Will McEntire (COURTESY OF ARKANSAS ATHLETICS)

June 21, 2022: Will McEntire keeps Arkansas alive with clutch pitching at the College World Series

This article was written by Madison McEntire

Will McEntire (Courtesy of Arkansas Athletics)The College World Series is the desired destination for every Division I collegiate baseball player. Eight teams and thousands of fans from around the country descend on Omaha, Nebraska, each June, giving the CWS an atmosphere unlike any other baseball event in America.

Founded in 1947, the CWS was played in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for two years, then Wichita, Kansas, before settling in Omaha, where it was played at fabled Rosenblatt Stadium from 1950 to 2010 before moving to its current home in downtown Omaha.1

The Arkansas Razorbacks made it to Omaha in 2018 and 2019 and—after the pandemic had canceled the 2020 College World Series—were looking to make it three straight years in 2021. They spent most of the season ranked No. 1 in the country and won the Southeastern Conference regular-season and tournament titles.

After advancing through a tough Regional with a late-inning win over Nebraska in the final game, Arkansas fell short of the CWS when it lost the final two games—each by one run—of the best-of-three Super Regional against North Carolina State. The Razorbacks finished with a 50-13 record.2

Expectations were again high for the Razorbacks in 2022, with seven key position players returning and a highly-ranked recruiting class on campus. They were ranked in the Top 10 all season before stumbling down the stretch, losing six of their final eight regular-season games, and dropping out of the Top 25.

The slump sent them on the road for the NCAA playoffs,3 but they regrouped and won a high-scoring Regional at No. 6 Oklahoma State,4 and then took the first two games of the Super Regional at No. 11 North Carolina to advance to the 2022 CWS.

After opening with a 17-2 pounding of Stanford, Arkansas dropped the second game in its bracket5 to conference rival Ole Miss,6  13-5, and now faced the tough task of winning three games in a row to advance to the finals.

Needing a strong performance from a starting pitcher to save their bullpen, Arkansas turned to right-hander Will McEntire in an elimination game against conference foe Auburn, which had upset third-ranked Oregon State in the Super Regionals but lost its CWS opener to Ole Miss before bouncing back to eliminate Stanford.

In front of a crowd of 24,636, the Razorbacks jumped to a quick lead against Tigers junior right-hander Mason Barnett;7 Braydon Webb doubled to left-center on the game’s first pitch and scored when Peyton Stovall8 singled up the middle.

After getting Blake Rambusch to ground out in the bottom of the first, McEntire issued what turned out to be his only walk on a full-count curveball to Brody Moore.9 Moore was immediately erased when co-SEC Player of the Year10 Sonny DiChiara grounded to shortstop Jalen Battles, who raced to the second-base bag and made an acrobatic throw to complete the double play.11

Arkansas’ fielders were not needed for the next two innings; McEntire struck out the side in both the second and third. All six strikeouts were swinging, and they broke his career high of five in one game.12 

In the top of the third, Arkansas increased its lead to 4-0. With one out, Stovall singled on a full-count pitch; one out later, Michael Turner walked. Chris Lanzilli singled through the right side to score Stovall, and Robert Moore dropped a double in the left-field corner to bring home Turner and Lanzilli and chase Barnett from the game.

Arkansas put the game away with four more runs in the fourth against reliever John Armstrong. With one out, Webb singled to right and advanced to third on Stovall’s double just inside the bag at third. After Cayden Wallace popped out, Turner pulled a two-run double down the right-field line. Lanzilli capped the rally with a two-run homer to left for an 8-0 lead.

McEntire ran his streak to nine consecutive batters retired when he got the first two Auburn hitters to start the fourth before DiChiara lined a single to left. Bobby Peirce went down swinging for the third out.

In the bottom of the fifth, McEntire recorded his final two strikeouts around a two-out bloop single by Kason Howell. His nine strikeouts were the second most by a Razorbacks pitcher in a CWS game, behind only Isaiah Campbell’s 10-strikeout game against Florida State in 2019.13

Arkansas tacked on a run in the sixth when Wallace doubled against Carson Skipper with two outs and scored on Turner’s single up the middle. McEntire cruised through the bottom of the sixth, getting two comebackers to the mound and, after an infield error, inducing DiChiara to ground out to Battles at shortstop.

Auburn got on the board in the top of the seventh when Peirce lined a homer just inside the foul pole in left to start the inning, but McEntire retired the next three hitters to complete the frame. He left having thrown 98 pitches and received a well-deserved hug from head coach Dave Van Horn, in his 20th season at the helm in Arkansas.

Arkansas reliever Zebulon Vermillion needed just four pitches to retire Auburn in the eighth.

The Razorbacks scored their final two runs in the ninth on a two-run single by Stovall against Brooks Fuller that scored Battles and Moore. It was Stovall’s fifth hit of the game, an Arkansas CWS record, and made him the first player since 2009 to get five hits in a College World Series game.14

Freshman Austin Ledbetter, McEntire’s high-school teammate for two seasons,15 pitched the ninth, surrendering a hit to DiChiara before Peirce hit into a 4-6-3 double play to end the game.

Arkansas catcher Turner reflected on McEntire’s performance: “Everything, fastball, curveball, cutter, changeup, and all for strikes,” Turner said. “Whenever you’ve got a four-pitch mix like that and you’re throwing them all for strikes, it’s a pretty good game plan for sure.”16

Auburn shortstop Moore agreed: “He had all his pitches working for him, and wherever Turner put his glove he was throwing it there.”17

Asked where this start ranked in his career, McEntire said with a chuckle, “I’d say that’s No. 1.”18

“Unreal and I don’t know what to say. I just knew the team needed somebody to step up and I wanted to be that guy. It was survive and advance and get to the next day.”19

Arkansas did survive the next day with a 3-2 win against Ole Miss but, needing one more win to advance to the CWS Finals, fell short in a 2-0 loss to Ole Miss—who then defeated Oklahoma in two games to win the 2022 National Championship.20

Behind every outstanding pitching performance, there is a story. For McEntire as a Razorback, it is one of determination and perseverance.

A 6-foot-4 walk-on from Bryant, Arkansas,21 he made his college debut for the Razorbacks in relief against South Alabama at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville on March 7, 2020. He got off to an eye-popping start—in his first inning he threw 11 consecutive strikes to strike out the side.

Another perfect inning, including his fourth strikeout, earned him a midweek start three days later against Grand Canyon University in which he scattered seven hits in six innings of a 6-1 Arkansas win to earn his first collegiate victory. Two days later the remainder of the season was canceled due to the outbreak of COVID.

During the 2020 fall team scrimmages, McEntire was unable to duplicate his previous success and was redshirted for the 2021 season.22

He watched his teammates from the team video room during the regular season and, after being sent to the Northwoods League for his collegiate summer-ball assignment with the Duluth Huskies, he watched the NCAA playoffs from his hotel room.

Ultimately, the time in Duluth proved fruitful23 for McEntire, but it did not pay dividends immediately. He had an up-and-down experience during the 2021 fall scrimmages back in Arkansas.

Through early April, he had not appeared in a game for the Razorbacks during the 2022 season.

With two upcoming midweek games against the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, followed immediately by an important three-game series against conference rival LSU, Van Horn and pitching coach Matt Hobbs sat down to discuss the pitching rotation.

Sensing that McEntire was frustrated by his lack of playing time, Hobbs called him into his office, where McEntire asked for the ball. After Hobbs conferred with Van Horn, McEntire was named the starter in the second game of a seven-inning doubleheader against Pine Bluff on April 12, more than 25 months after his last Razorback appearance.

McEntire responded with five strikeouts in three scoreless innings, working around two hits and three walks, and earned his second career win as a Razorback.

“We actually sat down in my office two days before Pine Bluff, and he was like, ‘I don’t feel like I’ve really gotten much of a shot,’” Hobbs said later. “And you know, he was right. Sometimes the players are right. He hadn’t really gotten much of a shot.”24

“Really, I was just waiting for the chance,” McEntire said later. “I knew once I was given the opportunity that I could run with it.”25

His success earned midweek starts against Arkansas State, Central Arkansas, and Missouri State, before he made his SEC debut on May 8 with 3⅓ innings of one-run relief at Auburn in the deciding game of the three-game series. A week later, he earned his first career save with three scoreless innings of relief in Arkansas’ 11-6 win against Vanderbilt.

Having earned the trust of his coaches, McEntire was an integral part of the Razorbacks staff during the 2022 NCAA Tournament leading up to his CWS start. He threw a combined 6⅔ innings of relief against Oklahoma State during Arkansas’ Regional win in Stillwater, and 5⅔ scoreless innings26 as the Game 2 starter against North Carolina in Chapel Hill27 in the Razorbacks’ 4-3 walk-off win that propelled them to the College World Series.

Despite not pitching the first half of the 2022 season, McEntire finished with 49 strikeouts and a 2.59 ERA in 48⅔ innings. He was especially good in his four postseason appearances in June with a 2.02 ERA in 19⅓ innings with 16 strikeouts.

Will McEntire gave his family, friends, and his hometown of Bryant a thrill they will never forget with a remarkable performance in a College World Series game.28

 

Author’s Note

The author has been an avid Razorback fan since childhood and graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1990. He is Will McEntire’s father.

Will McEntire, center, with his family at the 2022 College World Series (Courtesy of Madison McEntire)

 

Game ticket for June 21, 2022, game at the College World Series (Courtesy of Madison McEntire) 

 

Acknowledgments

This article was fact-checked by Russ Walsh and copy-edited by Len Levin. Arkansas Athletics provided the action photo of Will McEntire.

 

Sources

In addition to the references cited in the Notes, the author consulted the ESPN broadcast of the game. It can be seen at https://studio.youtube.com/video/EIu9i8x32hY/edit.

The box score of the game can be seen at https://www.espn.com/college-baseball/boxscore/_/gameId/401451113.

 

Notes

1 The new park was called TD Ameritrade Park Omaha before changing to Charles Schwab Field prior to the 2022 College World Series. https://cwsomaha.com/history/cws-history/.

2 https://arkansasrazorbacks.com/sport/m-basebl/schedule/?season=2020-21. Six of the 13 Arkansas losses in 2021 were by one run.

3 In 1999 the NCAA Division I baseball tournament expanded to 64 teams. The top 16 seeds host a four-team Regional. Regional winners are paired in eight best-of-three Super Regionals with the top eight seeds hosting if they win their Regional. https://www.sportingnews.com/us/athletics/news/college-world-series-format-games-bracket-explained/yndwqnp18l2m1b29vsmyfait8.

4 It was the highest-scoring regional in NCAA history. Arkansas, Oklahoma State, Grand Canyon, and Missouri State combined for 148 runs in seven games. The series featured several high-scoring games. In their first meeting, Arkansas beat Oklahoma State 20-12. The next day the Cowboys rallied from a 13-0 deficit against Missouri State to win 29-15 in the highest-scoring game in NCAA Baseball Tournament history. Oklahoma State then beat Arkansas 14-10 in 10 innings to force the deciding game, which Arkansas won 7-3. Matt Jones, “Razorbacks Win Stillwater Regional, Advance to Super Showdown with UNC,” www.nwaonline.com, June 6, 2022.

5 In the CWS championship format adopted in 2003, there are two four-team double-elimination brackets with the winners advancing to a best-two-of-three championship series. https://www.sportingnews.com/us/athletics/news/college-world-series-format-games-bracket-explained/yndwqnp18l2m1b29vsmyfait8.

6 Officially, they are the University of Mississippi but affectionately known throughout NCAA college athletics as Ole Miss.

7 Barnett entered the game with a 3-2 record and 3.98 ERA in 18 games, including 13 starts. He was drafted 87th overall by the Kansas City Royals in the 2022 MLB Draft.

8 Stovall had driven in seven runs in his first two CWS games.

9 McEntire told the author after the game that the pitch was right down the middle and just above the knees. On the ESPN broadcast, analyst Kyle Peterson agreed, saying, “That is a strike.” The missed call deprived McEntire of a 10-strikeout, no-walk outing.

10 DiChiara ended the 2022 season hitting .383 with 22 homers and 59 RBIs and a 1.326 OPS in 61 games. He shared the award with LSU’s Dylan Crews, who hit .349 with 22 homers and 72 RBIs and a 1.153 OPS in 62 games.

11 Video of the double play: https://twitter.com/RazorbackBSB/status/1539392511122329600.

12 Eight of McEntire’s nine strikeouts were swinging. For the game, he had 22 swings-and-misses, despite throwing just a handful of pitches over 90 MPH. McEntire’s previous high for strikeouts was set against Pine Bluff on April 12 and matched on April 20 against Arkansas State.

13 The Razorbacks lost the game 1-0. It was the final win for Florida State head coach Mike Martin, the all-time winningest baseball coach in NCAA Division I history. Martin finished his 40-year career with a record of 2,029-736-4. Interestingly, the last career win for Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, the all-time winningest NCAA basketball coach at 1,202-367, also came against Arkansas—a 78-69 win on March 26, 2022, in the NCAA tournament.

14 Matt Jones, “Stovall the Catalyst for Hitting Success,” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Little Rock), June 22, 2022: 5C.

15 In 2019 with McEntire (senior) and Ledbetter (sophomore) as their top two pitchers, the Bryant Hornets finished with a 27-5 record. The senior shortstop on the team was Logan Chambers, who after hitting .404 with 16 homers and 76 RBIs in 63 games for Crowder Junior College in 2021, transferred to the University of Tennessee.

16 Tom Murphy, “Tiger Tamers,” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 22, 2022: 1C.

17 Murphy.

18 Aaron Fitt, “Emerging Stars McEntire, Stovall Lead Hogs to Bracket Final,” D1 Baseball, June 22, 2022.

19 From interview with ESPN reporter on the field after the game.

20 Arkansas has appeared in the College World Series 11 times as of 2022, the third most by a school that has not won it. The Razorbacks finished second in 1979 and 2018.

21 Located just south of Little Rock, Bryant has had several pitchers appear for the Razorbacks, including Evan Lee, who made his major-league debut with the Washington Nationals on June 1, 2022.

22 NCAA Division I baseball players have five years to complete their four seasons of eligibility. A player may take a season off for reasons like a crowded roster, injury, or to develop their skills. A redshirt year allows him to sit out and remain in the program without wasting one of his four seasons.

23 McEntire had a 5-0 record in 11 games for the Huskies, finishing third in the league in ERA (2.59) and strikeouts (57) and fourth in innings pitched (59) with just 18 walks. https://northwoodsleague.com/pitching/?param=/9.

24 Matt Jones, “Rude in His Visits,” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 15, 2022: 5C.

25 Bob Holt, “McEntire’s Pitch Paid Off for Diamond Hogs,” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 26, 2022: 5C.

26 McEntire needed just 20 pitches to get through the first two innings but then had to wait out a 1-hour, 46-minute lightning delay before the game resumed in the top of the third inning.

27 McEntire had previous success in North Carolina: wholehogsports.com/news/2022/jun/13/mcentires-best-starts-have-come-in-tar-heel-state/.

28 The author was wired up by hogsplus.com starting in the fourth inning and they captured some great memories for our family. As of summer 2022, some of the footage can be seen at: twitter.com/HogsPlus/status/1539599385289441281 and twitter.com/RazorbackBSB/status/1539456957467176961.

Additional Stats

Arkansas Razorbacks 11
Auburn Tigers 1


Charles Schwab Field
Omaha, NE

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