Diamond Hogs return home for big series with Ole Miss

There is no place like home, especially when home is Baum-Walker Stadium.

Dave Van Horn’s No. 10 Arkansas Razorbacks (24-4, 5-1 SEC) host the No. 22 Ole Miss Rebels (17-8, 3-3 SEC) for a three-game conference series this weekend after spending the last week and a half playing on the road. The Hogs have won 18-consecutive home games dating back to the 2017 season, and they would like to add to that stat this weekend.

First pitch tonight is at 8 p.m. in a game televised by ESPNU. Saturday’s contest is at 3 p.m. and will be televised by the SEC Network. Sunday’s game is at 1:30 p.m. and will be streamed online by the SEC Network Plus.

Razorback Baseball

Who: vs Ole Miss
When: March 29, 30, 31
Where: Baum-Walker Stadium, Fayetteville
Watch: ESPNU, SEC Network, SEC+

» See full schedule

The Hogs went 4-2 in six games during during their road trip, splitting a pair with No. 7 Texas, winning two of three at Alabama, and coming behind from a 2-0 defect to score eight unanswered runs to defeat Missouri State last Tuesday.

Arkansas’ two losses were ugly, though.

The 7-6 loss to Texas saw the Razorbacks bullpen struggle mightily with 14 walks and 4 hit batters as Van Horn gave several young pitchers the opportunity to show what they could do. Last Saturday, the Razorbacks’ pitching melted down again, but this time got absolutely no run support in a 10-0 spanking at the hands of the Crimson Tide.

That happens in baseball. The Razorbacks responded after both losses with strong performances and as a result, the Hogs are tied for the lead in the SEC West with No. 12 Texas A&M (22-5, 5-1) going into their respective weekend series.

The Razorbacks and Aggies are a half game behind No. 6 Georgia (22-4, 6-1 SEC) by virtue of the Bulldogs’ 7-3 victory over Kentucky Thursday night.

At this moment, the Razorbacks’ response to their two losses last week seem to say more about the Hogs than the losses. Bouncing back decisively after a loss is the mark of a team with a mature attitude, even one that counts on its youth like the Razorbacks do.

Following the 7-6 loss at Texas, the Razorbacks throttled the Crimson Tide, 12-3. Arkansas bounced back from the loss to Alabama last Saturday to win Sunday’s rubber match decisively, 10-2.

However, Saturday starter freshman Connor Noland (0-1, 4.50 ERA) struggled against the Crimson Tide, and has not been as sharp on the mound lately as he was early in the season and during preseason. He had better velocity in a short appearance on Tuesday at Missouri State, and remains scheduled to take the mound at 3 p.m. against the Rebels.

Some say he hasn’t pitched as well because he’s double-dipping, trying to practice as much as he can with the Razorback football team, while spending the bulk of his time this spring with baseball.

That may be so, but then again, I don’t think there is enough of a book on Noland as a college pitcher to come to a hard conclusion. Pitchers who don’t practice football have bad outings all the time.

Friday starter Isaiah Campbell (5-0, 1.93 ERA) has been exceptional for the Razorbacks this season. He has not allowed a run in two SEC starts. The right-hander has been everything Arkansas’ coaching staff has wanted him to be this season.

Right-hander Cody Scroggins (2-0. 3.0 ERA) will get the start for Arkansas on Sunday.

The Rebels will send a good one to the mound against Campbell in right-hander Will Etheridge (4-1, 0.71 ERA). Just looking at the pitchers, tonight’s game stacks up to be a pitching duel, but the Razorbacks and Rebels are more than capable of scoring runs.

The Razorbacks have a team batting average of .295 with six Razorbacks with more than 50 at bats hitting over .300. Freshman third baseman Jacob Nesbit leads the way at .337 with 20 RBI. He’s riding a 15-game hitting and a 22-game on-base streak.

Right fielder Heston Kjerstad is next, hitting .327 with a co-team leading 5 home runs tied with shortstop Casey Martin and 17 RBI. Graduate transfer first baseman Trevor Ezell has been a fine pickup for the Razorbacks. He’s hitting .315. with 3 home runs and 6 doubles with 15 RBI.

Center fielder Dominic Fletcher hits .312 with 4 homers and a whopping 11 doubles and 19 RBI. Second baseman Jack Kenley is hitting .309 with 4 home runs and 19 RBI. In 54 at bats, designated hitter Matt Goodheart is hitting .354 with 5 doubles and 9 RBI.

Left fielder Christian Franklin’s batting average is at .284, but he leads the team with 25 RBI. Martin, a preseason All-American, has been productive at the plate with 9 doubles and the aforementioned 5 home runs and 19 RBI, but his batting average has dipped to .243 on the season.

The Razorbacks have played a bit better than many expected this season, but the Rebels are the first ranked SEC opponent the Hogs have faced this season. Ole Miss certainly won’t be the last with road trips to No. 18 Auburn, No. 4 Vanderbilt, and No. 12 Texas A&M on the horizon and home dates with No. 2 Mississippi State and No. 17 LSU also on the docket.

It is still very early in the college baseball season.

As always the SEC is strong and deep with every team ranked or not being a talented and capable opponent.

The Razorbacks deserve their top-10 ranking at the moment, but now in the meat of SEC play, it’s going to be difficult to hold on to it as there are sure to be ups and downs over the next eight weeks.