The Razorbacks have won yet another SEC road series against another nationally ranked opponent and this time they did it with pitching instead of a home run onslaught. The Hogs never trailed in their two wins over a South Carolina team that was one game out of the overall lead in the SEC when the series started.
Dave Van Horn’s boys won a deciding game three on the strength of a combined one-run, two-hitter by starter Patrick Wicklander and reliever Kevin Kopps. Quite a contrast to the 25 total runs given up by Arkansas pitching in game three of the two previous conference series. The pair erased 11 Gamecock batters on strikeouts without issuing a single walk. Kopps struck out every single batter he faced in the 8th and 9th innings.
Starting pitching has been an off and on issue for a team that’s a consensus number one in college baseball one series past the midway mark in the 2021 SEC race. However, head coach Dave Van Horn confirmed that Wicklander will be back in the Friday spot when the Razorbacks begin their road series with LSU. In this 6th start of the season the junior lefty from San Jose, California dropped his ERA to 2.20 with 44 strikeouts in 41 innings pitched.
Statistics do little to explain Arkansas’ remarkable run through the 2021 season to date. The team’s batting average of .280 is good but the Hogs 2019 CWS team hit .298 and the 2018 national runner up came in at .296.
The team ERA currently sits at 4.08 compared to a 3.90 for the 2019 Hogs and a 3.55 for the 2018 Razorbacks.
The Hogs are on pace to set a home run record for the school with 72 dingers so far, ten more than Old Dominion, the closest team to them and 17 more than Auburn, the number two ranked SEC team in longballs. No question this bunch has staged an number of late comebacks via shots into the cheap seats. But they have also won games with pitching when the bats were relatively quiet.
The defense has been good. Arkansas is currently 19th in fielding percentage. But none of this really explains why Arkansas is 9-0 in baseball series wins this season and 4-0 away from home with each of those road opponents nationally ranked. Mississippi State, South Carolina, Ole Miss and Louisiana Tech sit 4th, 11th, 12th and 14th respectively in the national polls. So far this season Arkansas is 5-0 vs. top five teams, 6-0 vs. the top 10 and 12-3 vs. the top 25. The better the opponent the better these guys seem to play.
So how do they do it?
Maybe by never talking about being number one and never mentioning the fact that they are the only conference team yet to lose a series in the brutal SEC. That’s how Dave Van Horn sees it. He keeps putting a bunch of guys on the field that are just trying to win that game on that day.
However they are doing it, by completing the South Carolina series on Friday night, these Hogs have a rare weekend off just past the middle of the season. How will they spend it? Van Horn figures the hitters will still come to the ballpark for batting practice on Sunday but it’s not required. In fact, with no scheduled midweek game the team won’t even have a formal practice until Tuesday and will leave for Baton Rouge on Thursday after another workout on Wednesday.
How did Van Horn plan to spend his weekend? “Mowing my yard,” he said.
Makes sense. His Razorbacks are mowing down opponents this season. Why not the grass in his yard too?