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BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
If Friday’s five-inning baseball scrimmage is any indication, Arkansas outfielder Kendall Diggs is set for a big 2024 season.
Diggs hit a pair of solo homers for his White team in its 3-3 tie with the Cardinal squad at Baum-Walker Stadium that doubled as the Razorbacks’ first official practice of 2024.
He is slated to be Arkansas’ every day right fielder this season after learning the position on the fly last season while hitting .299 with 12 home runs and a team-leading 63 RBIs.
“Going out to summer ball, playing some in the outfield last year, he’s really, really made a big jump defensively,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said after fall practice ended up.” He looks like an outfielder, throws like an outfielder. I think he’s going to have a great year, and I think he’s going to hit right in the middle of our order.”
Arkansas opens its season on Friday, Feb. 16 at 3 p.m. against James Madison in the first of a four-game series withe Dukes.
Van Horn notes that Diggs has also evolved as a leader and was named a captain this season along with Peyton Stovall and Hagen Smith.
“Kendall Diggs really stepped up as a leader,” Van Horn said. “He was kind of quiet his first couple of years. This year, a lot more verbal, works hard. The players love him. He was selected as a team captain.
Freshman catcher Ryder Helfrick and Sacramento State transfer shortstop Wehiwa Aloy also launched solo blasts in the contest.
“Freshman Ryder Helfrich is as talented a freshman catcher as I’ve ever had and I had James McCann in here who was pretty darn good, and I’ve had some good ones,” Van Horn said. “You think back to James’ first year it was catch and throw. Then his bat came on, it probably came on his junior year when he probably led us in hitting, even with those terrible bats we had to use that year.
“But Ryder has a lot more bat potential this year, and If he keeps getting better with the bat, which I’m sure he will, arm strength, receiver, he was outstanding the first five weeks of fall baseball. The last week not so good.
“And I don’t know if he kind of just hit the wall or what happened. But he’s kind of hard on himself and he’s a really good player. He just needs to relax and play.”
Diggs’ first homer came in the top of the first off Arkansas preseason All-American pitcher Hagen Smith, who was named as D-1 Baseball’s preseason SEC Pitcher of the Year on Saturday
Smith fanned the other three batters he faced while tossing 11 strikes during his 14-pitch, one-inning stint.
Will McEntire (29 pitches, 19 strikes) relieved Smith and hurled two innings of hitless baseball, fanning two and walking one.
Diggs hit his second homer off Cardinal relief pitcher Gage Wood, who also gave up a round-tripper to Helfrick that put the White up 3-0 in the top of the fourth.
Wood (29 pitches, 21 strikes) threw two innings, fanned five and gave up two runs on two hits.
Texas Tech transfer pitcher Mason Molina started for the White team and went two hitless innings while fanning three, walking a pair and firing 29 pitches – 22 for strikes.
Jake Faherty followed with a couple of frames, giving up a run, walking one and striking out a trio during his 29-pitch, 16-strike outing.
Koty Frank (19 pitches, 11 strikes) closed for the White squad, giving up a pair of runs in the fifth that deadlocked the game.
Will Edmonson had an RBI double and Ty Waid an RBI single for the Cardinal.
Arkansas is set to scrimmage again Sunday at noon and it is open to the public.
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Ty Wilmsmeyer CF
Peyton Holt 3B
Kendall Diggs RF
Jayson Jones LF
Ben McLaughlin 1B
Ryder Helfrick C
Jared Sprague-Lott SS
Hudson Polk DH
Nolan Souza 2B
Will Edmunson CF
Hudson White C
Jack Wagner 1B
Wehiwa Aloy SS
Parker Rowland DH
Ross Lovich RF
Hunter Grimes LF
Reese Robinett 3B
Ty Waid DH
Peyton Holt 2B
Jared Sprague-Lott 2B
Photo courtesy of Arkansas