FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas will open play today in the Shriners College Classic at Minute Maid Park today in Houston.
The Razorbacks will face Oklahoma at 3 p.m. They will face Texas Saturday night at 7 p.m. and Baylor at 7 on Sunday night to finish play there.
All three games will air live on AT&T Sports Net and will be streamed live on Astros.com & MLB.com. The games can also be heard on the Razorback Sports Network from Learfield/IMG, including locally in Fayetteville on 92.1 FM.
The Razorbacks faced Oklahoma in the fall in an exhibition game. This will be the first time since 2012 for the two teams to meet in the regular season. Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn has a lot of respect for the No. 22 Sooners after facing them this past fall.
“Very impressed with their pitching staff,” Van Horn said. “They just kept running arms at us. Then you look at their team ERA right now and I think it’s under 2.00. I think ours is just a little bit over 2.00. So it’s what we thought, they can really pitch. That’s what the so-called baseball experts going into the season were saying, that Oklahoma’s going to be a threat because they can really pitch.
“They’ve got good players. I got to watch them play one of their games live on opening weekend and they got after somebody pretty good. They swung the bats pretty good. I think it was against Virginia. Good team.”
Arkansas enters this weekend with a perfect 7-0 record and haven’t trailed yet this season. The three Big 12 schools though will likely be a step up in competition from Eastern Illinois and Gonzaga.
“It’s definitely going to be another step up,” Van Horn said. “Gonzaga, they’re a really good team, so I feel like they could go into this tournament and compete. Our pitching staff did a really good job against them, and we figured out their pitchers after a few innings. But we’re taking another step forward as far as competition when you look at probably the arm strength of the teams that we’ll face and maybe just the way you recruit nationally. All of the teams we’re playing, they have players from all over the country and they’re getting some of the best players in their state, if not all of them.
“It’ll be a real challenge I think just going on the road, the travel. Not as comfortable as playing at home. You’re out of your routine a little bit. We’d like to win all the games, but this should be a really good learning experience one way or another.”
Minute Maid is where the Houston Astros play their home games. Van Horn is familiar with the park.
“I think I’ve had two teams in there play three games (each) and I’ve watched a pro game or two in there,” Van Horn said. “It can be really jumpy to left. I you can pull the ball, you can get the ball off that wall with little more than a routine well hit ball. Then you can get it in the seats pretty easy if you hook it down there and hit it decent. From left center all the way over to the right field corner, you have to hit it pretty good. But it can be real lively. They’ll have an option to close that roof or leave it open with the weather and the temperatures this weekend.We’ll get an opportunity to work out Thursday night around 6 o’clock. We’ll get a good feel for the way the ball travels.”
Connor Noland will get the start today for the Hogs against the Sooners. Van Horn talked about today’s pitching matchup.
“Well, you look at on paper, you got two guys that are going to throw the ball over the plate consistently,” Van Horn said. “Connor, when his fastball is on, he locates it really well and it’s got some movement. He’s got really good secondary pitches and he’s got three of them. It’s not like he’s just got a two-pitch mix. He’s got a slider, curveball and a changeup all to go with his fastball. I think it’s a great matchup. Two guys going at it in a big-time atmosphere. From everything I’ve been told, we’re going to have a really good fanbase down there backing. It will be fun.”
Van Horn then will toss Patrick Wicklander against the Longhorns on Saturday night. He pitched against the Longhorns last season.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a whole lot different,” Wicklander said of this year’s Texas team. “I know they added one or two freshmen that are starting. But overall I know they’re a very experienced, veteran club. They’ll be good. I’ve got a few buddies over there I’ve been keeping up with. It’s going to be a good club. Not a whole lot has changed in the past year.”
Wicklander talked about what he’s anticipating in the game and that park.
“I’m anticipating a big crowd,” Wicklander said. “Earlier we were talking about how it’s already sold out in the lower tier. That’s a big portion of it. That’s probably more than Baum-Walker had during the supers last year. So it’s going to be a good atmosphere, a good battle between two really good programs.”
Van Horn has opted to go with Kole Ramage against the Bears on Sunday night.
“If you look back at kind of what we did with Kole, we brought him out of the pen the first weekend and didn’t pitch until Sunday,” Van Horn said. “Then, we asked him to start again on Thursday then brought him out of the pen on Sunday. We just feel like he deserves an opportunity to be more fresh and show us what he can do. So, we’re going to give him all this week. He’s not going to pitch in the games on Friday and Saturday. He’ll start for us Sunday.”
Friday – RHP Connor Noland vs. RHP Cade Cavalli
Saturday – LHP Patrick Wicklander vs. RHP Ty Madden
Sunday – RHP Kole Ramage vs. RHP Hayden Kettler
Arkansas is ranked in the top 10 of all six polls, moving inside the top 10 after the first two weeks of the season, sitting as high as No. 2 in the country this week by the NCBWA.