Diamond Hogs see road-map for improvement in James Madison series

Arkansas centerfielder Ty Wilmsmeyer catches a ball at the outfield wall in what was a 15-5 run-rule victory over James Madison on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024 in Fayetteville, Ark. (Arkansas Athletics)

It wasn’t a perfect opening week for the No. 2 Arkansas Razorbacks baseball team, but taking three of four from the solid James Madison Dukes wasn’t a bad way to open the season.

The Hogs defeated the Dukes, 4-0, Monday to polish off the series in fine fashion, getting an excellent starting pitching performance by freshman Colin Fisher and outstanding relief by Koty Frank, Will McEntire, and Stone Hewlett.

“What a great time to have our pitching staff really step up and give us a great outing,” Arkansas skipper Dave Van Horn said following the swift victory, which took just over two hours to get in the books. “Four guys came in and did a tremendous job. Colin Fischer, a starter, the first time out, five innings. No walks. Made them swing the bat, which we loved. Not a lot of super-hard contact. We played pretty solid defense behind him.”

The Hogs took a 6-4 decision on Friday and run-ruled the Dukes, 15-5, on Saturday, before falling, 7-3, Sunday, despite a solid starting pitching effort by Mason Molina.

Overall, the Razorbacks pitching was solid over the four games other than some relief work on Sunday and preseason All-American Hagen Smith’s control struggles on a cold day in the Hogs’ opener. He hit a batter and gave up a home run and two other runs in one inning of work.

Smith, though, is a proven performer, and there is little doubt he will bounce back in his next opportunity.

Along with fine starts by Fisher on Monday, Molina on Sunday, and Brady Tygart on Saturday, the relief work by McEntire and Frank was everything that Van Horn and pitching coach Matt Hobbs could have wanted from their first two appearances of the season.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: No. 7 Oregon State
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 23
Where: Globe Life Field, Arlington, Texas
TV: Flo Baseball

Next 3 games

Feb. 24 – Oklahoma State, 7 p.m. (Flo Baseball)
Feb. 25 – Michigan, 1 p.m. (Flo Baseball)
Feb. 27 – Grambling, 3 p.m. (SEC+)

Van Horn liked what he saw at the plate in spurts, but added that his Hogs needed to put more runs on the board than they managed in all but Saturday’s run-rule victory.

“Offensively, it was just enough,” Van Horn said. “We swung the bat early, but we didn’t drive in some runs. That’s kind of the thing. We’ve got to start picking up some runs when we have the opportunity. Sometimes it’s with two outs. That’s how you build up a lead or catch up. But, it was a big win. There is a big difference in winning three out of four and going two and two in an opening series like this.”

The Razorbacks made three errors in the series, which is not characteristic of Van Horn teams, even this early in the season, but the veteran coach was not overly concerned, though he did say corrections did need to be made.

“We didn’t make an error in the first two games, but made three in the last two,” Van Horn said. “(Sunday) wasn’t a great day in the field for us. (Monday) we had the pitcher pick-off and that throw in the ninth, that you know, the ball had a weird spin on it. It jumped back to the fielder’s left. Once you field the ball, make the throw under control… “I was real pleased with the defense, but it could have been better.”

While Van Horn would have liked to have seen more runs cross the plate, the Hogs hit .310 for the series with right fielder Kendall Diggs leading the Razorbacks with a .400 batting average with six hits, including three doubles and 2 RBI.

Centerfielder Ty Wilmsmeyer leads the team with 5 RBI and his fourth in batting average at .333. He’s one of three Hogs to swat home runs in the series along with catcher Hudson White (.357 and 4 RBI) and third baseman Jared Sprague-Lott (.333 and 4 RBI). White leads the team with 4 doubles.

White led off for the Hogs to open the series in place of injured second baseman Peyton Stovall, but Van Horn said he likes White better in the two hole with Diggs moving up to the top of the order for the time being.

First baseman Ben McLaughlin is hitting .385 with 4 RBI, and reserve infield/outfielder Jack Wagner is hitting .333 with a double and an RBI. Shortstop Wehiwa Aloy is hitting .294 a double and 4 RBI.

The Razorbacks will be back in action this weekend in the Kubota College Baseball Series held at Globe Life Field in Arlington Texas. The Razorback open play in the event at 7 p.m. Friday against No. 7 Oregon State. The Hogs play Oklahoma State at 7 p.m. Saturday, and face Michigan at 1 p.m. Sunday.

The games in the Kubota College Baseball Series will be streamed on FloBaseball. A subscription is needed to stream the games.