April 16, 2024

The Razorbacks Road To Hoover: Arkansas Path To Winning The Sec

Credits - John D James of Hogville.net

The Razorbacks Road To Hoover: Arkansas Path To Winning The Sec

The 2023-24 athletic season has been a down one for Arkansas‘ major sports. Football missed a bowl game for the first time in the Sam Pittman era. Basketball is in its worst skid in years after advancing to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament 3 years in a row. Now, they’re in a position to miss the postseason altogether.

Credits – John D James of Hogville.net

The pressure is on Arkansas baseball to be great this year. In recent history, baseball has been the most successful of the “Big 3”, making 20 NCAA tournament appearances, 10 Super Regional appearances, 7 College World Series appearances, and a College World Series runner-up since 2000. So, do fans have something to look forward to this spring, or will they be disappointed once again?

JMU Series

Arkansas opened the 2024 season with a home series against James Madison University. Excluding a down batting performance, paired with a single-inning implosion on the mound in game three, Arkansas dominated the set, 3-1. The runs might not show on the box score, but the Hogs controlled most of the series. 

Batters Were Hot and Cold

Arkansas outhit the Dukes 40-25, making JMU burn pitcher after pitcher. The problem for Arkansas was that they couldn’t finish innings at the plate. In nearly every non-scoring inning, the Razorbacks left base runners stranded. Maybe first series jitters were the cause or JMU changing pitchers so often, but these look like problems from years past resurfacing.

 Another trend for Arkansas is when they have an exceptional batting performance, the following game is usually horrible. In game 2, the Razorback bats exploded for 15 run performance but came back to Earth on Sunday, scoring just 3 on 10 hits. 

Credits – John D James of Hogville.net

However, baseball is a game of luck as much as skill. Have a couple of things go their way and keep knocking the rust off, and the Hogs could be deadly on offense.

One player with the potential to shine this season is Hawai’i transfer Wehiwa Aloy. He had a rough start in games 1 and 2, but after going 0-7, he hit a two-run single to mercy rule JMU in game 2. Aloy finished the next two games 4-9 and 2 RBIs.

Richmond transfer Jared Sprague-Lott and Mizzou transfer were big surprises, recording a .333 batting average and a homerun a piece, including the first of the season for Sprague-Lott.

Strong Start for the Bullpen

On the mound, Arkansas was dominant. The Razorbacks’ Friday starter Hagen Smith had a bad outing, giving up three runs. Coach Dave Van Horn pulled him after the first inning. However, Will McEntire came in with a “next man up” mentality and held the Dukes to just one run.

The only chink in Arkansas pitching’s preverbal came in the game 3. True freshman Gabe Gaeckle threw his first pitch as a Hog in the 5th inning and was doing great. Gaeckle made it through the 5th and 6th innings in just 22 pitches, recording 2 strikeouts and 0 runs, but 7th got away from him. He loaded bases and was pulled for Jake Faherty, who allowed all three and one of his own to score. 

Kubota College Baseball Series

James Maddison was a great team to shake off the rust, but Arkansas didn’t wait long to face its first real test of the season. The Hogs’ next series was the Kubota College Baseball Series against No. 7 Oregon State, Oklahoma State, and Michigan.

Hagen Smith is HIM

If there was one thing people could take away from last weekend, it’s that Arkansas has the best and deepest pitching staff in the country. Hagen Smith put the Major League world on notice against Oregon State. In 6 innings pitched, Smith struck out 17 batters. For those of you not good at math, all but one batter he faced went down swinging or looking. What’s more impressive is the opponent. Oregon State’s batting lineup is arguably one of the best in the country, including the No. 3 MLB draft prospect Travis Bazzana, who went 1/4 against the Hogs.

Credits – John D James of Hogville.net

As a team, the Hogs broke the Arkansas single-game strikeout record (23) against the Beavers. But that record would be short-lived as the Razorbacks broke it again the following day. Oklahoma State and Arkansas went to 14 innings, and the pitching staff gave up just 2 runs. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to win. Against Michigan, they were equally as dominant for the first 5 innings. In those innings, Mason Molina struck out 10 batters while allowing 0 hits and 1 walk. As a series, Arkansas pitchers.

All Hits, No Runs

The problem with having the best pitchers in the country is that if your offense isn’t scoring runs, then it doesn’t matter. Arkansas started the series decent with an 8-hit, 5-run performance against Oregon State, but the next two games weren’t great. 

Against Oklahoma State, the Hogs had 8 hits but just one run in 14 innings. It’s not like they didn’t have opportunities. Arkansas left 15 batters stranded with 14 in scoring position. Against Michigan, both hits and runs were in short supply at 5 and 4, respectively. However, two of those runs weren’t manufactured from hits. Both runs in the 4th inning came on fortunate pitching situations. Will Edmunson was hit by a pitch, which drove in a run, and Diggs reached on balls, which drove in another.

As a team, the Diamond Hogs stranded 31 runners compared to their opponents’ 21. They also recorded a 1.90 hit-to-run ratio (19 hits, 10 runs), which is respectable, but take off the two driven in by pitching against Michigan, and the ratio rises to 2.37. What this means is that Arkansas just needs to finish innings and take advantage of the opportunities they’re given, i.e. better situational hitting.

Grambling State

When you build a campfire, you start small with something easily flammable—like a match and dry grass—and then slowly build it up. Just like a campfire, Arkansas’ hitters needed something small and easily flammable to warm up their bats. That’s where Grambling comes in.

With all due respect to the Tigers, they’re not a great baseball team. They’re a team with less talent in a relaxed situation that was perfect for Arkansas to utilize their bats. Arkansas beat Grambling 21-1 in 7 innings, driving in 2 (yes, 2) grand slams in the process. It gave the Hogs the opportunity to 1.) gain a little confidence from their starters and 2.) give their reserves some much-needed game experience.

Credits – John D James of Hogville.net

Although it’s a great start, Arkansas needs to keep the momentum going on their batting success. Just like the campfire, if the Razorbacks can’t keep building on top of what they’ve produced, the flame will die out.

Road to Hoover

The good news for Arkansas is that the hardest part of the non-conference schedule is behind them. The Hogs have an easy road to the start of SEC play, their toughest opponent being Oral Roberts right before Arkansas takes on Mizzou on March 15th.

The heavyweights

The SEC has always been a gauntlet, and this year is no different. Arkansas plays 3 teams, currently in the top 10 in conference play, and 3 more in the top 25. The series against No. 3 LSU, March 28th-30th, and No. 4 Florida, April 26th-28th are the ones to mark on the calendar. 

LSU is the most well-rounded team in the league so far. Averaging .330 at the plate and 3.76 earned runs, the Tigers are built for a run in the College World Series. Righty Luke Holman has yet to give up a run in 12 1/3 innings pitched and just 5 hits. Batters Paxton Kling and Steven Milam have batting averages over .400 and combine for 17 RBIs.

The Gators are right up at the top with LSU. They’re a little worse than the Tiger in the stat book, with a team batting average of .312 and an ERA of 4.43. First baseman Jac Caglianone is Florida’s best hitter, with a .469 BA, 15 hits, and 11 RBIs, but Colby Shelton is right behind with 10 hits and 7 RBIs. 

The Rest of the Pack

Texas A&M, Alabama, and South Carolina are all teams that are hard to exactly how good they’ll be. All three were dominant in the non-conference, but none have played anyone yet. South Carolina is the only team with a loss (Belmont 2-11). Unfortunately, their opponents combine for a record of 35-54 this season. 

The only oddity in the group is Auburn. Their stats don’t jump out, but their record does. The Tigers are 7-1 with wins over Iowa, who just dropped out of the top-25, and Wichita State, who went to extra innings with No. 13 Virginia and beat Oral Roberts 3-1. Auburn was picked to finish 9th, so with some luck, they could be a series dark horse contender.

The rest of the teams on Arkansas’ schedules should be relatively easy. Ole Miss and Mississippi State have completely imploded since winning their national championships. Mizzou and Kentucky are a little better, but they’re nowhere near the level of the other teams Arkansas must face.

Credits – John D James of Hogville.net

The season is filled with amazing teams, but if Arkansas wins at least the LSU or Florida series and takes care of business the rest of the season, the Razorbacks will be the favorite to win the conference, if not the CWS. Arkansas’ pitching alone is terrifying for the rest of the country. If Arkansas can develop a mild batting game, the Hogs have a real chance at taking the CWS back to Fayetteville.

Further reading

Twitter feed is not available at the moment.

Subscribe to Podcast