Diamond Hogs turn up intensity for Alabama series

Heston Kjerstad / Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com

After sacrificing the final seven innings of a mid-week series at No. 4 Texas as basically a junior-varsity outing for his pitching staff Wednesday, Dave Van Horn and his No. 15 Arkansas Razorbacks continue their Spring Break road trip with a three-game series against the Alabama Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa this weekend.

Even though Arkansas issued 14 walks and sent four hit batters to the base path, the Diamond Hogs nearly came back to topple the Longhorns in the night, falling 7-6.

In the first game Tuesday, the Razorbacks whacked the Longhorns, 11-4, for their fourth-straight victory over the Longhorns in a game that wasn’t really that close. Lefty starter Patrick Wicklander, a freshman, looks more and more promising every time he takes the mound.

Razorback Baseball

Who: at Alabama
When: March 22, 23, 24
Where: Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Watch: ESPN App Stream

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The victory stands large for the Hogs because it was their first test against a Top-25 squad this season, and they passed it with flying colors.

Though Texas will forever be The rival to Razorbacks of a certain age, the truly important series of the week is against the Crimson Tide (18-4, 1-2 SEC). Tonight’s game is at 6, while first pitch for Saturday is 2 p.m. and Sunday is 1 p.m.

The Razorbacks (18-3, 3-0 SEC) are one of just three SEC squads with unblemished conference marks after a single weekend of conference play. Auburn (15-1, 3-0 SEC) remains undefeated with the Hogs atop the Western Division, while Georgia (19-2, 3-0) is the only undefeated squad in the East.

The Hogs swept Missouri (13-8, 0-3) in three hotly contested games, while the Crimson Tide lost two of three to No. 18 Ole Miss (16-6, 2-1 SEC).

All that can swiftly change over a weekend in SEC play, as Van Horn knows, even though Alabama is the only unranked team in the SEC West.

Until dropping two of three on the road against the Rebels, Alabama built a 12-game winning streak going into league play. The Crimson Tide has pitched and hit well all season, and have shown marked improvement defensively from a year ago with a .985 fielding percentage.

The Razorbacks swept Alabama in Baum Stadium last season, but nothing can be taken for granted in SEC play.

Arkansas sends junior right-hand Isaiah Campbell (4-0, 2.37) to the mound against Alabama’s Sam Finnerty (4-1, 2.03) in the series opener.

Right-handed freshman Conor Noland (0-0, 3.80) will face Alabama’s Brock Love (2-0, 2.50) on Saturday, and junior right-handers Cody Scroggins (1-0, 3.32) will face Will Freeman (2-1, 3.20) on Sunday.

After having a relatively silent series at the plate against Missouri, the Razorbacks swatted 20 hits in the two games at Texas, and Hogs hope to turn up their hitting even more this weekend.

Perhaps considered the Hogs best all-around hitter going into the season, Razorback sophomore shortstop Casey Martin saw his batting average dip to .247 after continuing to struggle from his leadoff spot against the Longhorns.

Martin’s too good of a player to remain mired in his hitting funk. A breakout weekend would be welcomed by his teammates and Hog fans alike

After going 4 for 7 against the Longhorns, freshman third baseman Jacob Nesbit ascended to the top of the Hogs’ batting chard with .348 average. He’s followed by fellow freshman left fielder Christian Franklin (.333), who lead the Razorbacks wit 24 RBI after smacking a grand slam against Texas.

Graduate transfer Trevor Ezell is batting .329, followed by right fielder Heston Kjerstad at.310, junior second baseman Jack Kenley at. 303 and catcher/DH Matt Goodheart at .302.