FAYETTEVILLE — No. 1 Arkansas will try to protect its perfect record this weekend in Ruston against Louisiana Tech.
The Hogs will enter the series with another changet to their pitching rotation. Dave Van Horn talked about the three starters he will use this weekend.
“We’ll go with (Peyton) Pallette Friday,” Van Horn said. “We’re going to give (Zebulon) Vermillion a shot on Saturday again and then (Lael) Lockhart on Sunday.”
Vermillion started the season opener against Texas Tech and Southeast Missouri State games, but then pitched out of the bullpen last weekend against Murray State. Van Horn talked about what he has seen from Vermillion to put him back into the rotation. In three games, Vermillion has one save, pitched 9.1 innings, allowed seven hits, walked six, allowed four runs (all earned) and has an ERA of 3.85.
“Haven’t really seen more than what you’ve seen in the games,” Van Horn said. “He throws three or four pitches for a strike. He came in the other day and got through a couple innings. I think he had a strikeout or two. He mixed it up pretty good. Wasn’t throwing the ball as hard maybe as we would like him to, low 90s. But he did throw everything over the plate.
“So I think that’s a big key. Just his experience as well. We feel good about our bullpen right now. If we took Zeb out of the rotation he would just join kind of a crowded bullpen. We felt like we just needed to give him a start again.”
Do you feel as if the one successful relief appearance helped get him ready to start again?
“I hope so,” Van Horn said. “I don’t think he’s been bad by any means. I just think we want more. Hopefully, he started a game, has been out of the bullpen, he’s been focusing on what he needs to do and he’ll go out and have a good outing against a good hitting team. They’re going to be like the last two weekends. They’re older and physical. They hit for some power, and they pitch pretty well. So, it’s going to be the same type teams we’ve played the last couple weekends. The difference is we’re playing in their park. It’s sold out. We didn’t hardly get any tickets. It’s going to be all them.”
Louisiana Tech will bring an 8-3 record into the three games including a perfect 6-0 at home.
“As far as the weekend, it’s a tough place to play,” Van Horn said. “They’re undefeated at home. They’re on a little bit of a roll right now. Statistically, they swing the bats. Their starting pitching has been really good as far as the weekend guys.
“They had a mid-week game last night. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes not. A lot of times if you’re playing well, you want to play and keep the momentum rolling, and they did. We try to find out as much as we can about them as far as how they play the game offensively, and then tendencies on the mound. I think we’ve done a pretty good job there. I think it’ll be a big challenge, a really big challenge for us. We’re traveling down there on a couple buses, and it’ll be a road series. A true road series. It’ll be good experience.”
This will be the first true road trip for Van Horn’s Hogs. How did this series come about?
“This series came about because we need to be out of town this weekend because of the national championship track meet (Thursday through Saturday at Randal Tyson Center),” Van Horn said. “Normally I like to play at home the last weekend before conference opens up. But five years ago I think when they put a bid in to host this NCAA championship indoor track meet and they got it, I think the NCAA wanted to make sure maybe there weren’t some other events going on in the area.
“Little did they know at the time that fans weren’t going to be all over the place here. So I was asked by the administration if I could be out of town this weekend, and that’s what we’re doing.”
Does it help to play a true road series before you open SEC play even though next weekend’s conference opener is at home?
“I think you’re facing the same team three days in a row,” Van Horn said. “You kind of figure each other out a little bit. It’s a true road test. It’s not like we’re going to a place where we know we’re going to roll in there and win two out of three even if we don’t play well. We’ll have to play really well to win two out of three, like in conference. Just because of the maturity of their team and the talent they have. It will give us a lot I think to build off of. Hopefully we’ll do well, but it will get us ready for playing at Mississippi State in a couple week.”
Tech is hitting .313 as a team so all the pitchers will likely be challenged this weekend.
“They’ve got some guys with power up and down the lineup.” Van Horn said. “They’ve got a couple guys up top that can run. They’ll bunt and handle the bat a little bit. I think they’re going to be kind of like the teams we saw last week and the week before. I don’t know if they’re better or not as good. We’ll find out. I think the key is that they’re at home and we’re on the road. So, we played down there a few years ago in a mid-week series on the way to a tournament in Dallas and we lost on a Tuesday night and then found ourselves down like 8 runs after two innings on a Wednesday and we came back and won that game before we went to the Frisco Tournament. It’s a tough environment. It’ll be packed. It’ll be loud. I’m sure they’re going to promote where we’re rated and ranked and I think that we’re going to get a real feel for what it’s like to be on the road in a tough environment.”
Taylor Young is hitting .340 with four home runs on the season. In all, they have hit 17 home runs as a team. But Tech also has some good pitching.
“The lefty we’re going to face on Friday is a big kid,” Van Horn said. “Tall. Big, strong left-hander. Just fills up the zone. His numbers are good. He sinks it. He pitches in to righties. He’s doing a great job. That’s why he’s throwing first. He’s a senior, like just about everybody we’re going to see. Their lineup is a bunch of seniors. Whether it’s covid senior or straight-up senior or fifth-year senior or whatever. Ninety MPH lefty, then right-handers on Saturday and Sunday. Pretty much the same or maybe just a little bit more velocity wise. They’ve got a couple, three guys that have good numbers out of the pen. You always wonder what the depth is of other team’s bullpens and I hope we have the opportunity to find out.”
Lane Burroughs is the head coach at Louisiana Tech.
“I think he’s done a tremendous job,” Van Horn said. “They’ve elevated that program over the last five years – and that’s when he got there, five years ago – to more of the top of their league. Before that, they were in the middle or maybe the other end. Maybe they’d have a good team here and there, but they’ve been good every year. He’s got Mitch Gaspard on his staff. Mitch used to be the head coach at Alabama. He’s the recruiting coordinator there. He’s been all over the place. They’ve got a great pitching coach. They’ve got some guys that are known around college baseball coaching on that staff. Ruston’s a really pretty town. They have a brand new ballpark this year. They play in a good league and if they work, and they’re getting support from their athletic department, they’re doing what they need to do. Lane’s a really good person and a really good coach. I’m really happy for him. Obviously I want to win them all, but I look forward to seeing him.”
As far as his own team, Van Horn talked about third base and left field.
” I’m not 100-percent sure yet on that yet,” Van Horn said. “I really would like to see (Braydon) Webb get going. They’re throwing a left-hander Friday so I might put him out there, plus he’s our best defender. You want to try to be strong. Even though there’s a left-hander going, I’ll probably go with the same infield I started with last week. I could start Jacob (Nesbit), I’m not sure yet, Nesbit at third. But then I’d have to take out a bat. Jacob did get a big hit for us the other day, obviously, and help us jump that lead up three runs with that one swing. I dunno. Still working on that a little bit. It’s good to have some options, that’s for sure.”
The majority of the time Van Horn has gone with Matt Goodheart at designationed hitter, Brady Slavens at first base and Cullen Smith on third.
The first game of the series is at 6 p.m. Friday night.