BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
It looks like the Will McEntire Pitching Experience, which was a struggle earlier this season, is clearly back on track.
McEntire (3-0) allowed just one unearned run on three hits in a sparkling, 97-pitch, complete-game effort on the mound as Arkansas downed Louisiana Tech 6-1 Saturday afternoon at Baum-Walker Stadium.
Kendall Diggs, Peyton Holt and Jace Bohrofen all hit solo homers and Peyton Stovall came up just a homer short of the cycle in a game that was a pleasure for Razorback head coach Dave Van Horn to watch.
“Well, obviously, it was just a great job by Will McEntire, who gave us a great outing when we needed it,” Van Horn said. “We’ve had some injuries and we had to use some guys on Tuesday that we were hoping we weren’t going have to double up too much, if any, this weekend.
“For him to go out and give us like nine innings with under a hundred pitches, that was big for our bullpen and I am sure it was big for his confidence. His cutter was really good today and it made his fastball look even harder than it was.”
Only one Bulldog got to second base during the McEntire’s gem – the first nine-inning complete game by a Razorback pitcher since Dominic Taccolini’s 10-inning complete game shutout against SEC East foe Kentucky in 2016.
McEntire, a 6-4, 240-pound redshirt junior, fanned six and issued just one free pass.
“He was locating pretty much wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted it and that cutter was really good,” Van Horn said.
McEntire knew he had good stuff early and also praised catcher Hudson Polk for helping him with his gem.
“I just felt like I had most of my pitches today, and we knew they were going to be aggressive,” McEntire said, “and I’ve got to give credit to Polk behind the dish. He called a great game, getting a bunch of soft contact, and then defense played really well all day.”
McEntire begin to think about a complete game just before the seventh-inning stretch.
“I think when I went back out for the seventh and I had a fairly quick seventh, I thought that I could finish it,” McEntire said.
Van Horn knew that McEntire was going to have a strong day early on in the outing.
“I didn’t know about going the distance because you can never project that really,” Van Horn said. “But in the sixth inning, his pitch count was really low and he had couple of really quick innings…a nine pitch inning and then less than that.
“We knew he was going to be good probably going into the third.”
McEntire got ovations from the crowd after finishing the seventh and eighth innings, but admits he was too locked in to fully appreciate them.
“I mean, you hear it, but you try and block it out and just focus on what you’re trying to do at hand,” noted McEntire who said he enter the ninth saying to himself “three more outs. Just three more.”
Arkansas (12-2) is now set up to sweep the three-game series in Sunday’s 1 p.m. finale with the Bulldogs (8-6).
Hunter Hollan (2-0, 2.30) will take the mound for Arkansas, who had Friday stater Hagen Smith (3-0, 1.40) enter the fifth inning with a no-hitter in what turned into a 7-4 Razorback win.
McEntire was big down the stretch for Arkansas last season, but had struggled in the fall and in his first few outings this season.
He has lowered his ERA from over 6.00 down to 3.48 in his last two starts.
“It was frustrating,” McEntire said. “I wanted to start off how I did last year at the end of the year, and then you’ve just got to fight through it and keep getting better, and eventually you’ll find success.”
McEntire is hopeful this effort will jump start him into a great SEC season with Auburn visiting Arkansas next weekend as league plays opens.
“That’s the plan, just keep building off this start,” McEntire said.
Arkansas jumped ahead 1-0 in the first when Brady Slavens doubled home Jared Wegner, whose fielder’s choice forced out Tavian Josenberger after he singled.
The Razorback lead grew to 3-0 in the second when Diggs and Holt homered on back to back pitches from Bulldogs starting and losing pitcher Rawley Hector (1-2).
Bohrofen, hitting .442 on the season, launched his fifth home run in – and his fourth in as many games – to surge Arkansas ahead 4-0 in the fourth.
Louisiana Tech freshman Karson Evans’ RBI single cut the Bulldogs’ deficit to 4-1 in the fifth.
But the Razorbacks answered right back in the Botton in the bottom of the fifth when Stovall doubled home John Bolton for a 5-1 advantage.
“He (Stovall) was swinging it really good, and then he hurt his thumb,” Van Horn said. “Then he sat a game or two, and then he played. The first two games back, he went like 0-for-8. After that, he’s been amazing at the plate. The one today… They were all impressive, but the 1-2 pitch he went down and just smoked that thing over the first baseman’s head, that was big. They had just scored.
“…That was a big swing for us, kind of threw the momentum back on our side. He lines out to short in his only out. He hit that ball hard into center against the wind. Without the wind, that ball might hit the fence in the air or go out of the park. He’s swinging it really well, seeing it really good. “
Stovall then tripled in the eighth and scored on Jared Wegner’s single, which extended his hitting streak to seven games.
“The top of the order has done a good job,” Van Horn said. “ I feel like our hitters can wear you down mentally a little bit, fouling off pitches.”
Photo by John D. James