Diamond Hogs travel to Kentucky for key SEC series

Most visiting Kentucky this weekend are going for the pomp and circumstance of the 150th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, but as grand as that event is, the only thing on the No. 2 Arkansas Razorbacks’ minds is returning home with an SEC series victory in their possession.

With three weekends of play left in the regular season, the Hogs (39-7, 16-5 SEC) lead the SEC West by a game over No. 1 Texas A&M (39-6, 15-6), while No. 8 Kentucky (33-9, 16-5) leads the East. The Razorbacks and Wildcats are tied for the overall SEC lead, so something has to give this weekend in their three-game series at Kroger Field.

First pitch this evening is at 5:30 p.m. with Razorback left-handed ace Hagen Smith (8-0, 1.35 ERA) on the mound opposing Kentucky righty Trey Pooser (3-0, 3.75 ERA). Razorback right-hander Brady Tygart (4-1, 2.68) will face Kentucky lefty Dominic Niman (7-3, 5.00) at 1 p.m. Saturday. The Hogs will send southpaw Mason Molina (5-1, 3.47) to the bump at noon Sunday to face right-hander Mason Moore (7-1, 5.08). All three games can be streamed on ESPN/SEC Network Plus.

Razorback head coach Dave Van Horn is expecting a tough series from an explosive Wildcats squad.

“They have a really good team,” Van Horn said following the Hogs’ 8-6 victory over Missouri State on Wednesday in which second baseman Peyton Stovall raked for five hits. “They swing the bats extremely well. They pitch and field the ball good. If you let them get on a roll, they will get on a roll. We know we have our hands full.”

That said, Van Horn said the series isn’t any different than any other league series. They all count the same.

“It’s a big deal, but it’s not a big deal,” Van Horn said. “It’s another SEC series. Next weekend, we’ve got Mississippi State. The last one we go to Texas A&M. So they’re all big.”

Up next for the Razorbacks

Opponent: at Kentucky
When: 5:30 p.m. Friday, May 3
Where: Lexington, Kentucky
TV: SEC Network+

Next games:

May 4 – at Kentucky. 1 p.m. (SEC+)
May 5 – at Kentucky. 12 p.m. (SEC+)

The Razorbacks would no doubt love to win the West as well as win the SEC regular-season crown for bragging rights, but what ultimately is more important is to continuing winning to lock up one of the top eight national seeds for the NCAA Baseball Tournament, which would lock up a host role for the Hogs through the first two rounds of the tournament.

Hosting doesn’t guarantee victories, but it does offer a distinct advantage with the type of post-season crowds the Razorbacks draw at Baum-Walker Stadium.

While there is no magic number for the Razorbacks, winning two of their final three SEC series would probably lock up a national seed, considering the opponents that are on tap.

The Razorbacks’ pitching and defense has been outstanding all season long, but while the Razorbacks’ offense has usually done enough to keep the Hogs in the victory column, the Razorbacks are far from an offensive juggernaut.

Many onlookers have predicted the Razorbacks would heat up at the plate, but as of yet, it just hasn’t happened. If there is some kind of an “on” switch, now would be a good time for the Razorbacks to flip it on.