FAYETTEVILLE — There’s no doubt few, if any, baseball coaches have had more success than Dave Van Horn while at Arkansas.
However, Gonzaga is a school that has enjoyed unusual success against Van Horn’s Hogs. When the two have played it seems Gonzaga has had Arkansas’ number.
“They have,” Van Horn said Tuesday. “They got us in Arizona. We faced a big leaguer. Think we lost like 1-0 or 2-1 out there in Arizona. I know in 2015 they came in here for a couple of mid-week games early and we did everything we could to not win games. We were walking people and hitting people and couldn’t hold the lead. They really frustrated us. They’ve got a really good program.”
Arkansas is 3-0 after sweeping Eastern Illinois this past weekend at Baum-Walker Stadium. Gonzaga will bring a 2-2 record into Fayetteville for the series that begins Thursday at 2 p.m.
“They’ve got an older team,” Van Horn said. “You know they’re all big series, but I imagine when you come to an SEC school and you’ve got a chance to play three or four games it can really boost your resume.
“They did a nice job yesterday scoring three runs in the bottom of the ninth to come back to beat New Mexico (5-4) at a neutral site. They also beat Oregon State (10-4) in that tournament. I think they lost to BYU. I think the score was 8-1 there (7-1) but it was 1-1 going into the seventh or eighth and they gave up seven (6) runs in one inning. So that was another great game. And then I think Oregon State (5-1) beat them. They’ve played really good competition, neutral site, so I don’t really feel like the travel or the atmosphere is probably going to bother them too much. They’ve been on the road.”
Since this is a four-game series Van Horn is changing up the pitching rotation slightly.
“We’ll go Thursday we’re gonna go (Kole) Ramage,” Van Horn said. “Friday, we’ll go (Connor) Noland. Saturday or game 3 (Patrick) Wicklander. And then we’ll leave the fourth game TBA. See how it goes, who we’ve got to pitch. We’re probably going to be battling some weather too. So that’s the order anyway. Those three.”
Noland is the Friday weekend starter and Wicklander has been slotted into the Saturday spot. That is how they pitched last weekend and barring something causing a change they will remain in those spots going forward. Both pitched well against Eastern Illinois. Van Horn was asked if the decision to leave Noland and Wicklander in their normal spots instead of moving up a day was to keep them on their days?
“Yeah, a little bit,” Van Horn said. “Ramage was the guy we almost started the opening weekend, but we wanted to keep him out of the pen. He threw well enough in preseason to be one of those starters. But then he hadn’t even thrown until Sunday we needed to get him a couple of innings. Even though going into Sunday’s game, Coach (Matt) Hobbs and I had talked about who we were gonna pitch on Thursday and it was gonna be Ramage.
“We wanted to keep Connor, let him get his rest and Wicklander. So, but we did want to get him in the game and let him get a couple of innings, which was kind of like throwing a bullpen for him, getting ready for Thursday.”
The pitchers always start the season on a pitch count and that will continue this week. Van Horn noted that pitch counts aren’t just at beginning of season.
“Our pitchers are always on pitch counts for the most part, it just depends on what type of situations they’re trying to get through each inning and how hard is it,” Van Horn said. “Is it a lot pitching out of the stretch, stressful innings trying to get out of jams? How many innings are they (throwing)? Is it a 12-pitch inning or a 24-pitch inning?
“But yeah, it’ll probably be around the same. It could go five pitches more, maybe. Just depends, depends on how it is. It depends on the weather, the temperature. There’s a lot that goes into that and how they feel. But yeah, we’ll keep a close eye on these guys. Like I always say, I want these guys to go out and have a really good outing and show us what they can do, but at the same time, we’ve got to keep these guys healthy and keep them ready for conference play and down the road.”
Considering last weekend probably went about as well as could be expected, is there anything you like to see improve this week?
“We did everything pretty well,” Van Horn said. “We played pretty good defense, a lot of timely hitting, two-out runs. I don’t know. I try to be positive most of the time, but I’d like to cut down our strikeouts a little bit. I think Friday’s pitcher last week is as good as we’ll probably see for the most part when you talk about velocity and things.
“We did a pretty good job the next two days overall of putting the bat on the ball for the most part. Some of the bullpen guys or guys that came in, it’s like they’d give us one good inning and then the second inning didn’t go so good. You need to see guys come out and be able to duplicate what they just did.”
At this time, Friday’s game remains at 3 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and then Sunday 1 p.m. Due to the possible bad weather forecast for this weekend is there a chance the Hogs and Gonzaga could have a double-header one day?
“If you really take a step back and look at what they’re saying right now, it looks like Friday’s your best day to play two,” Van Horn said. “If you’re going to play Saturday, our game’s scheduled at 2, we have a basketball game at noon. We’d have to probably start around the same time, so we’re not going to do anything on that yet. We’ll see how it goes tomorrow and the next day. I would think that if, obviously, if we felt like we needed to play two and Friday was the best day to do it, we’ll make that decision on Thursday.”
Following the Gonzaga series, Arkansas will head to Houston’s Minute Maid Park to play three games. They will face Oklahoma at 3 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 28, Texas the following day at 7 p.m. and then finish up against Baylor on Sunday also at 7 p.m.