Projected Key Source of Hogs’ Offense Heats Up + More Takeaways from Game 4 Win

Colin Fisher, Arkansas baseball, Arkansas vs James Madison
photo credit: Craven Whitlow

FAYETTEVILLE — Following what is considered by many to be the best rotation in all of college baseball, Colin Fisher turned in the best start of the weekend for Arkansas.

The freshman lefty threw five scoreless innings in his collegiate debut, helping the Razorbacks clinch their season-opening series with a 4-0 win over James Madison at Baum-Walker Stadium.

Statistically speaking, it was a better outing than Hagen Smith, Brady Tygart and Mason Molina — and it’s not particularly close. Fisher allowed only four base runners, three via singles and one hit by pitch, and didn’t issue any walks while striking out four.

Tygart went five innings, but issued five free passes and allowed a run. Molina had nine strikeouts, but didn’t make it through the fourth and gave up two runs. Smith, the preseason SEC Pitcher of the Year, threw 42 pitches and gave up three runs in his only inning of work.

“Hagen, top-20 pick, top-10 maybe, then Brady and Molina are great, too, in the careers they’ve had,” Fisher said with a smile. “Yeah, I probably wouldn’t believe you if you told me that a couple of days ago.”

Fisher was dominant from the start, retiring the first six batters he faced. Included among those six were five fly ball outs. Even when the Dukes finally got some hits against him, they were spread out in separate innings.

Jason Schiavone was the first player to reach base with a leadoff single in the third. The other hits came with one out in the fourth and two outs in the fifth. James Madison baseball coach Marlin Ikenberry described Fisher as “very deceptive.”

“He kept us off balance,” Ikenberry said. “Coming in, we thought he would be more of a change up guy and he really kept the ball away from us. It was interesting because I thought he was throwing pitches up in the zone that our guys were chasing and creating some fly balls, we just couldn’t get solid contact on him.”

The best chance James Madison had to do something against Fisher came in the third inning. He bounced back from the leadoff single by notching a strikeout before making his only two mistakes of the day. A failed pickoff attempt got by Ben McLaughlin, with the runner taking second on the error, and then Fisher plunked Ike Schmidly in an 0-2 count.

In a moment that some freshmen would unravel, he got leadoff man Mike Mancini to ground into an inning-ending double play and leave star Fenwick Trimble on deck. Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said he was happy with how Fisher made the Dukes swing the bat, keeping his pitch count low and letting his defense work.

“He actually stayed under his pitch count,” Van Horn said. “We could have sent him back out if we wanted to but we just felt like five was enough. … He looked like he was in pretty good control out there. I think one inning they started a little rally with (one) out and he got out of it.”

Not only was it a surprising performance by the freshman, but it was a bit of a surprise that he got the nod as Arkansas’ fourth starter on opening weekend.

Coming out of Noble, Okla., Fisher was a standout in high school and committed to the Razorbacks early in his junior year, announcing his pledge in August 2021. At the time, Van Horn said he envisioned him as a future starter.

“I remember when we first saw him, we loved his curveball and thought he had a good changeup and obviously his fastball was going to be really good,” Van Horn said. “Couple of years later when we get him here, his changeup is really good and it’s gotten better and better.

“He’s still a strike thrower and he competes well. He works quick, he can pitch both sides of the plate, so you’re thinking, ‘Hey, this is a starter-type guy.’”

However, he isn’t the most heralded pitcher in Arkansas’ freshman class. He was barely one of the top 10, in terms of recruiting rankings. In fact, Perfect Game had him as the No. 409 overall recruit in the Class of 2023 — behind nine other pitcher signees, including six on the current roster.

Fisher didn’t exactly help his case in the fall, either. Unofficially, opponents hit .281 and drew seven walks against him in eight innings. Since returning from Christmas break, though, he’s looked much better. In two public scrimmages leading up to the season, he held opponents to a .143 batting average and issued just two walks in 4 2/3 innings.

“I felt like earlier in the fall I was trying to be too perfect,” Fisher said. “So attacking the zone definitely helped, and just trusting the defense more. Kind of my gameplan for today was trust the defense and throw a lot of strikes.”

He executed that plan almost perfectly and looks like he could be a dependable arm sooner than expected on a loaded pitching staff.

Veterans Strong in 2nd Relief Outings

One reason the Razorbacks took Colin Fisher out after the fifth inning was because they had a few veteran arms in the bullpen they wanted to use again.

The first of those was sixth-year super senior Koty Frank, who followed up his seven-out save on Saturday with a perfect sixth inning Monday afternoon. It’s an encouraging start for a guy whose season was cut short because of a torn lat muscle early in 2023.

“I made this joke to a couple of people – it felt good coming out the first time and hearing a cheer after my name got announced, because the last sound I heard coming off that mound was not a pleasant one,” Frank said. “That definitely made me feel a lot better.”

The sound he was referring to was the collective groan from a Baum-Walker Stadium crowd bummed about yet another injury to a pitcher. He has certainly given fans plenty to cheer about this year, though, as he’s retired all 10 batters he’s faced.

On Monday, he threw 16 total pitches and only two were called balls.

“He’s every bit as good as he was before he got hurt,” Van Horn said. “He threw harder today than he did the other day and I think that probably has to do with it was really cold. But he is what we know he is. He knows how to pitch and he works super fast. Gets the ball and he’s ready to go. Everything he throws, it’s around the zone. He doesn’t have too many bad misses. He can frustrate the other team.”

Next out of the pen was fifth-year senior Will McEntire, who saved the Razorbacks with 5 2/3 strong innings on Opening Day after Hagen Smith’s surprisingly short start.

Despite throwing 71 pitches that day, he came out firing Monday. He struck out the side in the seventh inning and then in the eighth, worked around a two-out infield single for another scoreless inning.

It was a great start to a season in which McEntire could have a Kevin Kopps-like role. It’s not fair to expect him to put up the same kind of numbers as the Golden Spikes Award winner did in 2021, but he was very Kopps-like this weekend. His two outings totaled 7 2/3 innings in which he gave up just one run on four hits and one walk while striking out nine and throwing 97 total pitches.

“It was kind of a leverage inning and he felt great,” Van Horn said. “He told us all year, all summer as well, ‘I want to pitch two times on the weekend every chance I get. I’ll pitch on Tuesday.’ Sometimes he just feels better if he’s out there throwing and pitching in the games, maybe not so much throw bullpens.”

Kansas transfer Stone Hewlett closed out the win with a scoreless ninth inning after facing just one batter the day before. He walked a batter, but still managed to work around an error that put two runners on.

Aloy Settles In at the Plate

The Razorbacks didn’t get a ton of clutch hits in Monday’s win, but one of them came off the bat of Wehiwa Aloy.

With runners on second and third in the seventh inning, James Madison intentionally walked Ben McLaughlin to load the bases and set up a potential double play. That brought up the Sacramento State transfer and he delivered.

After fouling off three straight pitches to start his at bat, Aloy lined a single into center that drove in an insurance run that made it 4-0. Not only was it a big hit in the game, but it was also important from a big picture perspective.

The Hawaii native started the season 0 for 7 with four strikeouts and a couple of walks. Three of those hitless at bats came with runners in scoring position. He finally broke through with a two-run single to end Game 2 in walk-off fashion, as it invoked the run rule.

Beginning with that hit, Aloy has hits in five of his last 10 at bats and he’s collected another couple of RBIs.

Dave Van Horn attributed his slow start to the frigid conditions the Razorbacks played in the first two games, as temperatures were in the 30s. He even said it was the third- or fourth-coldest game of his career, which includes five seasons at Nebraska.

“I don’t really think he was pressing,” Van Horn said. “I think he did not like being frozen. He’s from Maui. You know, nobody did, but it’s going to affect some guys worse than others.”

Aloy, who was in the back of the interview room when Van Horn made that comment, didn’t disagree with his coach’s assessment.

“Yeah, I was freezing,” Aloy said. “There’s no excuses though.”

Weather aside, it was a surprising start to the season for a guy who was easily Arkansas’ best hitter during the preseason. According to the media’s unofficial stats, he hit .362 with a team-high nine home runs in fall and preseason scrimmages open to the public.

This is actually the third straight year the Razorbacks’ best hitter in the preseason got off to a slow start, but they probably hope he’s dug out of the slump quicker than the other two.

Last year, Caleb Cali was hitless in his first 12 at bats before hitting a big home run in a win over Illinois State. From that point on, he hit .331 and slugged .550.

In 2022, it was Braydon Webb. He actually started the season 0 for 23 before hitting a grand slam that – similar to Aloy on Saturday – ended a run-rule win in walk-off fashion. From that point on, he hit .317 and slugged .608.

Multiple Web Gems

Even though they committed two errors, the Razorbacks were much improved defensively in the series finale compared to the previous day.

They made multiple SportsCenter-worthy catches in the field, with shortstop Wehiwa Aloy making the best play of the day and left fielder Jayson Jones making a couple of diving grabs.

Rather than tell you about them, we’ll let the videos speak for themselves:

Up Next for Arkansas Baseball

The Razorbacks are heading to Arlington, Texas, for the third time in four seasons next weekend. They’ll play three different opponents over three days at Globe Life Field, the home of MLB’s Texas Rangers.

First up is the highly anticipated rematch of the 2018 College World Series finals, as Arkansas will square off with Oregon State for the first time since losing that national title series. The Beavers are ranked No. 7 in this week’s D1Baseball poll and coming off a 4-0 showing in Surprise, Ariz., this weekend.

That game is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. CT. Arkansas will also play Oklahoma State on Saturday and Michigan on Sunday before returning to Fayetteville. All three games will be streamed on FloSports.

Other Arkansas Baseball Tidbits

  • Hudson White had a great first weekend with Arkansas baseball. Splitting his time between catcher and DH, he hit safely in all four games and went 5 for 14 (.357). All five hits went for extra bases (four doubles, one home run) and he drew a team-high five walks, resulting in an impressive 1.383 OPS.
  • Speaking of White, he hit in the 2 hole for the first time Monday after leading off the first three games. He flipped with Kendall Diggs in the lineup.
  • After starting three different players in left field the first three games, Van Horn went back to Jayson Jones for Game 4. In addition to making the two nice catches, he also hit two line drives with exit velocities of 109 and 107 mph. The first was caught, but the second fell for a two-out RBI single. “He swung the bat really well in batting practice today on the field,” Van Horn said. “I felt like Friday — and again, it might have been because of cold weather — a little stiffer and slower. Today was loose and free in BP, basically. Then that’s what I saw in the game.”
  • There was a curfew that stipulated no inning could start after 3 p.m. Monday because James Madison had a plane to catch at XNA. By the third inning, though, Van Horn knew it wouldn’t come into play because of how quick the game was going. It ended up lasting only 2 hours and 8 minutes. “I’ve said many times I don’t like coaching sports with a clock,” Van Horn said. “Let’s just play it with the number of outs we’re supposed to get and then go from there.”
  • Right-hander Casey Smith made his first career start for the Dukes and was pretty good, allowing only two earned runs in six innings. He had thrown just 7 2/3 total innings over the last two years. “I am pretty proud of that in this environment,” Ikenberry said. “I thought he did a really good job of mixing pitches, settled in after the first inning.”

Arkansas vs James Madison Highlights (Game 4)

Arkansas Baseball Postgame Interviews

Arkansas vs James Madison Box Score (Game 4)

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