Arkansas baseball beats James Madison in season opener

Arkansas right fielder Kendall Diggs rounds third base to score the first run of the Razorbacks' game against James Madison on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, in Fayetteville. (Hank Layton/NWA Democrat-Gazette)
Arkansas right fielder Kendall Diggs rounds third base to score the first run of the Razorbacks' game against James Madison on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, in Fayetteville. (Hank Layton/NWA Democrat-Gazette)

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas baseball opened its 2024 season with a 6-4 victory over James Madison on Friday at Baum-Walker Stadium.

The No. 4 Razorbacks overcame a rough first inning by left-handed pitcher Hagen Smith and improved to 21-1 in season openers under Coach Dave Van Horn.

Smith’s start on the mound didn’t go as planned for Arkansas. The junior was on a pitch count of 65-70, Van Horn said on Arkansas’ pregame radio broadcast, but he didn’t make it past a 42-pitch first inning.

Smith walked the first batter he faced and hit the second. He then gave up a three-run home run to James Madison center fielder Fenwick Trimble. Trimble’s at-bat was 10 pitches, and his home run traveled 392 feet to right center.

Smith got a pair of strikeouts and gave up one more walk before the inning ended with Arkansas down 3-0.

Right fielder Kendall Diggs got the first hit of the game for Arkansas with a one-out double, which was helped by James Madison's left fielder falling while pursuing. Shortstop Wehiwa Aloy walked, and first baseman Ben McLaughlin drove in Diggs with a single for the game’s first run.

Second baseman Peyton Holt hit an RBI single to score Aloy to cut James Madison’s lead to 3-2.

Arkansas brought out Will McEntire to start the second, and he struck out two as the Dukes were retired in order.

In his Razorback debut, Richmond transfer third baseman Jared Sprague-Lott led off the bottom of the second with a solo home run that traveled 364 feet to left field and tied the game at 3-3. Two at-bats later, catcher Hudson White hit another solo shot 396 feet to left to give Arkansas a 4-3 lead.

Arkansas added to its lead in the third when Sprague-Lott hit an RBI single to drive in Jack Wagner, who had reached on a walk. Holt, who had also walked, scored on the play, too, with Sprague-Lott caught in a run-down between first and second. Sprague-Lott was eventually tagged out to end the inning. 

James Madison added a run in the sixth. Trimble led off with a double and advanced to third on a ground ball. He scored on an RBI ground out by Dukes first baseman Coleman Calabrese.

James Madison threatened in the eighth with Gage Wood on the mound. Wood gave up a lead-off single to second baseman Mike Mancini, who then advanced on a passed ball. 

That brought up Trimble, who was a triple shy of the cycle. Wood struck him out looking on five pitches, got a ground out and struck out Calabrese to strand Mancini at third.

Wood got a strikeout, a ground out and a pop-up to close out the game in the ninth.

Why Arkansas won

The Razorbacks were able to generate enough offense in the early innings to overcome Trimble’s three-run bomb. 

Even when Arkansas’ scoring stopped after the third inning, strong pitching from McEntire and Wood kept James Madison from regaining the lead.

Turning point: Bringing in Will McEntire

When Arkansas brought in McEntire to start the second inning, the Razorbacks got back in the game. The redshirt senior’s 5 2/3 innings of one-run work allowed Arkansas’ bats to go to work and erase the James Madison lead.

McEntire was pulled in the top of the seventh in favor of Wood. McEntire finished his outing with 3 hits, 1 earned run, 1 walk and 6 strikeouts.

Player of the game: Jared Sprague-Lott

Sprague-Lott’s game-tying home run in his first at-bat as a Razorback was his biggest play, but the senior had several other important plays. 

His RBI single in the third provided needed insurance. He had a running grab in foul territory to end a 1-2-3 top of the fifth.

Sprague-Lott finished his Razorback debut 2-for-2 hitting with 2 walks, 1 run scored and 2 RBI.

Up next

Arkansas and James Madison are scheduled to play Game 2 at 2 p.m. Saturday.

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