BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
Veteran Kendall Diggs and newcomer Will Edmunson both blasted two-run homers and Hudson Polk launched a solo shot to lead the Gray team to a 7-2 win over the Cardinal squad Friday night at Baum-Walker Stadium in the Arkansas Fall Baseball Classic.
Parker Rowland hit a solo shot for the Cardinal in a scrimmage game that went seven innings and saw each team use seven pitchers for a half-inning each.
Those 14 pitchers combined to fan 21, walk 9 and allow 11 hits, 7 of them coming off the bats of the winners.
“Well, the arms continue to impress me obviously,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. “That (scoreboard) radar gun — a little out of whack, but we had some guys up to 97-98 (miles per hour). A lot of guys threw the ball extremely well. Some of these guys, they’re ready for a break. But I really like what I’m seeing because of the depth. I think we threw six left-handers tonight. They all got something.”
Arkansas has added numerous pitchers via the transfer portal and the high school route to a solid group of returnees.
Texas Tech pitching transfer Mason Molina started for the Grey and was followed to the mound by freshman Gabe Gaeckle, sophomores Parker Coil, Christian Foutch and Gage West, freshman Collin Fisher and Kansas transfer Stone Hewlett.
Brady Tygart opened for the Cardinal with freshman Hunter Dietz, sophomore Ben Bybee, senior Will McEntire, freshmen Jack Smith and Tate McGuire and junior Jake Faherty hurling a frame each as well.
“It’s like I’ve told them two or three times this fall, you’re going to have pitchers just keep coming at you in our scrimmages, you’re not going to get a break,” Van Horn said. “And even if you get a break — and when I say a break, I mean not throwing it 94 or 95 — it’s going to be a veteran like (Will) McEntire that can flat out pitch, and he can make you look silly.
“So if you can hit our pitching, you should be able to hit during the season. Because you’re probably not going to see a whole lot better than what we have day in and day out.”
The hitters did capitalize when given the opportunity with the homers leaving the yard.
“I think if there was a mistake made, they took advantage of it,” Van Horn said of his hitters. “It depends on how you look at it. The pitchers, you can say they stuck it to our hitters a little bit, but also one team hit three home runs. I think two of those three were on 3-1 pitches, ahead in the count. Opportunistic.”
After Missouri transfer Travis Wilmsmeyer led off the game with walk, the lefty-swinging Diggs hammered a 3-1 fastball from Tygart over the right field fence and to put the Gray up 2-0.
“It was awesome,” Diggs said. “He’s good and I don’t think I have ever put a ball in play against Brady Tygart so that’s always good…I have had couple at bats against him and he’s had my number. I got a good hitter’s count and with a runner on third, I was just trying to get the barrel over it and hit something hard.”
Diggs looks poised for a big junior season after a sophomore one in which he hit .299 and had 12 home runs and a team-leading 63 RBIs and team-high 46 walks while being a second-team All-SEC performer.
He played in 58 games as a sopohomore with 57 starts – 38 as the designated hitter and 19 in right field.
“Yeah, he does,” Van Horn said. “He’s not just going up there trying to a swing in. He’s up there having an at-bat, taking pitches, borderline pitches, early in the count. If a ball is called a strike, it doesn’t faze him too much.
“He gets to the point where if he’s down 1-2, he makes an adjustment and just tries to get a hit. He’s up 3-1, he’s looking for a ball he can hit up there off the window like he did. That’s what you want to see. You want to see guys get better year to year. “
Diggs, slated to the the every day right fielder this season after playing the position daily this summer in the Cape Cod League, also made a nice catch in the outfield.
“We thought he jumped a little early,” Van Horn said. “Kind of gave him a hard time about it. He hung up there just long enough to catch it. And, this year he looks like an outfielder. Last year, he looked like a DH-converted infielder trying to play outfielder. He throws the ball well and he’s just a good player.”
Diggs believes he is much better outfielder after his summer spent in the Cape.
“It was huge just getting out there and getting reps every day, especially in a live setting,” Diggs said. “You can take as many drill reps as you want and we have been doing that a lot here as well, but it was big for me just to get those live reps. I think I developed a whole lot by just getting out there every single day and getting better. I had a really good time.”
The Cardinal tied the game 2-2 in the top of the third on Rowland’s homer off Gaeckle and
Ryder Helfick later singling and crossing plate via a wild pitch that also turned into an errant throw past third.
Polk’s gave the Gray a 3-2 lead with his round tripper off Ben Bybee in the bottom of the third and Edmunson’s blast off Smith pushed that lead to 5-2 in the fifth.
The Gray capped the scoring in the seventh against Hewlett as Nolan Souza singled, Jack Wagner doubled, Reese Robinette had a run-scoring fielder’s choice and a final run scored via a wild pitch.
Arkansas, which has a host of recruits visiting this weekend, will take Saturday off and scrimmage again on Sunday afternoon at a time to be announced later.
Photo by John D. James