By Otis Kirk
Arkansas will be at home this weekend for a three-game series against Tennessee in a key SEC matchup.
No. 7 Arkansas and No. 21 Tennessee will bring identical 31-11 records into this weekend’s series. Arkansas is atop the SEC West with a 12-6 record in conference play while the Vols are third in the SEC East at 9-9. Tennessee trails Georgia by four games and Vanderbilt by three.
Arkansas is coming off a 10-7 loss to Northwestern State on Wednesday one day after beating the same team 19-2. Arkansas’ Dave Van Horn knows the Vols will provide some tough competition for his Hogs.
“The Tennessee series is going to be a tough series,” Van Horn said. “They can really, really play. They have a good team and a lot of people are just talking about their pitching – every time you look up, they’re shutting teams out and giving up one run – but they’re swinging the bats pretty good now, scoring runs.
“They’re playing at a high level. They’re ranked now. It’ll be like every weekend in the league for the most part. You’re playing a really, really good club and we’ll have to play good.”
The Vols are coached by Tony Vitello who is the former hitting coach at Arkansas. He is in his second season with the Vols after leading them to a 29-27 record in his first year in Knoxville. Van Horn was asked what kind of style the Vols play?
“Well, they’re pitching and playing defense,” Van Horn said. “They’ll run. They have a couple of guys that can really run. They have one base runner that leads the league in stolen bases. They’ll move people around, but they have a couple guys that can hit it out of the park, but they’re not just going to sit around and wait on it. Probably just like most coaches, you’re going to see how the flow of the game’s going and see what they see and then make some choices from there.”
Van Horn will start Isaiah Campbell on Friday night. Following Wednesday night’s game, Van Horn talked about the rotaion beyond Campbell.
“(Patrick) Wicklander will throw Game 2,” Van Horn said. “Not sure about Game 3 yet.”
Campbell was asked what he remembers about Vitello?
“He also recruited me here,” Campbell said. “I was part of his first recruiting class here at the University of Arkansas. He’s a really good dude.
“I have all the respect for him and what’s he’s brought to Tennessee. I know he’s going to be pumped up and excited to come back to Baum and play us. He’s going to have his team ready to go.”
Campbell also talked about the Tennessee hitters.
“I don’t know much about their hitters,” Campbell said. “But I do know every game is going to be close this weekend. They have a really good pitching staff and it’s just another weekend in the SEC where we’ve got to play our best and whatever team makes the least amount of mistakes is going to win the series or maybe get a sweep.”
Arkansas outfielder Dominic Fletcher also credited Vitello for getting him to Arkansas.
“He recruited me here,” Fletcher said. “That’s one of the reasons I came here actually. He’s a great guy and he’s going to go out there and compete with whatever team he’s with. It’s going to be fun to play against him.”
Campbell (7-1, 2.44) will be up against Garrett Crochet (3-2, 2.45) on Friday night. Both Friday and Saturday’s games will begin at 6:30 p.m. while Sunday’s game, televised on the SEC Network, will have the first pitch at 4 p.m.
While the Hogs enter this series leading the SEC West they can ill afford a letdown. The SEC West is a close race. Texas A&M is at 11-6, a half-game back of Arkansas. They are followed by LSU at 11-7 and then Auburn, Mississippi State and Ole Miss at 10-8.