BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
If you are forced to spend a few extra innings at the ballpark, it’s probably best to leave with a win.
That’s what Arkansas did Wednesday, fighting off a couple of Illinois State rallies before eventually taking a 10-9 win over the stubborn Redbirds in 11 innings.
Peyton Stovall doubled and raced home on Kendall Diggs’ game-winning two-bagger in a contest where head coach Dave Van Horn’s Razorbacks (6-2) rallied from a 5-3 deficit and also blew a 9-7 advantage.
“It’s good to see it and good for the guys to feel it a little bit and be a part of that and know they can do that,” Van Horn said. “We hit a lot of balls hard. We just missed a lot of balls. We hit a lot of fly balls to the warning track. It was getting frustrating.”
Arkansas finally got three over the fence in the seventh in back-to-back-back fashion as Stovall, Diggs and Caleb Cali – homered in a welcome sight for Van Horn.
It was Cali’s first hit of the season after going 0 of 12.
“I think two innings in a row we flew out (deep) like five or six times,” Van Horn said. “Most of them were hit pretty good, they just didn’t get all of it.
“Then we finally put the big inning together with three solos. It was just kind of one of those games. You could just kind of tell it was going to be crazy.”
Arkansas scored three runs in the bottom of the first off Illinois State freshman starter Thomas Harper, who only got one out before being taken out.
“I saw a freshman in an environment where they are number 13 in the country and he probably got that heart rate going faster than he wanted to,” Illinois State head coach Steve Holm said. “Ultimately we believe in that young man and he is going to be big pitcher for us. We just need him to get settled down.”
Arkansas starting pitcher Zack Morris didn’t fare much better as he did not record an out in the second and exited after giving up 5 runs and 2 runs.
That was disappointing for Van Horn, who also saw closer Brady Tygart injured in the ninth.
“Morris didn’t get off to a good start, so that was a little hard to swallow,” Van Horn said. “I wanted to give him the ball, give him the opportunity to get out there and start a game, get it going a little bit, and he got three outs, gave up five hits and it just wasn’t going good.
“Just couldn’t put people away, made a couple of mistakes with two strikes. Give them credit, they did a good job of getting hits, but we’ve got to get him going.
“If Tygart’s out for a while, or who knows what’s up, we’ve got to have some guys step it up.”
Rallying from 3-1, 8-5 and 9-7 deficits in the game was pleasing to Holm, whose team fell to 4-4.
The Redbirds tied it 9-9 in a ninth inning off Tygart and via Razorback shortstop John Bolton’s errant throw allowed the tying run to score.
Dylan Carter (1-0) came in to relieve Tygart and threw 2 1/3 innings of scoreless baseball to get the win.
“It felt really good, you know?, Carter said. “Game plan was just go out and execute, and they have a veteran lineup, and pretty much the game plan the whole night was go out there and execute like we have all pre-spring and last fall.”
Holm lamented not getting the last run.
“We just needed one more run,” Holm said. “We were playing a little bit down. We have multiple starters out at this point, but ultimately our guys played a hell of a ballgame.
“It is just one of those deals that when we are on the road against the number three team in the country, you probably need something to go your way. Late in the game, we needed one hit and we didn’t get it.”
Jared Wegner, who acknowledged post-game that his named is pronounced Wag-ner, also homered and was 3 of 5 with 3 RBIs.
Stovall and Diggs also had 3 hits each of Arkansas’ 14, one more than the visitors.
“I think it is something that we can build on,” Holm said. “I told our guys that after that, they have got to know they can play with anybody in the country.
“We got down and usually if you get down like that as a ranked team like that, you don’t get a chance to come back. Our guys have been coming back all year and that’s the same thing they did today. Obviously we tied it late and had a chance to win.”
It was especially inspiring for Holm that his team did not fade away after Arkansas rallied from the 5-3 deficit with two runs in the sixth and then took an 8-5 advantage on the trio of homers in the seventh.
“Normally that’s kind of that dagger that goes into somebody and they’re done,” Holm said. “Our team did not go away. We still ended up just one or two swings away.”
Weather permitting, Arkansas is scheduled to open a three-game series with visiting Wright State Friday at 3 p.m.
Photo by John D. James