BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
Two SEC baseball teams that had disappointing battles with mid-majors on Tuesday will meet this weekend in what the visiting coach expects to be a charged atmosphere at Baum-Walker Stadium.
No. 7 Arkansas (30-11, 11-7) will host Texas A&M (25-16, 9-9) Thursday at 7 p.m. in game televised by ESPNU and serves as the opener of a three-game series.
Missouri State took down the visiting Razorbacks 8-4 on Tuesday while the Aggies were losing a to Sam Houston State 9-2.
Razorback senior first baseman/outfielder Brady Slavens is happy to be back in Fayetteville after being on the road for nearly a week.
“It’s always good to be home,” Slavens said. “Love the fans. Love sleeping in your own little bed. We’re just excited to get back home.”
Former TCU and current Texas A&M head coach Jim Schlossnagle’s team started SEC action 1-5, but has since won four straight league series over Ole Miss, Missouri, Auburn and Kentucky.
He is also pumped to be in Fayetteville this weekend.
“It is exciting to go into this atmosphere,” Schlossnagle said. “ I have never played a game in Fayetteville as part of an SEC school. Any time I have been part of games up there, it was in a (NCAA Tournament) Regional, and it was amazing then.
“That is why you come into this league, to be a part of great teams and great atmospheres in front of great fans.”
Schlossnagle said his team has to push aside the Sam Houston loss quickly.
“We’re normally better than that, tonight we weren’t,” Schlossnagle said. “We’re not going to make too much of it. We got a big series ahead. We got seven games in nine days, and we got to get some rest and get back on the road tomorrow and play a top-five team.”
Arkansas swept Tennessee at home two weeks ago only to be swept at Georgia last weekend.
“As I have said many times, this is the big leagues of college baseball,” Schlossnagle said. “ So you can’t make any sense of anything. That is why you can’t ever get too down, because you are a weekend away from being back in it.
“And you certainly can’t assume anything. Any time you have a chance to win a ball game, you need to win one. So we will sell out to do that, especially on the road.”
Tuesday’s loss came after the Razorbacks had not been swept in a weekend series since 2017.
Razorback head coach Dave Van Horn, who had four injured starters out on Tuesday night, was asked what he needed to do to turn his team’s fortunes around.
“Well, you can use whatever lingo you want,” Van Horn said. “You can say we’re just trying to survive, we’re just trying to get through the next couple of weeks until we get everybody back. We have to win some games.
“We’ll get after it on Thursday, and it’s going to be a great series with A&M. They’re hot. They’ve won their last four series I think.”
Van Horn is hoping things can get going in the other direction quickly.
“This game can flip on a dime,” Van Horn said. “You get it going, guys get hot, or you drop another guy to injury, and you’re going ‘Wow, this is pretty tough.’
“We’re not hanging our head or not thinking we’re any good. We know we can play. We’re just playing with guys that haven’t been a part of the combination that got us to 30 wins coming into tonight.”
Van Horn knows injuries are part of the game, but does admit that this season’s rash of them has been different as they have happened in-season.
While left fielder Jared Wegner (thumb) and center fielder and lead off hitter Tavian Josenbeger (hamstring) won’t play this weekend, catcher Parker Rowland and second baseman Peyton Stovall should be in the line up.
Brady Tygart, expected to be one of Arkansas’ top pitchers again this season, has not pitched since suffering an ulnar collateral ligament strain on March 1 but is expected to make his return this weekend.
“It’s hard when you don’t have your leadoff man or your three-hole hitter,” Van Horn said. “We’ve done pretty well without our three-hole hitter for a while, but then you lose your leadoff guy who is an energy guy and a defender. It puts a kink into it.
“We’ve got to have a couple guys step it up, not just one. Our lineup needs to stay, at least one through seven, pretty tough.
“If eight and nine are more of defenders, a lot of teams are that way, but we’ve got to have more.
“When you lose a guy, not only do you lose his bat, you lose his defense. So whoever you put out there is not going to be as good. It’s just the way it is, so you weaken your team all the way around. You hope that they can make plays during the game that are supposed to be made.”
Arkansas is excepted to start Hunter Hollan (6-2, 3.40) on the mound Thursday night while Hagen Smith (5-1, 2.89), Will McEntire (5-2, 5.88) and even Tygart (1-0, 5.68) are possibilities to start the other two contests.
Those games will be Friday at 6 p.m on SEC Network + and Saturday morning at 11 a.m. on the SEC Network.
Tygart’s return is an exciting development for his teammates per Slavens.
“I’m really excited to see him pitch,” Slavens said. “Really electric, really fun to watch play. Plays with some energy, some poise, and so it’s great to have him back.”
Freshman pitcher Ben Bybee clearly respects Tygart.
“Brady’s obviously a dude, and I know he’s super excited and working really hard to get back to where he is right now,” Bybee said, “and I think it’s huge for the staff, just that extra arm in the bullpen or wherever he might come in is huge.”
Schlossnagle expects to start sophomore Troy Wansing (2-2, 5.19) and junior Nathan Dettmer (1-3, 6.02).
“I think Wansing or Dettmer, one of those two guys will throw the first and second game,” Schlossnagle said. “Not sure what the combination is going to be yet. I want to get Nathan on the bullpen mound, short week.”
He would like to see the pair give him five or six innings each.
“Five, six innings of keeping us in the game,” Schlossnagle said. “If we can get five to six out of Dettmer and five to six innings out of Wansing, then we can piece together the rest of the weekend.
“It would be nice to get that from three starters, but we are not in that situation. So just give us some length and keep us in the ballgame. It does not have to be a shutout. Just keep us within shooting distance, so we can try to win the game later and figure out the bullpen from there.”
Photo by John D. James