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Diamond Hogs rally from seven runs down to shock Red Raiders 9-8

BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON

FAYETTEVILLE – No. 2 Arkansas’ 24th straight home win didn’t come easy and was not for the faint of heart, but was accomplished nevertheless.

Once down 7-0 to Texas Tech, pinch hitter Nolan Souza’s ninth-inning sacrifice fly proved to be the difference as the Razorbacks pulled out a 9-8 win Tuesday night at Baum-Walker Stadium.

“When the coaches told me there might be a chance to go up and hit right there I was very excited to get up there and walk it off for all of us, our fans and our teammates,” Souza said. “Whenever I got out of the pen they told me, ‘Yeah, this is your guy. Go up there and hit.’  I was really pumped and really happy they would leave me in and go get the job done.”

Arkansas (31-5) rallied with a run in fourth inning, six tallies to tie it in the fifth, another to deadlock the contest again in the eighth and then head coach Dave Van Horn’s Razorbacks won it without the benefit of a hit in the ninth.

“Obviously that was a really good win for our team, especially the way it finished up in Tuscaloosa after not swinging the bats at all,” Van Horn said of his team two losses to Alabama. “And then getting down tonight like we did 6-0.

“…Just proud of our guys. They rallied and just kept going and found a way to win against a team that can really hit. We’ve got our hands full again tomorrow.”

The two teams, who both had a six-run inning each, will meet again Wednesday at 4 p.m. in a game that will be televised by the SEC Network.

“It’s really rare to have a six-run inning,” Van Horn said. “But to have each team one, and that team that had theirs second ended up winning the game. It’s kind of usual.”

Tuesday’s win marks Arkansas’ largest comeback win since rallying from a nine-run deficit in a 13-10 victory at Louisiana Tech during the 2017 season when it trailed 10-1 before scoring 12 unanswered runs.

The final rally came against Texas Tech closer Parker Hutyra (4-1), who was immediately hurt by an error on Jared Sprague-Lott’s grounder leading off the bottom of the ninth.

Hutyra then misplayed Wehiwa Aloy’s ball back to the mound and hit Ben McLaughin to load the bases with nobody out as an ESPN2 national television audience looked on.

“That’s a recipe for a disaster,” Van Horn said of the errors. “We kind of saw that too in our game at Alabama. The game can be kind of fragile, especially at the end when everything matters. Especially when it’s down there when it’s over if you score. And we did just enough that inning to punch in a run.”

Righty Jack Wagner was 2 of 2 on night, but Van Horn went to the lefty-swinging Souza, whose game-winning sac fly came came on a 2-2 count after falling down 0-2.

“[Souza’s] got a really good approach at the plate,” Van Horn said. “He was a little bit out in front of the first breaking ball, but I thought after that he did a great job in the at-bat. Even down 0-2 in the at-bat he tried to sneak a fastball by him…he didn’t bite. He didn’t swing.

“I think he fouled a pitch off and then got the sac fly. I think he’s got 60 or 70 at-bats now. To me, I don’t look at him as a freshman, I look at him as just a good hitter and I have a lot of confidence in him.”

That made a winner out of Arkansas freshman closer Gabe Gaeckle (2-2), who got the final five outs.

Texas Tech (26-12) exploded for six runs in the second inning against Arkansas starter Ben Bybee, who gave up six hits in the frame – including ones to the final five batters he faced.

The Red Raiders pushed that lead to 7-0 in the fourth on a run-scoring single by Austin Green, who was 5 for 5 on the night with four RBIs and a pair of runs.

Souza said the makeup of this Razorback team is to stay locked in even as it faced its largest deficit of the season.

“It shows we’re really confident in ourselves and each other to get the job done,” Souza said. “We know every guy on this team is more than good enough to get the job done in any situation.  We’re all just locked in.

“…I think it was huge coming off the two (Alabama) losses and kind of getting punched in the face early right there and hold them down after that big inning and coming back to win the game.”

Arkansas begin its comeback in the fourth against Texas Tech starting pitcher Zach Erdman when Sprague-Lott walked, McLaughlin doubled and Wagner delivered an RBI infield single to cut it 7-1.

The Razorbacks then got an RBI single from Peyton Holt, a run scored on Sprague-Lott’s double play grounder and Aloy doubled in Peyton Stovall as the home team got back within 7-4.

McLaughlin, who was 3 of 4 on the night, kept the fifth-inning charge going by launching his seventh homer of the season – a two-run blast – to cut Texas Tech’s lead to 7-6.

“After the home run … the dugout was good, even though we were getting it handed to us,” Van Horn said. “Honestly, I mean we didn’t feel like the game was over. We still had five at-bats or something to go.

“When Ben, right when we he hit it, we knew it was gone, just because of the cross-wind, left-hand hitter slicing it. It would have been out anyway, but with the wind we knew it was going to go way out.”

Former Texas Tech player Hudson White then tied it 7-7 an outs later with an RBI double that scored Wagner.

“Yeah, it lit up the dugout pretty good and then we got the double and tied it,” Van Horn said. “I’m thinking we’re going to get another hit and take the lead, because that’s the way it flows.”

Green’s lead off home run off the first pitch thrown by Will McEntire in the seventh gave the Red Raiders an 8-7 edge.

But Jayson Jones led off the bottom of the eighth and pinch runner Ty Wilmsmeyer eventually scored on Stovall’s fielder’s choice that made it 8-8.

Jones was 2 of 4 with two doubles on the night.

“You’ve got to give Jayson Jones some credit,” Van Horn said. “He had a really big night. He hit a line drive off the center field wall against a 20 mph wind. Then he’s trying to call a timeout and got his hand up and the pitcher kind of quick-pitched.

“You’re supposed to have your eyes … He really wasn’t ready yet. And he throws him a slider and has a little rhythm going there and just hammered it. That ended up being the tying run. But he hit two doubles tonight for us so that was big.”

Christian Foutch, Parker Coil, McEntire and Gaeckle all followed Bybee to the mound.

“The guys we threw tonight are guys that we weren’t going to throw tomorrow, no matter what,” Van Horn said. “Even if we had lost tonight, we were probably going to throw these guys a little bit, because we need some guys for Friday, obviously and Saturday.

“That’s what I told the team out there. The bullpen was amazing tonight, and they just did a great job, everyone we brought in there.

“We thought maybe Will can give us a couple, and if we get the lead, maybe we can go to Gaeckle. Will gave us one-and-a-third, and his pitch count was getting up a little bit, we need to have him available.

“He didn’t lose his stuff. I mean, the guy jumped his first pitch. He left it in a little bit. Hit it below the wind and got it out of the park.

“Then Gaeckle came in, and he was pretty darn good. He threw 24 pitches, and we were trying to figure out if we were going to bring him back out if we went to the 10th.

“I think we had kind of agreed to bring him back out. But maybe not let him go very long. Just see how it goes, because we need him on the weekend.

“We could use him as early as Friday. But a really good job by everybody that came out of the bullpen today. It was really good to see.”

• • •

Van Horn gave a couple off injury updates on outfielder Kendall Diggs and pitcher Hunter Dietz.

“His (Digg’s) non-throwing shoulder has been bothering a lot longer than we knew, let’s put it that way,” Van Horn said. “ He’ll be ready for the weekend. He just had some swelling in there. Just gave him some anti-inflammitories, let him calm down this week.

“Not swing the bat for a while. He should be good to go by our practices on Thursday down in South Carolina. I appreciate his effort, he tried to tough it out.

“It’s been bugging him and you could tell that on certain swings it was bothering him so we just want to get him 100 percent. If he’s not 100 percent by Friday, I won’t play him.

Van Horn said Dietz will not pitch in Arkansas’ three-game series at South Carolina that begins Friday.

“It’s good right now,” Van Horn said. “Everything we’ve seen right now, it’s good. Just had some swelling. We’ve had many doctors look at it so we’ll just take it week by week and see if we can get back get him going in the next couple of weeks unless something crazy happens or something gets read differently by a different doctor. We’ve had a few doctors look at it.”

Photo by John D. James

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