BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
On this Friday night, it took an opener, a long reliever, a bridge and a closer on the mound for Arkansas to get to the finish line.
Brady Tygart threw a scoreless first inning in his first action in almost two months, Will McEntire sparkled with a 5 2/3 inning relief stint and Gage Wood closed the door as the Razorbacks downed Texas A&M 10-4 at Baum-Walker Stadium.
The victory gave No. 7 Arkansas (32-11, 13-7) a series win over Texas A&M (25-18, 9-11), who had won its last four SEC series and will hope to avoid being swept in Saturday’s 11 a.m. series finale.
The Razorbacks had lost four straight games heading into this series, whose final game will be televised by the SEC Network.
“I’m proud of our team, especially after the way it went last week,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. “It was a rough week. We’re going into the third game tomorrow, and we’ve already won the series. We’ve just got to figure out how we’re going to pitch it.”
Arkansas out hit Texas A&M 11-4 in game where the Aggies had 13 strikeouts.
Jace Bohrofen had three hits and three RBIs for Arkansas, including a third-inning RBI double off losing pitcher Evan Aschenbck (6-1) that gave his team a 2-1 edge.
The Razorbacks had seven of their nine hitters have at least one hit and seven score at least one run.
Kendall Diggs had an RBI infield single to reach base for a team-high 34 games and Parker Rowland a run-scoring bunt sngle in a wild fourth inning.
The Razorbacks had only one ball leave the infield during a three-run fourth inning to go up 4-1 as the Aggies struggled with defensive execution.
The small-ball rally started when Brady Slavens’ seemingly harmless bouncer hit the first bag and inexplicably turned into a stand-up triple.
“Slavens hit the bag and got a triple rather than an easy out,” Van Horn said. “ I mean, it’s crazy how things work sometimes. But we laid down a couple of bunts, we advanced some runners, we got a sac fly. What, did we bunt a guy in?
“The old-school small ball. I’ve had teams that played that a little bit. It’s been a while. Especially down in the order there, we needed to play it. Those guys are more defenders than they are offensive guys.
“And turn it over to the top [of the order]. It was good the way we just kept passing it down the line. Everybody did their job, whether it was a bunt or putting the bat on the ball to drive in a run with an out.”
Tygart threw 20 pitches in a scoreless opening inning, his first time back on the mound since suffering an ulnar colleteral sprain on March 1.
“I thought his stuff was good,” Van Horn said. “I don’t know if the board was right (on velocity). I don’t like to look the board. I looked up one time and saw 94. His breaking ball is usually always. good. I don’t know if he threw much else.
“He’s got a good change-up now. He has a two-seamer that takes off. Just wanted to see him go out and compete and kind of get his feet wet again. Kind of give us a little bit of hope, honestly.”
Tygart, who faced four batter and walked one, will continue to increase his pitch count weekly per Van Horn.
”Next week, maybe he’ll go two (innings),” Van Horn said. “Maybe he’ll go three. Maybe he’ll go 35 pitches or something. We’ll see how it goes.
“Any time we have an opportunity to get him out there, we’re going to, but tonight we just did not want him coming in in relief, to get up and get down. He needed to know he was pitching. Come in and get his 20 pitches and get out of there.”
Tygart was thrilled to be back on the mound.
“I felt great,” Tygart said. “I felt like I still didn’t have my best stuff today, definitely have stuff to work on but it felt good getting back on the field.
“…It’s been tough. I was telling people in the dugout that that felt longer than the offseason was but I’m just very grateful for you know our staff, everybody, working hard to get me back and it felt really good to be back out there.”
McEntire (6-2) has been the Razorbacks’ normal second-day starter, but instead came in to start the second inning.
He allowed three runs on two hits, walked 3 and fanned 8 on 91 pitches before coming out to a loud ovation with two outs in the seventh.
Christian Foutch came in and gave up a two-run homer to Jordan Thompson that cut Arkansas lead to 6-4 and then walked the next two Texas A&M batters before being taken out.
“McEntire gave us everything he had,” Van Horn said. “ He got up to 90 pitches. I felt like when I took him out he was tired, and he looked tired, and he didn’t fight me at all.
“I just felt like Foutch would come in, and honestly they have a hard time elevating on him, and he just jumped a fastball in about 95 and hit it out of the park. And they were back in the game.”
That brought in Wood, who hit his first batter to load the bases, but then fanned 5 in a scoreless 2 1/3-inning stint in which he allowed just one hit.
“It was the game,” Van Horn said. “If they catch us there and get a base hit and tie it, it’s gut-wrenching that we’re one out away from going into the next inning with a four-run lead…and then next thing you know they’ve got the bases loaded.
“If they get a hit there to tie it or take the lead, it’s two nights in a row we’ve got that feeling again like ‘Oh, man. This is unbelievable.’
“But Wood came through and made some good pitches, some breaking balls there. He’s got a little bit of a high-carry fastball that’s pretty effective.
“We felt like six outs was what we really wanted him to get at the most. He ended up getting seven, but it worked out.”
Ben McLaughlin, who doubled and scored on a wild pitch in the fifth, hit a two-run homer in the eighth to put Arkansas up 8-4 and gave the home team it’s original four-run lead back.
The Razorbacks had coughed up a 5-0 lead on Thursday night, but a series of eighth-inning heroics allowed them to win 7-5.
“Last night’s win was so big for us,” Van Horn said. “Because we knew we were at least going to win one with all that’s going on. But it also just gives you confidence. It’s kind of interesting how it all works.
“Then tonight you come out and we know we’re going to throw our pitcher one inning and then we’re going to bring in McEntire who got roughed up last week.
“And he comes out and he’s throwing the cutter and getting them out and you could kind of just see the momentum like ‘Hey, we can win this game.’”
It was a disappointing ending for the second night in a row for Texas A&M head coach Jim Schlossnagle.
His team was charged with just one error, but misplayed several other balls that the Razorbacks put into play.
“There were a couple of PFPs (pitcher fielding plays) that we screwed up, but really we only had three hits and struck out 13 times,” Schlossnagle said of his team that had four hits.
“McEntire pitched really, really well. We got it to 6-4 and then McLaughlin hit the homer. And Wood was great. He obviously is going to be a really good pitcher.”
Texas A&M starting pitcher Nathan Dettmer had to removed with a injury in the second inning.
“Well, he hasn’t really pitched we’ll all year for us so the way I look at it is that both teams have openers,” Schlossnagle said.
Schlossnagle is impressed with how Arkansas has been coping with a plethora of injuries.
“It’s impressive what Arkansas is doing,” Schlossnagle said. “They are missing a bunch of guys and the rest of their best players are carrying them like Diggs and Stovall and Bohrofen.
“Today was a lot different than yesterday in my opinion. We handed them, well I don’t know handed them, but when you walk them 14 times, that’s part of it.
“But today, they played really well and we had three hits, four hits, whatever it was.”
Schlossnagle and Van Horn both had plenty of conversations with the umpires.
“There is a lot riding on these games,” Schlossnagle said. “Sometimes I wonder if umpires understand that.
“We all know what separates teams in this league from a regional to making the tournament to hosting a regional. You are always just on the bubble of something. One pitch can change an at bat and on at bat can change the game.
“The games count. This ain’t summer ball.”
Schlossnagle hopes to end the weekend with a win.
“We are going to try and avoid getting swept,” Schlossnagle said. “Things can change in an instant. Eight days ago, Georgia was struggling and on the mat and then they sweep these guys and now look a week later.
“We respect Arkansas as I told you yesterday. I think they have got an awesome program and have a super classy coach.
“Just got to find a way to win one ball game and it is not going to be easy because there are really tough to beat at home.”