FAYETTEVILLE — No. 2 Arkansas spent much of the game against Southeast Missouri State looking as if the home opener was going to be a disappointment, but the bullpen and some clutch hitting allowed the Hogs to escape with a 6-5 win in 10 innings.
Following the game, Dave Van Horn was quick to credit the Arkansas bullpen for its performance.
“We figured it out with just a tremendous job by our bullpen tonight, this afternoon, giving us an opportunity to climb back in the game,” Van Horn said. “(Dylan) Dodd’s a really good pitcher, the lefty. He kept us down 92-93, 94 every now and then, mixed in some good changeups, couple breaking balls here and there. We just didn’t do a great job with him. We had a couple of opportunities we missed out on, but (Patrick) Wicklander, (Caden) Monke, (Ryan) Costeiu, (Evan) Gray and (Jaxon) Wiggins finishing it up for us gave us a chance to go into the bottom of the 10th with an opportunity to win the game. Just real proud of those guys. Hopefully the pitching staff will keep it rolling until we get our bats going.”
It wasn’t like Arkansas hadn’t already experiencded a couple of comeback wins. They trailed late against both TCU and Texas Tech in Arlington, Texas, but managed to win those games. Van Horn feels that helped the Hogs on Thursday.
“It’s like anything else, once you’ve done it you get that experience and you can do it,” Van Horn said. “We’ve done it a couple, two or three times now. Maybe not to this extreme, but we’ve been behind and fought back. I know in the ninth inning, the guys in the dugout were rallying and talking and it was loud in there. It wasn’t like we were just waiting to get the game over, we felt like we had a chance to come back and win. Obviously that’s what happened. Just proud of them because they kept fighting.”
Wicklander has struggled out of the bullpen at times in the past, but not on Thursday. He came in with just one out and the bases loaded in the first inning. He pitched four innings, didn’t allow a run, struck out three and only walked one.
“I thought he came in and did a tremendous job for us, really,” Van Horn said. “They were swinging it really well, feeling good, already had a lead on us. He comes in with the bases loaded and no outs, one out. He got us through that inning and held them down for a few innings. He gave us a chance. I think we hit one home run, it was 3-1. I think he might have ran out of gas there a little bit later, but it was really good to see him come in and do the job that he did.”
True freshman Jaxon Wiggins pitched the top of the 10th and just like in Arlington he retired the side in order. He has faced six hitters in two games and struck out five of them. He got the win on Thursday.
“It was really — it was ever bit as good as it was the other night,” Van Horn said. “And the situation was different. I think the other night he came in we were not under as much pressure. This time we had just tied the game up, and he was getting us the opportunity to win the game in the bottom of the 10th, and he did it, three, four, five, and threw some obviously nice located fastballs, a couple of plus change-ups. Their hitter made contact on a really good change-up. He showed his athleticism there a little bit. He kind of hesitated on the mound. The ball was hit to first and he sprinted over there; showed some quickness there. Glad he had it in him.”
Caleb Bolden, who pitched four amazing innings against Texas this past Sunday, started the game, but struggled.
“He threw 50-something pitches the other day,” Van Horn said. “He wanted the ball. I’m not going to say he talked us into it. He was excited to get it and we were, like, hey, you kind of gave us a relief effort the other day. We know that they’re throwing their top pitcher at us. He’s going on a little bit short rest as well, not quite as short. Still short rest. Their starter threw 93 pitches last week. So, we just felt like it would be a really good matchup. We weren’t expecting him to give us more than four. It just didn’t work out. He didn’t have command of much of anything.”
In the top of the 10th, true freshman Cayden Wallace had an amazing 14-pitch at bat to earn a one-out walk.
“He just grinded it out,” Van Horn said. “He was down 0-2 I think, battled off a lot of pitches, took a few here and there that got him to 2-2, fouled off a few more, now suddenly it’s 3-2. Just a really tough at-bat in a really tough situation. His previous at-bat, he really hit a ball well down the third base line and the third baseman made a tremendous play on it. That cost him a double, and he didn’t let it bother him too much. When he got another opportunity to try and win a game right there, he just fought and fought and fought.”
In the ninth inning, Robert Moore hit a shot that was reviewed and ruled a single instead of home run. The umpires also reviewed to see if Jalen Battles left early.
“All of the above,” a relieved Van Horn said. “The way the rule reads, if the ball is over the yellow, it’s a home run. There’s a net back there now, but the ball just reacted really strange. We just thought it was really weird the way the ball reacted. We’ve seen it hit maybe 1-2 times in practice, where it’s come off the net a little different if it just barely gets out. So we thought it might have been out.
“The other thing is, the outfielder we’re thinking is about 6-foot-3, 6-foot-4, if he’s back at the fence, and I’m pretty sure he was, that he would have caught it before it would have hit the yellow line and bounced straight up in the air. So, I don’t know what happened there. We’re going to address it and try to figure out a policy on balls that come back, that are hard to see. If they’re hit up high, they might roll around and get back over, but that was a different play.
“Then the tag by Battles, we knew it was really close. We didn’t know which way it was going to go, honestly. We’re fortunate that they didn’t see that he left early.”
Battles didn’t think he left early.
“I knew I was on the bag,” Battles said. “My foot was on the bag, but I already started moving forward, so that’s why it looked like it was close. But I was on the bag.”
It was Battles who got the infield hit that allowed Casey Opitz to score the winning run.
“We always know we’re never out of a game,” Battles said. “I mean, even, what I told them is like, we’re going to come back and win this game. We just had to stay locked in the whole time.”
Battles has had clutch hits in four games now. Was he surprised?
“Not really,” Battles said. “It’s always been there. Just working with Coach (Nate) Thompson, he really got me there. I’m very grateful for that and now I’m just ready to get better.”
Arkansas and SEMO will play again today at 3 p.m. in Baum-Walker Stadium. It will be Zebulon Vermillion against lefty Noah Niznik.