A premier SEC matchup is what fans were treated to when No. 24 Vanderbilt traveled to Fayetteville to face No. 5 Arkansas at legendary Baum-Walker Stadium this weekend.
The home crowd was given little to cheer for in game one as Vanderbilt struck first with a four-run second inning, sparked by a two-run home run by Parker Noland. The Commodores built a 5-0 lead after three innings. Vanderbilt scored all five runs off Arkansas ace Connor Noland, who left the game after five complete innings.
Two solo home runs by Brady Slavens and a two-run home run by Robert Moore led a five-run comeback that tied the game in the sixth inning. Both teams added a run in the seventh running to re-tie the game at six.
Thomas Schultz was clutch out of the Commodores bullpen, tossing three hitless, scoreless innings in a high-pressure road game situation.
The game moved into extra innings with the teams still knotted at six. In the top of the tenth, Enrique Bradfield Jr. (3-for-5) delivered a three-run home run in the tenth inning, which proved to be the difference as Vanderbilt held on to win 9-6. Schutlz earned the win and improved to 4-1 on the year.
On Saturday, Cayden Wallace led off the bottom of the first inning by hitting a home run on the second pitch he saw for an early 1-0 Arkansas lead. But a five run third inning for Vanderbilt gave them a 5-1 lead headed to the middle frames. The rest of the game was all Razorbacks as they chased Vanderbilt starter Chris McElvain after four innings. McElvain allowed five runs.
Wallace hit his second home run of the game, this time a three-run shot, in the fourth inning to give Arkansas a 6-5 lead. The Razorbacks added two more runs over the next two innings and led 8-6 in the bottom of the sixth inning when lightning forced a delay and weather ultimately led to the postponement of the rest of the game until Sunday morning.
The delay did not improve the fortune of the Commodores as they were kept at bay by the Arkansas bullpen, most notably Will McEntire who tossed three scoreless innings, allowing just two base hits. Meanwhile Jalen Battles hit a seventh-inning solo home run to extend the Razorback lead to 11-6, which would stand as the final score as Arkansas evened the series. Bradfield Jr. continued his impressive series by going 3-for-4 in the loss.
Game three, already shortened to just seven innings, was supposed to begin roughly forty minutes after the completion of game two but, once again, weather forced a delay of the first pitch. There was also the threat, some in the south consider it a promise, of more weather late Sunday afternoon, so there was plenty of incentive to get the game started and completed.
Vanderbilt led a tight ballgame 1-0 going into the fifth inning. A two-out single by Dominic Keegan drove in two runs to extend the Commodores advantage in the fifth. Tate Kolwyck hit his second home run in as many days, a two-run blast deep to left-center field in the sixth inning and Vanderbilt was running away with things at that point, leading 5-0.
Arkansas starter Jaxon Wiggins was good, allowing just two runs over 4 ⅓ innings striking out eight Vanderbilt batters. Wiggins was close to 100 mph numerous times and limited the Commodores offense. Wiggins received no support by his own offense, so he was on the hook for the loss.
Freshman Carter Holton got the start for Vanderbilt, and he was outstanding. Holton (7-3) pitched a complete game (seven innings) and limited the Arkansas offense to just two hits in the shutout. The complete game was huge for the Commodore pitching staff which had seen a lot of action this weekend and was taxed with having to continue Saturday’s game on Sunday.
Bradfield Jr. was 2-for-4 on Sunday with three stolen bases as he continued to put on a show and be a menace for opposing catchers and pitchers.
Vanderbilt won the road series and improved to 34-16 overall, and 14-13 in the SEC. The Commodores are a near-complete squad but not yet to the level of their 2019 national championship team. Vanderbilt’s five runs scored on Sunday was their lowest of the weekend, and the game was only seven innings in length. The Commodores only outscored Arkansas 20-17 on the weekend, which proves the offense can compete with the best of teams and the best of pitching staffs. When the postseason begins and other pitching staffs are exhausted and running out of fresh arms, Vanderbilt has an offense built to survive and advance.
Arkansas (37-14, 17-10 SEC) drops a home series to a top 25 team, and that is worth noticing, but it is hardly unprecedented given the rest of the college baseball world this weekend. The Razorbacks’ pitching depth is an asset and will be beneficial for the grind that lies ahead. The hot-and-cold nature of the offense is the more problematic thing to watch for from here on out.
The Arkansas offense has scored three runs or fewer in nine of their fourteen losses this season. To avoid the fate of the 2021 Arkansas team, the offense needs to be reliable, especially if, or when, the pitching falters. The Razorbacks have a ton of talent — no one questions that. The final weekend of the regular season and the conference tournament are about fitting the final pieces of the puzzle into place when the calendar flips to June.