Diamond Hogs come up just short to Aggies in extra innings

Hagen Smith struck out 14 batters to become the Razorbacks’ all-time strikeout leader at 349 in a 1-0 loss to Texas A&M on Thursday, May 16, 2024 at Blue Bell Park in College Station, Tex. (Arkansas Athletics)

The No. 3 Arkansas Razorbacks suffered a 1-0, 11-inning loss Thursday in a rain-delayed showdown with No. 5 Texas A&M at College Station, Texas, when sturdy relief pitcher Will McEntire walked in the winning run after the Hogs opted to load the bases in hopes of coaxing a force out.

The pitching-duel loss was a tough one for the Razorbacks to swallow, considering left-handed starter Hagen Smith set a school record for strikeouts with 349 Ks and counting for his career as he sat down 11 Aggie batters in six innings of two-hit work.

As great as Smith was, Aggie Evan Aschenbeck picked up the victory for the Aggies with his four innings of relief work.

It was a somewhat familiar story for the Hogs’ offense. The Razorbacks managed to get on base with nine hits to the Aggies’ five, but as they have at points this season, the Hogs failed to get the clutch hit to plate their baserunners.

For the most part this season, the Razorbacks have come up with the right plays at the right time to win taut contests like this one, but momentum seemed to shift the Aggies’ way as the game entered extra innings. The Razorbacks did not walk a batter through 10 innings, but the game turned quickly on a walk by Jake Faherty in the 11th.

The loss was a tough one. A play here or there and the game could have very easily gone the other way, but isn’t that the magic and tragedy of baseball and sports in general. The Hogs have to shake it off and regroup with two games left in the series.

The loss drops the Razorbacks to 42-11 on the season and 19-9 in SEC play, while the Aggies move to 43-10 and 18-10 in league play.

The Aggies go for the series win tonight at 7 p.m., while the Razorback look to win the final SEC Western Division title in the game that will be televised on the SEC Network. Next year, the SEC is doing away with divisions in baseball as Oklahoma and Texas join the conference.

The Razorbacks trail Kentucky by two games and Tennessee by one game in the overall SEC race going into Friday’s games.

Up next for the Razorbacks

Opponent: at Texas A&M
When: 7 p.m. Friday, May 17
Where: Blue Bell Park, Bryan-College Station
TV: SEC Network

Next games:

May 18 – at Texas A&M, 2 p.m. (SEC Network)
May 21-26 – SEC Baseball Tournament

Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said in his Wednesday press conference that sophomore right-hander Gage Wood (3-1, 3.03 ERA) would get his first SEC start tonight. Van Horn said Brady Tygart would probably rest this weekend. Lefty Mason Molina could get the start on Saturday in the series finale, but Van Horn said that decision would be made later.

The Aggies are expected to start lefty Justin Lamkin (2-2, 5.47 ERA).

While the Hogs used some of their best arms in the loss, other than Thursday starter Smith, none worked so much that they couldn’t be called upon to throw either today or Saturday.

But the key going forward in this series and in the postseason is for the Razorbacks to be more opportunistic at the plate when runners are on base.

Generally, the Hogs have pitched and defended at such a magnificently high level that their relatively low team batting average has not hurt them, but Arkansas’ struggles at the plate did trip them up Thursday against the Aggies.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the Hogs respond in the final two games of the series as well as the rest of the season.