The Arkansas Razorbacks (38-18) have lost six of their last eight baseball games dating back to the final two SEC series of the the regular season, but Hogs skipper Dave Van Horn doesn’t want to hear about that.
All Razorback eyes are looking forward and not back when the Hogs open play in the double-elimination Stillwater (Okla.) Regional at noon today against the Grand Canyon Antelopes (41-19) at O’Brate Stadium. The game will be televised by the SEC Network.
Oklahoma State (39-20) faces Missouri State (30-27) in the nightcap at 6 p.m., with streaming on ESPN Plus.
Next up for the Diamond Hogs
Opponent: Grand Canyon University
When: 12 p.m. Friday, June 3
Where: O’Brate Stadium, Stillwater, Okla.
Streaming: SEC Network
Friday, June 3
Game 2 – Oklahoma State vs. Missouri State – 6 p.m. CT (ESPN+)
Saturday, June 4
Game 3 – Winner G1 vs. Winner G2 – Noon CT (TV TBD)
Game 4 – Loser G1 vs. Loser G2 – 6 p.m. CT (TV TBD)
Sunday, June 5
Game 5 – Winner G4 vs. Loser G3 – Noon CT (TV TBD)
Game 6 – Winner G3 vs. Winner G5 – 6 p.m. CT (TV TBD)
Monday, June 6
Game 7 – Winner G6 vs. Loser G6 (if necessary) – 6 p.m. CT (TV TBD)
Friday’s winners will meet Saturday at noon, while Friday’s loser’s will play an elimination game at 6 p.m. Saturday. The tournament continues on Sunday with games at noon and 6 p.m, and perhaps into Monday at 6 p.m., if necessary.
Van Horn clearly pronounced Regional play as a new season for the Hogs, who got some much needed rest after their exit after two games from the SEC Tournament last week at Hoover, Ala.
It’s the first time the Razorbacks have been on the road for a Regional since 2015 when the Hogs made their way to the College World Series.
Right-handed Razorback starting pitcher Connor Noland said the Razorbacks are excited to wear the “black hat” and play the role of the villain at the impressive year-old O’Brate Stadium. It’s the first time the fifth-year senior has played in a regional away from the friendly confines of Baum-Walker Stadium.
“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.”
Noland (5-5, 4.07 ERA) will face Antelopes freshman Daniel Avitia (8-4, 3.59), the Western Athletic Conference’s pitcher and rookie of the year.
Nolan opened the season 5-1, but has not gone longer than five innings since an eight-inning performance to top Ole Miss during the last weekend of April.
Razorback Cayden Wallace third baseman jumped to Noland’s defense Thursday in Arkansas’ appearance in front of the media to preview the regional.
“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.”
Van Horn said circumstances have dictated earlier exits for Noland as much as his actual performance, alluding that it would be good for all Razorback starting pitchers if the Hogs would give them some run support early in the game rather than attempting to come back from a deficit as has been the Hogs’ habit of late.
Van Horn also said that Noland’s velocity has been as strong as ever in bullpen workouts this week to refute assertions that Noland might be wearing down from overuse.
“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, five, six, seven.”
Noland said he’s feeling good and ready to face the Antelopes, who have pulled off some impressive victories this season over the likes of Arizona, San Diego, Oregon State, Arizona State and Texas Tech.
“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.”
When asked if the Razorbacks were ready to shake off the bad luck they have been having in their four-game losing streak, Noland was pragmatic.
“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.”
Based in Phoenix, Ariz, Grand Canyon is a solid squad, batting .309 with an earned run average of 4.48, and a fielding percentage of .974. In contrast, the Hogs are batting .269 with an ERA of .392, and a fielding percentage of .981.
The Antelopes lineup boasts five hitters with plus .300 batting averages with Jaun Colato at .384 with 50 RBI and 7 home runs, Jacob Wilson at .353 with 64 RBI and 11 home runs, Elijah Buries at .341 with 36 RBI and 6 home runs, Tyler Wilson at .326 with 32 RBI and 6 home runs, and last but certainly not least Tayler Aguilar at .310 with 69 RBI and 20 home runs.
Avitia is young but he has his coach’s confidence, getting the start in Grand Canyon’s opener over Nick Hull (7-1, 3.89).
“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 he throws strikes, the defense is ready behind him. They know he is going to pound the zone.”
Van Horn has been impressed with Avitia from scouting the Antelopes’ young ace.
“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. He’s 8-4. in 14 starts, something like that. Threw out of the pen, maybe, early.”
Van Horn’s and the Hogs’ overall attitude is that they have new life in this regional after stumbling a bit down the stretch in the ultra-tough SEC. What’s done is done, and now the Razorbacks are just looking at what’s in front of them and aiming to making another run at Omaha, Neb. and the College World Series.
The road may have a different starting point than in recent years, but the destination is still the same.