Spring weekend is busy for the Razorbacks

Arkansas pitcher Hagen Smith was named the National Pitcher of the Week by D1Baseball, the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and Perfect Game after his 17-strikeout game against Oregon State on Feb. 23 in the Kubota College Baseball Series. (Arkansas Athletics)

As the Arkansas Razorbacks’ basketball season unmercifully unspools with three regular-season games left on the docket, the Hogs’ promising baseball season enters its third weekend of play with a solid home series against the Murray State Racers.

The Diamond Hogs are ranked anywhere from No. 2 to No. 5 in the various polls with a 6-2 record.

The series with the Racers (6-2) gives the reloaded Razorback squad another chance to improve as they march toward their SEC opening series with Missouri at Baum-Walker Stadium on March 15-17.

The Hogs routed Grambling, 21-7, in a run-ruled seven-inning outing on Tuesday to stretch their legs before this weekend series that should be more competitive.

All three games can be streamed on ESPN/SEC Plus if you are unable to make it out to the ballpark. Friday’s first pitch is at 3 p.m., while Saturday’s game is at 2 p.m. and Sunday is at 1 p.m.

While it will be cool for today’s game, the weather is expected to be outstanding Saturday and Sunday with mild temperature in the mid- to upper 70s. That will make play much more comfortable than in Arkansas’ opening series two weeks ago when it was frigid for baseball, especially on opening day.

The warmer weather should be good for Arkansas’ pitchers, who performed magnificently last weekend inside Globe Life Stadium in Arlington, Texas, save for a few innings. Hog fans have to hope playing at home will inject some life in the Razorbacks’ offensive production.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: Murray State
When: 3 p.m. Friday, March 1
Where: Baum-Walker Stadium, Fayetteville
TV: SEC Network +

Next 3 games

March 1 – Murray State, 3 p.m. (SEC+)
March 2 – Murray State, 2 p.m. (SEC+)
March 5 – UCA, 3 p.m. (SEC+)

Even after the Hogs’ 21-1 outburst against woefully outmatched Grambling on Tuesday, Arkansas’ batting average rests at a humble .287 with only four Hogs batting over .300 on the season. As the weather warms and competition normalizes, expect those averages to improve.

Third baseman Jared Sprague-Lott leads the team, batting .458 with right fielder Kendall Diggs hitting .400. Second baseman Peyton Holt follows at .333, and first baseman Ben McLaughlin is batting .310 and is tied with left fielder Jayson Jones (.200) for the team lead with 8 RBI. Jones leads the team with two home runs. Sprague-Lott, center fielder Ty Wilmsmeyer (.269), and catcher Hudson White each have a single homer.

Razorback left-handed ace and pre-season All-American Hagen Smith (0-0 3.86 ERA) gets the start Friday, coming off a 17-strikeout performance last Friday against Oregon State that garnered him SEC Pitcher of the Week honors. He will face right-hander Cade Veronon (1-0.6.52 ERA) for the Racers.

Murray State plans to start right-handed pitcher Bryce Valero (1-1. 4.50 ERA) against Razorback righty Brady Tygart (1-0, 0.82 ERA) on Saturday.

Razorback lefty Mason Molina (1-0, 2.08 ERA) opens Sunday’s finale on the mound against Murray State righty Ryan Fender (0-0, 3.52 ERA).

As for the basketball squad, the Razorbacks have difficult duty on Saturday.

Coach Eric Musselman’s Hogs enter the unfriendly environs of Rupp Arena, to take on John Calipari’s surging Kentucky Wildcats scuffling with a 14-14 record overall and a 5-10 SEC mark.

Tipoff is set for 12:30 p.m. on CBS.

After starting the Vandy game hot and building a double-digit lead early, the Hogs experienced a devastating cold spell shooting that saw them trail by double digits before working themselves back into the game against the Commodores only to fall short.

After dropping an 85-82 decision to lowly Vanderbilt at Walton Arena on Tuesday night, the Razorbacks will try to find their equilibrium against a talented Kentucky squad.

This Razorback squad has suffered agonizing defeats like Tuesday’s and humiliating ones this season like early January losses to Auburn and Ole Miss. The one consolation for Hogs fans is that as of yet, the squad hasn’t given up.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: at Kentucky
When: 12:30 p.m. Saturday, March 2
Where: Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.

Upcoming games

March 6 – LSU, 6 p.m. (SEC)
March 9 – at Alabama, 11 a.m. (ESPN)
March 13 – SEC Tournament in Nashville

I have no expectation of a Razorback victory over the No. 16 Wildcats, but I do believe the Hogs will shake off the loss to Vandy and play hard on Saturday.

At this point in the season, that’s about all we can expect from these Hogs, who for whatever reasons have not meshed this season despite Musselman trying multiple combinations.

Injuries have no doubt been an issue at times, but for whatever reason this squad has never gelled. One could convincingly argue the Hogs hit their peak in early December with their defeat of No. 10 Duke in Walton Arena.

That is uncharacteristic for Musselman’s squads who have routinely played their best basketball in late February and March his previous four seasons.

Could this team turn it around over the last week and a half of the regular season?

Not fully, but hopefully they don’t give up the ghost and keep competing.

Though Musselman has led Arkansas to victories in Rupp Arena in their last two visits, a third doesn’t appear to be in the cards.

While the Hogs were struggling with Vanderbilt, the Wildcats were winning a heart-stopper, 91-89, over Mississippi State at Humphrey Coliseum with Reed Sheppard nailing the game-winning 3-pointer with 0.5 seconds on the clock.

The victory allowed Kentucky to keep pace with Florida and Auburn at 10-5 in SEC play behind South Carolina (11-4), Alabama (12-3), and Tennessee (12-3).

Strangely, Arkansas’ league record is the inverse at 5-10. Currently Arkansas and Georgia are tied in league play, two games ahead of Vanderbilt (3-12) and five ahead of Missouri (0-15) as the SEC’s bottom four.

Considering the Razorbacks’ schedule, it’s hard to see Arkansas improving its standing much going into the SEC Tournament, which will be held in Nashville March 13-17.

After visiting Kentucky on Saturday, the Razorbacks play host to LSU at 6 p.m. Wednesday in their final home game. The Hogs close out the regular season against Alabama at 11 a.m. on March 9. The Razorbacks won’t be favored in any of the three games.

The postseason will likely be relegated to playing in the SEC Tournament for the Hogs, unless there is a drastic turnaround.

The Razorbacks would have to win the SEC Tournament to earn a NCAA Tournament bid.

An NIT bid seems out of reach after Tuesday’s upset loss to Vanderbilt weighed in conjunction with Arkansas’ remaining schedule.

There is a 16-team CBI Tournament, too, but considering the circumstances, I’m not sure the Hogs would make the field or if they would even want to.

But, that is putting the cart before the horse.

The Razorbacks play Kentucky on Saturday.

Maybe Musselman can goad the Hogs into rising to the occasion to at least to compete against the league’s most storied program?