It seems that the biggest play in getting the Arkansas offense going in its 13-6 win over Santa Clara Friday at Baum-Walker Stadium might have been a defensive one.

With his team trailing 2-0 in the top of the fourth and pitcher Will McEntire in the second of his five great innings on the mound, Razorback second baseman Peyton Holt made a leaping snag of a line drive off the bat of JonJon Berring.

It saved at least one run and maybe more and thrilled Holt’s teammates and a crowd of 11,078 at Baum-Walker Stadium.

“I don’t know if that is the word, loosened up, but I just think they were like ‘wow, that just saved a run and who knows how many more,’” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said.

“That ball was going to get to the gap, going to drop in and they were going to score one and have runners at first and third with two outs again. 

“They had been kind of getting us a little bit there with two outs or it seemed like with two strikes. We couldn’t quite put them away. They have got some good hitters in that line up. Guys that make a lot of contact and that are hard to strikeout.”

Arkansas, who had been no-hit through the first innings,  responded with a five-run outburst and eventually cruised to an NCAA Tournament opening round win in the Fayetteville Regional.

Kendall Diggs and Caleb Cali both drove in three runs as the Razorbacks (42-16) moved into a winners’ bracket game Saturday at 8 p.m. against the winner of Friday night’s late game between TCU and Arizona.

Hagen Smith (8-1, 2.69 ERA) is expected to start on the mound for Arkansas.

“Santa Clara is a really good team,” Van Horn said. “They play hard. Experienced. They didn’t get intimidated. They just kept fighting. 

“I felt like our guys, they didn’t really flinch when they got punched. Took it and hung in there and got some big hits and obviously enough to win the game. 

Cali walked to lead off the bottom of the fourth, which prompted the exit of Santa Clara starter Kole Kitchen after 59 pitches (26 strikes), four walks and a hit batter.

Fire-balling reliever Skylar Hales – who has touched 100 miles an hour on his fast ball – entered and fanned Jace Bohrofen before Jared Wegner’s single became Arkansas’ first hit of the game.

Parker Rowland’s RBI single and a sacrifice fly by John Bolton tied it before 2-2 and the rally was capped by Diggs’ two-out, bases-loaded single that drove home a trio and surged the Razorbacks ahead 5-2.

“It was really good to just see our offense start clicking a little bit,” Van Horn said. “When they brought in Hales, we knew exactly what we were getting, but we get that in the SEC every weekend –  95, 96, 97, 98. That’s what we get. 

“We’re used to it. He’s got a really good arm. He’s going to pitch in the big leagues if he stays healthy.”

Arkansas added five more runs in the sixth on Tavian Josenbeger’s two-run homer and three two-out bases-loaded walks by Brandon Hammond.

Cali’s three-run home run in the seventh pushed Arkansas lead to 13-3.

The Razorbacks were outhit 12-10, but benefitted from 10 free passes issued by the Broncos, who also hit three batters.

McEntire (8-3) shined after taking over for Arkansas starter Hunter Hollan, who lasted just 2 1/3 innings while throwing 49 pitches, 26 for strikes.

McEntire allowed three runs on eight hits, fanned one and walked two in his five innings with Cody Adcock handling the last five outs.

“We wouldn’t have won if he hadn’t come in there and slowed them down and gave us an opportunity to gain a little confidence and score some runs,” Van Horn said. “You know if you are an offense and you are just trying to chase two runs and then three, four or five, it’s tough.”

Van Horn made the move to get Hollan out quickly.

Santa Clara scored two runs through it first four batters in the top of the first as Dawson Brigman and Michael O’Hara both singled with one out and Efrain Mango singled home both for a 2-0 lead.

“I just feel like that they were on him. It just wasn’t a good matchup. So we just said ‘We’re going to need to make a move here.’ It worked out.”

Photo by John D. James