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Gaeckle tabbed SEC Freshman of the Week as No. 2/3 Arkansas turns attention to Texas A&M

BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON

FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas closer Gage Gaeckle was tabbed the SEC Freshman of the Week on a Monday in which the Razorbacks landed second or third nationally in the five major college baseball polls.

Gaeckle fanned five batters in 3 1/3 innings while making an appearance on Friday night and a save Sunday as Arkansas (42-10, 19-8) took two of three games from visiting Mississippi State.

He now has a 3-2 record and seven saves with a 2.06 ERA this season while pitching 35 innings in 19 relief appearances.

Six of Gaeckle’s team-high seven saves have been multi-inning ones, also a team-best this season.

Van Horn talked about using Gaeckle more than once in a weekend for the first time this season. He was just one of the relievers that did double duty.

“So he threw Friday,” Van Horn said. “Only threw 12 pitches, I think. Yesterday (Saturday), he went through his full workout. He was not going to pitch. He worked with the strength coach. Stretching. All the exercises. Some light lifting. Some throwing to get him ready for today.

“Our hope was two innings, and if we had to, an out or two more.”

Will McEntire (5-0) pitched the sixth and seventh innings on Sunday to get the win before turning it over to Gaeckle.

Arkansas rallied from a 6-0 deficit heading into the bottom of the fourth on Sunday with nine unanswered runs to win.

“We were just hoping McEntire could get us two, and if we had to go to him there in the seventh we would have, but fortunately we didn’t have to,” Van Horn said.

Gaeckle didn’t mind the challenge of pitching twice.

“No, being a bullpen guy, you’re expected to go twice a weekend. You just got to be prepared for it. The whole staff did a great job just staying prepared and whenever their name was called, they really showed up.

“Ever since we got to the bullpen yesterday and today, we kept putting up zeros and we tried to do the best we could to get momentum into our dugout and eventually get the win.”

Gaeckle is third Razorback to win SEC Freshman of the Week this season with pitcher Colin Fisher winning in week two and infielder/designated hitter Nolan Souza in week eight.

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Arkansas is ranked No. 2 this week by both the USA Today Coaches and NCBWA polls and No. 3 by D1 Baseball, Baseball America and Perfect Game.

Tennessee (42-10, 19-8) is the top-ranked team in all five polls while Arkansas and Kentucky (37-11, 20-7) are in the second and third spots.

All of those teams will head into the final week of regular season with a chance to win the overall SEC title.

The Eastern Division leading Wildcats hold a game lead over both the Vols and the Western Division front-running Razorbacks.

Arkansas travels to Texas A&M, Kentucky hosts Vanderbilt and South Carolina visits Tennessee with all series running Thursday through Saturday.

The Aggies, losers of four of their last six games, are two games behind the Razorbacks in the Western Division race.”

All three games of the Arkansas-Texas A&M will be televised with Thursday’s 7 p.m. game on ESPN2 and the SEC Network having both Friday’s 7 p.m. contest and Saturday’s 2 p.m.

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Arkansas finished 33-3 in regular season home games at Baum-Walker Stadium.

“It’s been a great season at home, as far as wins and losses,” Van Horn said. “Played solid, played really good defense. We’ve played defense everywhere, but we’ve play three-quarters of our games here, we’ve taken care of the ball.

“Up until the last couple of weeks, we’ve done nothing but throw strikes, not walk people, struck out hitters. We make them earn it.

“…Baum-Walker Stadium has been a great home field advantage for us this year.”

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Arkansas leads the SEC in ERA at 3.45 with Tennessee second at 3.88 and Texas A&M third at 4.02, but heads to College Station with its rotation in flux.

While Razorback ace Hagen Smith (9-0, 1.65) is locked into Thursday’s opener, Van Horn admits he is looking at options for the other two days.

Neither Brady Tygart (4-3, 3.56) or Mason Molina (3-2, 4.44) have lasted more than three innings in either of their last two outings each.

Tygert pitched just 1 2/3 innings Saturday in Arkansas’ 8-5 loss while Molina did not get an out in the second inning before exiting on Sunday.

“That’s obviously the major concern,” Van Horn said. “The win’s awesome, and now we have to really figure this thing out. We’ve got some things we’re thinking about that we’ll probably make a decision if we’re going to start some different people or how we’re going to handle it.

“Probably depends on where we are in the standings and some other things. We’ve got one guy that’s been rock solid all year, and we have two guys that have struggled down the stretch here. We might have to make a move. We’ll see what happens.”

While Tygart and Molina struggled, Arkansas’ back end of the bullpen was phenomenal in the series.

The last four pitchers to enter each of the three games combined to pitch 17 innings while allowing just four runs.

“We make them earn it, and that’s what happened from the fourth through the ninth,” Van Horn said.

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