Arkansas sophomore Kacey Murphy / ArkansasRazorbacks.com
The No. 14 Arkansas Razorbacks took a tough series loss last weekend at Auburn, but the Hogs have little time to lick their wounds, and that’s a good thing. There’s no time for the lost series to fester into more than what it was.
The Hogs (32-10, 12-6 SEC) are back in action at 6 p.m. (Tuesday) against Kansas State at Kauffman Stadium, the home of the Kansas City Royals. The contest is the final midweek game of the season for the Razorbacks.
First pitch is set for 6 p.m., and the game will be televised by Cox Cable channel 80 and 2080 in high definition in the Fayetteville/Springdale area.
The Hogs will be off Wednesday, but be back on the diamond at the friendly confines of Baum Stadium at 6 p.m. Thursday with the first game of their series with the Ole Miss Rebels (25-15, 9-9. Friday’s first pitch is also at 6 p.m., while Saturday’s game is at 4 p.m.
The SEC Network will televise Thursday and Friday’s games. SEC Network-Plus will stream Saturday’s game.
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn will send Kevin Kopps to the mound against the Wildcats (21-19, 4-11 Big 12). Kopps started twice during the first two weekend series of the year against Miami (Ohio) and Bryant, picking up a victory against the Red Hawks.
The redshirt freshman has been one of Arkansas’ most effective relievers, garnering a 3.99 ERA in 13 appearances with 25 strikeouts over 29.1 innings.
Kopps allowed just two earned runs in his last three appearances and had a scoreless five-plus inning performance in an 11-3 victory over Georgia, the longest outing of his career.
Van Horn likes for his Hogs to get back in action quickly after a loss, and the excitement of playing in a MLB stadium should have the Razorbacks’ spirits back up after the Auburn series.
The No. 9 Tigers (30-12, 12-6 SEC) lit into the Razorbacks’ pitching, defeating Arkansas, 15-2, on Friday and, 11-6, on Sunday. The Hogs won 7-3 Saturday, which allowed the Razorbacks to remain tied in second with Auburn and No. 7 Kentucky (28-12, 12-6) for second in the overall SEC standings, one game behind league-leading Mississippi State (13-5, 28-14).
The No. 13 Bulldogs play host to Auburn this weekend for a series that will leave the winner in the catbird’s seat in the Western Division with just three series left to play.
Arkansas swept Mississippi State — 5-6, 6-1, 5-2 — in their league opener in March, so if the Razorbacks can keep pace with a series win over Ole Miss, it might be better for the Hogs if the Bulldogs stay on their hot streak for another week and whip the Tigers.
Then again, if Auburn wins the series, it might keep the Bulldogs from building on their league lead.
Either way, the Razorbacks need to regain their stride after a tough weekend on the plains. Until last weekend, Arkansas either had enough hitting, enough pitching or a combination of both to win four of their five previous series.
The Hogs should have won the series against LSU and would have if they had held their composure in the late innings of the Saturday game when all manner of Arkansas mistakes left the door open for the Tigers to erase a seven-run lead.
But Auburn teed off on Arkansas’ pitching on Friday and Sunday, and the Hogs’ offense didn’t have enough offensive punch to keep pace.
While Van Horn said Monday that staying healthy is a key against Kansas State tonight ahead of their series with Ole Miss, a victory over the Wildcats would build a little momentum for the weekend.
Though the Rebels are only .500 in SEC play, Ole Miss’ overall record of 25-15 says more about its capability than its sixth-place position in the West. Six of the West’s seven teams still have legitimates shots of making the NCAA Baseball Tournament.
The Rebels know winning a series at Arkansas would only enhance their chances at post-season play.
That said the Razorbacks have played their way into great shape at this point of the season. Arkansas’ RPI is No. 12 and Arkansas is in line for hosting a NCAA Regional for the first time since 2010. The Razorbacks are not out of the picture of earning one of the eight national seeds, if they finish the season strong and get a little help over the next four weekends.
The Hogs still lead the SEC and are 12th in the nation in home runs with 54 on the season. Arkansas is the only team in the SEC with five players with six or more home runs this year.
Catcher Grant Koch and first baseman Chad Spanberger are tied for ninth in the SEC with nine home runs, while second baseman Carson Shaddy and outfielder Luke Bonfield each have seven long balls.
Rain, Rain Go Away
Saturday’s still four days away, but the forecast for the Red-White spring football scrimmage is looking all wet.
All three local news programs are calling for showers Saturday with the scrimmage set for noon Saturday at Razorback Stadium.
Hopefully, the weather will clear off or the rain stall long enough for the scrimmage and the Hogs’ 4 p.m. baseball game to be played.
Either way, my foul-weather gear is ready to go as long as lightning stays away.
I do remember attending a Red-White scrimmage in Little Rock during the Lou Holtz era that was halted abruptly by a torrential downpour before halftime. I’m guessing it was the 1978 season because I remember being excited about defensive tackles Dan Hampton and Jimmie Walker, but then again I could be melding a memory. That rainout might have been later during Holtz’ tenure.
Hampton, of course, went on to a stellar NFL career with the Chicago Bears that put him in the NFL Hall of Fame. Walker, like Hampton, was a great college player, earning All-American and All-Southwest Conference honors. Dale White was a heck of a nose guard during that period too. Those three helped make an All-American out of linebacker Larry Jackson in 1977 shielding blockers in Monte Kiffin’s 5-2 defense that he brought over from Nebraska.
Saturday’s scrimmage makes me think of White and another Holtz nose guard Richard “Doughnut” Richardson. Richardson was a mainstay for the Hogs in the early 1980s, starting for three seasons and playing quite a bit as a freshman at the brutal position that’s going to be key in the Hogs’ success this fall.
Nose guard might not be the sexiest of positions on the football field, but it is a spot I will be watching on Saturday. In the Hogs’ new 3-4 defensive front, the better the nose guard plays, the better everyone else is able to do their job.
Senior Bijhon Jackson (6-2, 235) of El Dorado and sophomore Austin Capps (6-4, 309) of Star City, are two southern Arkansas young men fighting it out for the starting spot. Capps has the better hands but Jackson has the better feet, according to the coaching staff. It’s going to be interesting to see them work.
It’s good to know there is a competition between the two because the Razorbacks will need both to play well if the Razorbacks are to be competitive in the SEC.
It wouldn’t hurt if a third capable nose guard emerged as viable candidate for playing time. The nose guard generally has to fight through a double team on most running plays, and it can get brutal in, around, and under that pile.
It’s also going to be interesting to watch Arkansas’ defensive backfield. Much is made about the changes in the front seven in a 3-4, but the backfield becomes just as varied as new packages are introduced.
Though I doubt the Hogs will show anything more than a basic blitz package in the scrimmage if that, it will be interesting to see the safeties and corners line up and what zone packages are shown.