Diggs’ blast punctuates Van Horn’s 800th baseball win at Arkansas

By Dudley E. Dawson
on 2023-02-24 20:14 PM


What got started with a hit batter, a couple bunts and included a few bloops ended with a bomb at Baum in college baseball action Friday afternoon.

Kendall Diggs’ second career three-run walk off homer was the finishing blow in Arkansas’ 13-2 seven-inning win over Eastern Illinois at Baum-Walker Stadium.

It was the 800th win at Arkansas for head coach Dave Van Horn, whose team will also play the Panthers Saturday at noon and Sunday at 1 p.m.

“I mean, I’ve had a lot of good players,” Van Horn said. “Hopefully, we can talk about it again in another 100. But yeah, that’s awesome.”

The Razorbacks (4-1) plated six runs in their final at bat – matching the half-dozen they scored in the third -  to enforce the 10-run rule on the Panthers (3-1).

Diggs’ previous walk off game came last season against eventual national champion Ole Miss.

“Obviously, I wasn’t going up there planning on hitting a home run or anything like that, but I mainly just focused on the approach,” Diggs said.  “Staying back, trying to drive something up the middle, put a good swing on it.” 

Arkansas pitcher Hagen Smith (1-0), who lasted 4 2/3 scoreless innings, was awarded the win while throwing 97 pitches, fanning six and walking a trio.

“I just thought that we played solid defense, stole a few bases,” Van Horn said of his team’s three thefts. “I thought that both teams competed hard. 

“It looked like after the third we had the game in control, but they kept fighting, fouled off a lot of pitches and got Hagen’s pitch count up pretty good, so obviously we had to go out and get him.”

Cody Adcock got the final out of the fifth with Austin Ledbetter and Gage Wood both pitching an inning each.

“…I thought Adcock came in and did a great job and then Ledbetter struggled, threw a lot of pitches, and then Gage Wood was really good,” Van Horn said. “That’s kind of what we’ve been seeing from Gage. Didn’t see it in his first outing last week in Arlington and then we got him back out there again on Sunday, was a little more of himself, and then today I think he relaxed and pitched really well.”

Arkansas broke open a scoreless game in the bottom of third by scoring a half-dozen runs against Eastern Illinois starter and losing pitcher Blake Malatestinic (0-1).

That half inning began with Hudson Polk getting hit by a pitch and John Bolton and Tavian Josenberger both reaching safely via bunt singles to load the bases.

Bolton, Josenberger, Brady Slavens and Peyton Holt all had two hits each as Arkansas outhit the visitors 11-6.

Diggs, who had four RBIs, walked to force in a run, Jared Wegner followed with two-run single and Slavens added a run-scoring one of his own as Arkansas surged ahead 4-0.

Ben McLaughlin hit into a double play that chased another run home before Holt’s RBI single capped the third-inning scoring and pushed it to 6-0.

“It was, I don’t know… It was a big inning that we put together there in the third and it start with the hit by pitch, couple of great bunts and a couple of big hits after that,” Van Horn said. “It could have been a 7- or 8-run inning with maybe just one more big hit. We ended up hitting into a double play, probably kept them in the game a little bit there.”

Holt, filling in for injured second baseman Peyton Stovall (thumb), added another RBI single to score Slavens to make it 7-0 in the fifth.

“Stovall hurt his hand the other day sliding into second on that stolen base,” Van Horn said. “It got better for a couple of days in a row. Then from yesterday to this morning just felt like it stayed he same and was a little sore. Had it X-rayed already and it was negative. Had it MRI’d and I’m waiting to find out in just a minute. 

“We think he’s going to be good but we just didn’t want to put him out there today. I thought all the guys that we put in there, even McLaughlin didn’t have a great day at the plate, but Holt had a good day, 2 for 4 and made a couple of plays in the field. Good to see him swing the bat and go the other way.”

Van Horn added that pitcher Jackson Wiggins, out for the season, had his Tommy John surgery on Thursday.

“It went fine,” Van Horn said. “Probably going to… You know, they rehab them real good for a day or two there, and he’ll be back.” 

Eastern Illinois avoided getting blanked with a pair of runs in the sixth against Ledbetter.

The Razorbacks then ended the game in the seventh with aid of two errors that both allowed runs to score and Diggs’ 399-foot blast.

The game did feature a little controversy in the seventh as Eastern Illinois coach Jason Anderson protested objects being thrown into the outfield by Arkansas fans in the Hogpen.

“I think it had to do with balls rolling around the center fielder,” Van Horn said. “I think he told the coaches they were getting the ball. 

thrown at him. I don’t know. I never saw the ball thrown at him. I just saw the ball out there. 

“I saw one launched back into the crowd and then two into the lake. Is that a lake? Or a pond? What is that out there?

“We tried to get them to announce it (not to throw things). Finally they did because I guess they felt like it wasn’t safe. And I get it. If the balls are being thrown at the center fielder, I don’t blame him.”

Smith had eight 3-2 counts and the Panthers fouled off eight more strikes to run up his pitch total.

He pitched five innings of scoreless baseball and allowed just one hit in a 3-2 win over Texas the previous Friday at the College Baseball Showdown in Arlington, Texas.

“Well, his stuff was good,” Van Horn said. “His command wasn’t as good as like last week, because last week everything was working, as far as throwing strikes and being around the zone. 

“Today, it’s a lot different elements and first home game, probably hyped up a little bit. I just didn’t think that he commanded the ball like he can and will. But his stuff was really good.

 Smith was happy he battled and left runners stranded.

“I thought I did OK,” Smith said. “I’m glad I battled through. It could have been a lot worse than it was. I thought the defense played pretty good behind me and the runs scored a lot so it was pretty easy to pitch like that even though I struggled a little bit.”

Photo by John D. James

(Last updated: 2023-02-24 20:14 PM)