STILLWATER, Okla. – When the NCAA Baseball Stillwater Regional opens at Oklahoma State’s O’Brate Stadium Friday, it will match a veteran hurler who’s pitched on college baseball’s biggest stage against a prized newcomer.

Arkansas (38-18) will send senior Connor Noland out for the noon contest while Grand Canyon University (41-19) will go with freshman Daniel Avitia (8-4, 3.59), the Western Athletic Conference’s pitcher and rookie of the year.

Noland (5-4, 4.02), who pitched in the College World Series in 2019, started off the season strong, but has not been as efficient lately.

Arkansas has lost four games in a row and six of its last eight. It is used to hosting regionals, not traveling to play, which became a reality when they skidded to the finish.

Noland hopes to slip into the role of villain this weekend in a tournament that also includes Oklahoma State and Missouri State.

“It’s something I’ve never done in my career,” Noland said. “So it’s new for me, but it’s something different. I mean, you kind of get to be the bad guy. And you come into a different facility, a different environment, and play some games. So it’s exciting. It’s a new opportunity for us.”

Once 5-1 this season, Noland has not gone more than five innings in his last four outings after an eighth inning performance against Ole Miss on April 29.

He gave up six runs in 4 2/3 innings in his last start, which turned into a 7-5 loss to Florida in the SEC Tournament, but Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said analytics told a different story.

“This is what we see, and we used TrackMan (computer analytics) and some other data,” Van Horn said. “His stuff last weekend was really good. Breaking ball, velocity on his fastball. Maybe he didn’t locate it like he normally does, but his stuff, it’s not down. 

“We feel real good about Connor, and we feel like he’s as strong as ever. It’s not like we’ve pitched him eight innings every weekend. It’s been, 5, 6, 7.”

Noland, who met the media Thursday along with Arkansas third baseman Cayden Wallace, says he’s ready.
“I’m feeling really good,” Noland said. “I’m just excited. I think everybody here is very excited that we have an opportunity. It doesn’t matter how rest or or how I feel, I’m going to go out there and give it everything I have.

“Playing at Arkansas, I have a good opportunity and I think Cayden can speak for everyone in saying we’re ready. We’re just ready to step on the field.”

Noland was asked if he thought it was time for the luck to change for Arkansas, which has lost four straight and six of its last eight.

“I hope so,” Noland said. “I’m not a guy that believes big in luck. I think you put in your work, you prepare, and it’ll come to you.”
Wallace said the Razorbacks believe in Noland.

“On Connor, I expect the same thing that I have expected all year,” Wallace said. “He gives his all, he’ll give us a competitive game. We really haven’t as an offense helped him much this year, but that is our goal tomorrow – to help him. I think personally he has done really great all year. He has given us everything we could want as an offense.”

Grand Canyon head coach Andy Stankiewicz is of the mind that Noland will put forth an outstanding performance.

“He is a big-time performer and we expect him to be on top of his game and pitch his game,” Stankewicz said.

Avitia is a homegrown Phoenix prospect whose brother David was a 2020 Chicago Cubs draft pick after flourishing for an Antelopes program who became Division I in 2014.

Daniel Avitia was also drafted by the Cubs, but wanted $300,000, and was only offered $125,000 after they took him in the 19th round of the 2021 Major League Baseball draft.

“He is aggressive and has always been very aggressive on the mound,” Stankiewicz said. “He is one of those young men that he attacks the strike zone. He has a great fastball and change up, slider and he can use them in any count. “I think the the thing that we like about Daniel is his throws strikes, the defense is ready behind him. They know he is going to pound the zone.

“Generally it is a quicker-paced game and I know that is what a lot of our guys on defense enjoy.”

Avitia got the nod over senior Nick Hull (7-1, 3.89).

“He (Avitia) is used to this and relishes the opportunity to get on the mound and just be one of the guys to help our team have success,” Stankiewicz said.

Avitia was who Van Horn expected to face.

“He was player of the year or pitcher of the year in their league,” Van Horn said. “Had, like, 107 to 109 strikeouts in 80 innings. Think he’s 8-4. 14 starts, something like that. Threw out of the pen, maybe, early. But either way, they have two great options. Maybe three, I don’t know.
“… Just lanky kid with a whippy arm. 3/4 slot, movement, can run it away from lefties and righties. Scouting report talks about the velo and all that.”