Just like the backends of the Arkansas Razorbacks’ SEC schedules were brutal for their football and basketball teams this athletic year, the Diamond Hogs’ last five series in SEC play will be formidable for Dave Van Horn’s No. 4 Razorbacks with three of their final five league series’ being away from the friendly confines of Baum-Walker Stadium.
It’s enough to make a fanbase feel a bit paranoid until you calm down and realize that’s just life in the SEC. It’s tough all over in this league no matter what vantage point you’re viewing from.
Truth be told partisans at Texas A&M, Auburn and Alabama — the Hogs three upcoming road hosts in SEC play — probably aren’t looking all that forward to the Razorback wrecking crew visiting their ballparks.
Next up for the Diamond Hogs
Opponent: Texas A&M
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 22
Where: Blue Bell Park, College Station, Texas
Streaming: SEC Network
Radio: 92.1 FM / AM 1590 (more)
April 23 – Texas A&M , 2 p.m. (SEC+)
April 24 – Texas A&M , 1 p.m. (SEC+)
April 26 – UCA (in Little Rock), 6 p.m. (No TV)
In recent years, the Hogs (30-7, 11-4 SEC) have been hard to handle no matter where they play, and no doubt Van Horn and his Razorbacks intend to put their best foot forward in their three-game series with the Aggies (23-13, 8-7) this weekend.
First pitch Friday is 7:30 p.m. with the SEC Network providing the telecast. Saturday’s contest is set for 2 p.m. and Sunday’s finale is at 1 p.m. Both will be streamed on SEC Plus/ESPN Plus.
While this Razorback squad has been among the nation’s best all season, it has been sort of a slow burn for this squad. The Hogs’ play began at a high level, especially their defense, but it’s taken some time for their pitching and hitting to round into shape.
But it is happening now. The Razorbacks’ sweep of the LSU Tigers last week is proof positive, and no doubt the Hogs plan to carry that momentum with them into the heart of Aggieland.
With the warming of the weather, Arkansas’ arms have gotten tougher and tougher throughout the season, except for the hiccup at Florida where the final two games of the series got away from them.
The resilient Razorbacks bounced back strong last weekend with those wins over the Tigers as the Hogs’ trio of starters had arguably their best combined weekend of the season.
Friday-night, right-handed starter Connor Noland (5-1, 2.82 ERA) has been strong throughout his senior year, making one wonder just how tough would this Arkansas staff be if expected ace Peyton Pallette had not lost this season to off-season surgery?
In Pallette’s stead, freshman lefty Hagen Smith (6-2, 3.88) and sophomore Jaxon Wiggins (5-0, 4.66) have matured into capable Saturday and Sunday starters that have kept the Razorbacks atop the Western Division standings all season long.
The Razorbacks are also finding their stroke as the weather warms. Their team batting average is up to .285 with a more than respectable slugging percentage of .497.
Graduate-transfers Michael Turner and Chris Lanzilli continue to prove their worth, leading the Hogs in hitting at .341 and .315 respectively. Each have five home runs along with Cayden Wallace (.309) and Zack Gregory (.296).
Brayden Webb (.260) leads the team in homers with nine, followed by Brady Slavens (.282) with eight, and Jaylen Battles (.299) with six.
The Razorbacks, like the rest of the league and nation, lag behind No. 1 Tennessee (34-3, 13-1) which is having a remarkable season under volatile Tony Vitello.
The former Van Horn assistant is in the midst of a four-game suspension for bumping third-base umpire Jeffery Macias during a heated on-field debate last Saturday. He’ll be out for the Vols Friday and Saturday games against Florida, but back in the dugout on Sunday for the finale with the Gators.
Making the most of a bad situation, Vitello teamed with a UT fraternity for a charity event where $2 would purchase you a chest bump from the head coach, according to a report in the “Knoxville News Sentinel.”
Arkansas is three games behind Tennessee when you look at the overall standings. Georgia (26-11, 9-6) is second in the East, while Auburn (26-12, 8-7), Texas A&M, and Alabama (23-15, 8-7) trail the Hogs by three games in the West going into this weekend.
The Hogs and Vols do not play in the regular season this year, but no doubt fans of both programs wouldn’t mind seeing them tangle in the SEC Baseball Tournament next month in Hoover, Ala. or perhaps in June at the College World Series in Omaha.
This is Jim Schlossnagle’s first year with the Aggies after a highly successful 18-year stint at TCU in which he took the Horned Frogs to five College World Series appearances.
His Aggies are hot right now, riding an offensive streak in which they have scored 70 runs in their last six games, going 5-1.
This should be an outstanding series, but weather could be a factor with temperatures expected to reach into the 90s on Saturday and Sunday with a stiff wind to boot. There could be a lot of lift with that kind of heat and wind, making any one swing a game-changer in a close contest.