulled through and we got it done. I was just listening to fastball middle from Hudson White right here and it worked out."

With two more games remaining in the series this weekend Van Horn was asked could Wood be used again?

"Oh yeah," Van Horn said. "Yeah, he’ll be good to go. He works off adrenaline a little bit anyway. Once he calms down tonight, I think he’ll be good to roll."

The Razorbacks finished the game with 10 hits. Both Aloy and Sprague-Lott had three each. Van Horn was pleased to see Aloy get three singles and contribute without power. Many of his biggest hits this season have been home runs.

"It was big," Van Horn said. "He’s really been staying through the middle of the field during all of our batting practices. Like today, the wind was blowing out pretty hard when we were swinging at about 4:30, 5:00. Whenever it was. We hit a lot of balls out of the park, and Wehiwa’s got more power than most of the guys on the team. He didn’t hit a ball out. He hit a bunch of balls through the middle. He might have hit, maybe he hit one to dead center, but no pull. He hit everything through the middle, other way. I think his approach and the way he mentally handles his batting practice, he took it to the game and it really paid off for us."

Sprague-Lott, like White and Aloy, is another addition from the transfer portal who has been a key contributor all season. He's second on the team hitting .323 to go with seven home runs and 22 runs batted in. Van Horn was asked if he's surprised by Sprague-Lott's season?

"A little bit because in the fall, and what he did in the past, we had video of it, he was pull, pull, pull," Van Horn said. "At the beginning of the year, he was still pulling a lot. But his batting practice is the same. He didn’t come close to hitting a ball out of the park today. Everything’s through the right side, through the middle, right side. Then in the game, it might turn a little bit, but at least it’s between the lines. I think you can probably look back a month, month and a half, teams were shifting way over on him. Now, they’re keeping that second baseman over there because those flow starts are starting to show that, that he’s hitting balls over there. I just think he’s a really good hitter. He’s very coachable and has done a tremendous job of working to get better."

Holt is one of the most versatile players on the team. He has started at second and third base as well as left field prior to Friday's start in right field. He had an outstanding catch in right field against the Bulldogs to start the top of the sixth inning.

"The catch just showed just a really athletic player," Holt said. "The ball was absolutely smoked and I think it fooled him. Took a bad route to the ball, kind of up and over a little bit, and that ball started slicing back. That would have been more of a drop-step and run to the alley a little bit, but it was hit so hard and low, those are hard to judge off the bat. He made a last-second adjustment and threw his glove up there and caught it. That would have been a tough one because that would have been a leadoff double. Instead, we got an out there. It was a great play."

Smith didn't have his best start of the season. He allowed four hits and three runs in five innings. He walked four and struck out 11. Mississippi State starter Khal Stephen worked seven innings allowing four runs and six hits. Reliever Tyson Hardin (3-1) took the loss. He gave up four hits and three runs in just one inning of work.

Arkansas (41-9, 18-7) and Mississippi State (32-17, 14-11) will play Game 2 of the series on Saturday night at 6 p.m. at Baum-Walker Stadium. The game can be streamed on the SEC Network+.