Diamond Hogs rout UALR as an appetizer for LSU series

The No. 1 Arkansas Razorbacks fought off the cold and the UALR Trojans on Tuesday with a sixth-inning explosion of home runs and a sterling combined pitching performance by a trio of Hog hurlers to post an 11-0 run-rule victory.

The victory served as an appetizer for Dave Van Horn’s Hogs. This week’s main course is a visit from the No. 8 LSU Tigers for a pivotal three-game series starting Thursday and running through Saturday.

The top-10 series is a huge one for the Razorbacks (20-3, 5-1 SEC) and Tigers (20-6, 2-4) as the two battle for early pole position in the SEC West and the overall conference race.

The SEC boasts six of the squads in the latest D1 Baseball Top 10 and 10 of the Top 25.

Between the top-rated Hogs and eighth-ranked Tigers are Texas A&M (22-3, 3-3) at No. 4. Tennessee (22-4, 3-3) at No. 5, Florida (14-10, 4-2) at No. 6, Vanderbilt (20-6, 3-3) at No. 7.

Alabama (19-6, 2-4) is No. 16, South Carolina (20-6, 4-2) is No. 18, Mississippi State (18-8, 3-3) is No. 21, and Kentucky (21-4, 5-1) is No. 24 despite leading the SEC East.

With just two SEC series played so far, it is still very early, but no matter where the Arkansas-LSU baseball series has fallen on the schedule, it’s a huge one for both clubs and the entirety of the SEC.

That’s why Thursday’s opener is being televised by ESPN2 in its choice 6 p.m. Thursday slot, and the SEC Network has Friday’s 7 p.m. game on its schedule. Saturday’s finale will be streamed on the SEC Network +.

Van Horn did not want to speak about the LSU matchup Tuesday in his post-game press conference, wanting to keep the focus on the trouncing of the in-state Trojans, but no doubt the rivalry with the Bayou Bengals is on his mind now.

Up next for the Razorbacks

Opponent: LSU
When: 6 p.m. Thursday, March 28
Where: Baum-Walker Stadium, Fayetteville

Next few games:

March 29 – LSU, 7 p.m. (SEC)
March 30 – LSU, 2 p.m. (SEC+)
April 2 – Arkansas State, 6 p.m. (SEC+)

Razorback second baseman and team captain Peyton Stovall, who blasted a two-run, opposite-field home run in the second inning, didn’t mind addressing the upcoming series against the defending national champs.

“It’s going to be really fun,” Stovall said. “We are looking forward to it. With [Arkansas ace] Hagen [Smith] on the mound and him (LSU right-handed pitcher Luke Holman) and all the fans, it’s going to be fun. It’ll be a challenge, but we are looking forward to it.”

Hailing from Haughton, La., Stovall is very familiar with LSU’s program.

“Growing up, watching LSU all the time, they have a really good team,” Stovall said. “Well coached. Their pitching staff is really good. It’s going to be fun, an electric environment. There’s going to be a lot of people there, great weather. So we are looking forward to it, man.

“Super fun. Obviously with them coming in here, if we just take it one game at a time and don’t try to make the game any bigger than it is. Just take it one pitch at a time. We are looking forward to it. Yeah.”

Arkansas sophomore shortstop Wehiwa Aloy, who had a monster game against UALR, going 3-for-3 with a grand slam, avoided feeding the fire surrounding the series with the Tigers when asked about the opportunity. He just flashed a smile behind his sunglasses and simply said, “I can’t wait.”

That succinctly sums up the attitude of all Hog fans toward the LSU series. While it doesn’t count in the standings any more than any other series, the Tigers have long been one of the standard-bearer’s for SEC baseball.

The fact that the Tigers are the defending national champions adds a bit more fire to the furnace. The lone achievement missing from Van Horn’s storied coaching career is a national title.

While Van Horn can’t let such thoughts seep into his mind while preparing for a series, it no doubt will be fuel for Razorback fans, who covet the notoriety that only comes with a College World Series title.

Though the LSU series on paper counts no more than any other SEC series, as professional rassler Ric Flair always enjoyed braying, “You have to beat THE MAN to be THE MAN.”

And right now, LSU remains the defending national champions no matter the rankings.

As for the victory over UALR, the Hogs scored two runs in the first and second innings when one could argue they could have scored more, somewhat continuing a season-long trend. The Hogs’ power showed up in the seventh inning with three homers, including Aloy’s grand slam.

Jack Wagner and Will Edmondson also tallied a couple of RBI apiece along with their home runs.

Ben Bybee pitched three excellent innings in his season debut for the Hogs. He stuck out five, gave up a hit but recorded no walks. Van Horn said that he would be available to pitch this weekend if called upon against the Tigers.

The Hogs’ shutout was their fifth of the season with Dylan Carter pitching 2 innings, and Christian Foutch and Stone Hewlett each throwing one. Like Bybee, they will be available to appear against the Tigers.

The Razorbacks entered the day with the nation’s best ERA at 2.59 and with the shutout, it slipped to 2.50.

The game was a perfect warmup for the LSU series.

Speaking of warming up, the weather is expected to moderate before the Tigers arrive. Thursday’s game will still be cool with an expected high in the lower 60s, but by Friday and Saturday, the high temperatures are expected to be in the 70s.

You can’t ask for much better from early spring in Northwest Arkansas than a huge baseball series and enjoyable weather.