BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
Arkansas’ opening game of its 2023 Fall Baseball World Series on Monday was in no way a masterpiece, but still one that Razorback head coach Dave Van Horn will always remember.
Not because of the six errors committed between the White and Cardinal teams or even the contest ending in a 9-9 tie after seven innings, forcing a winner-take-all game on Tuesday at noon at Baum-Walker Stadium.
It will be because the 63-year-old Van Horn found out he was going to be a grandfather to not just one or two grand kids, but maybe three as one of his daughters found out she is likely having triplets.
“Anything that happened after the fourth inning, I don’t remember,” Van Horn joked with the media afterwards. “My daughter and my son-in-law came in and told me that my daughter is not going to have (just) one. I don’t have any grand kids. And probably not going to have two, there may be more.
“There is nothing, it is all natural. So I am kind of freaked out right now. I’ll be honest with you. We knew last week that they were probably pregnant and they were going to go back today and have some more things looked at.
“She was feeling sicker than normal, probably sicker because there was more than one. And now I am a little nauseated myself.”
Jack Wagner’s solo home run in the sixth inning ended up being the game-tying run.
“Today was as ugly as I ever seen,” Van Horn said. “I was sitting over here with a (pro) scout and the first ball that went up and I said ‘watch this, this is big trouble.’ Sure enough.
“The one kid that has been in our program – (third baseman Peyton) Holt – makes it look easy over there. He backs up, he waits for the ball to blow back to him and he catches.”
Van Horn made it clear his team had practiced for a windy day.
“…We changed our practice plan one day like three weeks ago, the beginning of it and did this and talked about the wind because it was a perfect day to do it,” Van Horn said.
“It was even windier than this. You would have never known it by watching today.
“But we had a catcher (Ryder Helfrick) playing second base and welcome to fall baseball. We have got guys that were a little banged up playing and it got a little ugly.”
The errors were not typical of the rest of fall ball per Van Horn.
“We have fielded the ball really well this fall,” Van Horn said. “It has been real competitive. This has been the first fall that I have not loaded up a team a few times and just sent a little message of ‘hey’ if we started tomorrow, this is who you would see.’
“And that’s because the games have been tight – 4-3, 5-4 and most of our games this fall have been six or seven innings. I don’t think we have played over seven or eight innings for sure in a day. Maybe eight once or twice.
“The games have all been competitive so I have just left it that way. I don’t know why today got crazy.”
The White team jumped out to a 4-0 lead with Nolan Souza’s RBI single and Ben McLaughlin’s two-run double highlighting a four-run second frame.
That outburst came against freshman start Hunter Dietz, who had uncharacteristic command issues.
“Dietz…has given up one hit all fall going into today,” Van Horn said. “He has thrown nothing but strikes. But we have only thrown him like five or six times. This is the second time he has gone two innings.”
That lead grew to 5-0 on Hudson Polk’s sacrifice fly in the third after freshman pitcher Gabe Gaeckle fanned four in two innings on the mound for the White.
“Today he was really good,” Van Horn said of Gaeckle. “It is the end of the fall and maybe velocities are down a little bit. I don’t know how close that radar gun is. We have all seen him be up to 96, 97, 98 this fall. Today he was lower 90s, but a lot of strikes, breaking ball strikes.”
But the Cardinal team scored a run in the third to cut it 5-1with Helfrick leading off with a single and Wagner driving him home.
They then tied it up 5-5 with four in the fifth on Helfrick’s two-single and two runs scoring on a pop up on the infield that was misplayed.
The White team regained the lead 7-5 in the fifth on another error and Will Edmonson’s bases loaded walk.
But the Cardinal rallied once again with trio in the bottom of the fifth as Helfrick delivered a sacrifice fly, another run scored on error and a third on a wild pitch.
The White went up 9-8 in the top of the sixth on Kendall Diggs’ RBI single and yet another scoring on a wild pitch before Wagner’s homer tied it up.
Photo by John D. James