By Otis Kirk
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ Dave Van Horn and his squad will play host to South Alabama for three games this weekend.
The opening game of the series will be today at 3 p.m. at Baum-Walker Stadium. The Hogs and Jaguars have played five times previously with Arkansas holding a 3-2 edge. The two last played in 2015 in Mobile. South Alabama came to Fayetteville for a three-game series in 2014 and won two of the games.
Arkansas (7-4) hopes to get back on the winning track today against South Alabama (7-7). Arkansas has lost four games in a row including each of the last three by one run. South Alabama enters the game with a team batting average of around .200.
“That’s amazing to me because they usually hit a lot,” Van Horn said. “I look at their schedule, they’ve played some good teams and they’ve faced some good arms. But, they’re still struggling. They are finding a way to win one or two games every weekend hitting .200. That’s amazing.
“Against Gonzaga, they won two out of three but they scored four runs in the ninth in that Sunday game to win. They were down three. So, Gonzaga’s bullpen let them slip. That gave them some momentum, but they go over to Alabama [Tuesday] night and lose 12 to 2. It’s just up and down. As I said, they are a very scrappy talented tough program. And, they’re coming here, kind of like we are, we need to win games.”
South Alabama will pitch Drake Nightengale against Patrick Wicklander today in the series opener. Van Horn was asked if any Arkansas team has faced better pitching at this point of the season in any recent memory?
“I would say as of this far in, no,” Van Horn said. “I mean, we knew what we were going to see at the tournament in Houston. When we scheduled Eastern Illinois two or three years ago for this series, I didn’t know they were going to have that kind of caliber of guy, I mean he’s an SEC pitcher. You could go on and on. It’s been tough, so to answer your question, it’s probably been the roughest so far in the talent we’ve had to beat.”
Will that translate to helping in the SEC?
“I guess time will tell on that, but it’s definitely better to face it now then kind of get shocked when you get there,” Van Horn said. “It’s kind of like, ‘Wow this is really a step up.’ I don’t think anything is going to be a step up. The only thing that’s going to be a step up is maybe the position players are all going to be good and you’re playing in an environment where 10,000 people aren’t all cheering for you. That is really the difference.”
Connor Noland is the normal Friday starter, but he’s out with a mild oblique sprain. That moved Wicklander up to Friday, Caleb Bolden on Saturday and Kole Ramage Sunday.
“Wicklander’s got great stuff,” Van Horn said. “He just didn’t have it last week. I don’t know why. We hadn’t really seen it. Who knows? If he had gotten through that second inning maybe he could have turned it around but he threw a lot of pitches in that inning and that’s usually a disaster. It’s hard to send them back out if they throw 30 pitches in an inning, or 32. You’re not going to last. So we had a pretty fresh bullpen and we went to it. Once we got through that it went pretty good.”
All three games will air live on SEC Network Plus and can also be heard on the Razorback Sports Network from Learfield/IMG, including locally in Fayetteville on 92.1 FM.
Saturday’s game will start at 2 p.m. and then Sunday is noon.
Friday – LHP Patrick Wicklander vs. RHP Drake Nightengale
Saturday – RHP Caleb Bolden vs. RHP Miles Smith
Sunday – RHP Kole Ramage vs. RHP JoJo Booker