Arkansas vs Murray State: Hagen Smith Returns Home for Encore after Scout’s Striking Skenes Comparison

Hagen Smith, Arkansas baseball, Arkansas vs Murray State
photo credit: Murray State Athletics / Arkansas Athletics

The good news for Murray State is that Hagen Smith barely made it through the first inning the last time Arkansas threw him at Baum-Walker Stadium.

Unfortunately for the Racers, the forecast is calling for sunshine and a high of 59 degrees Friday afternoon. That’s a stark contrast to the weather in which Smith pitched two weeks ago and much closer to the conditions inside Globe Life Field when he turned in one of the most dominant starts in college baseball history.

The left-hander had the baseball world buzzing — both at the collegiate and pro levels — after tying a school record with 17 strikeouts in six scoreless innings against No. 7 Oregon State. National outlets like and The Athletic ran stories about his performance and he racked up about every award possible, including SEC Pitcher of the Week, three different National Pitcher of the Week honors (from D1Baseball, NCBWA and Perfect Game) and the Golden Spikes Award Performance of the Week.

D1Baseball’s David Seifert wrote that it was “the best single-game performance that I have ever witnessed” in 34 years of playing, coaching and scouting college baseball. Seifert, a former head college baseball coach and scout for the Phillies, also compared Smith to LSU’s Paul Skenes, the No. 1 overall pick in last summer’s MLB Draft and widely considered a generational prospect.

“As major league-ready as Paul Skenes looked last spring, Smith may be even more ready,” Seifert wrote. “The stuff he displayed with such a high level of command is more than enough to navigate through a MLB lineup.”

Incredibly, despite the high strikeout total, Smith threw only 78 pitches last week. He likely could have thrown another inning or two, but Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn smartly stuck to the pitch count. Now back home and pitching in front of a home crowd, that pitch count could go up a tick.

Good luck, Murray State.

To see the live updates from Arkansas vs Murray State, go here:

Projected Starting Rotation


  • ARK Jr. LHP Hagen Smith (2 G/2 GS, 0-0, 3.86 ERA, 19 K/3 BB, 7 IP)
  • MSU Sr. RHP Cade Vernon (2 G/2 GS, 1-0, 6.52 ERA, 10 K/3 BB, 9.2 IP)


  • ARK Jr. RHP Brady Tygart (2 G/2 GS, 1-0, 0.82 ERA, 10 K/4 BB, 11 IP)
  • MSU Sr. RHP Bryce Valero (2 G/1 GS, 1-1, 4.50 ERA, 12 K/2 BB, 8 IP)


  • ARK Jr. LHP Mason Molina (2 G/2 GS, 1-0, 2.08 ERA, 19 K/4 BB, 8.2 IP)
  • MSU Sr. RHP Ryan Fender (2 G/2 GS, 0-0, 3.52 ERA, 12 K/7 BB, 7.2 IP)

It will be tough to top what Arkansas’ starting rotation did last week in Arlington.

Sure, Hagen Smith’s historic performance got most of the attention, but Brady Tygart and Mason Molina also pitched really well in their starts.

The trio combined to allow only six hits — all singles, including three that didn’t leave the infield — and four walks in 17 scoreless innings. Most incredibly, they racked up 33 strikeouts. That’s nearly two per inning. All of that was done on a pitch count, too, as they were pulled early in order to continue building up their arms and preserve them for later in the season.

Needless to say, the starting rotation lived up to its preseason hype and will now get a chance to do it in front of the home crowd, presumably with a slightly larger pitch count than last week.

On the flip side, it appears Murray State will be without ace and reigning MVC Pitcher of the Week Jacob Pennington, as he was not part of the Racers’ announced rotation. It’s unknown why he won’t be starting, but there’s a chance he could pitch out of the bullpen.

The right-hander also missed opening weekend, but was fantastic last week, scattering four hits and striking out nine in seven scoreless innings in the series opener against ULM. He was the Racers’ Friday night starter last year and a finalist for the John Olerud National Two-Way Player of the Year in 2022, as he also sometimes starts at designated hitter.

Luckily for Murray State, it has three other veteran arms to lean on in his absence. In fact, all three of its starters are seniors and right-handed.

According to D1Baseball, the new Friday starter, Cade Vernon, actually has the “best stuff” and is the best pro prospect on the staff. He throws a sinking fastball in the low- to mid-90s and has a mid-80s slider.

Bryce Valero is back in the rotation after coming out of the bullpen last week. He is more of a “power arm” who threw five scoreless innings as a starter the first week of the season, but got hit around a bit as a reliever.

Both Vernon and Valero, as well as Pennington, were in Murray State’s starting rotation last year. Fifth-year senior Ryan Fender was absent because he missed a significant chunk of the season with an injury. He’s been hard to hit this year (.148 BAA) and has 12 strikeouts in just 7 2/3 innings, but he’s also been a bit wild with seven walks and one HBP. That’s likely why he’s lasted only 3 2/3 and 4 innings in his two starts.

What to Watch in Arkansas vs Murray State

Granted, it was against a team that had one reliever throwing 68-73 mph fastballs, but Arkansas’ bats finally woke up Tuesday with a 20-hit, 21-run explosion against Grambling.

Part of that production came from three different players still vying for the starting job in left field. Sophomore Jayson Jones got the nod at that spot, but JUCO transfer Will Edmunson started in center and Missouri transfer Ross Lovich came off the bench midway through and played in right.

Jones hit two monstrous home runs, including a grand slam, that had exit velocities of 108 and 110 mph and traveled 400-plus feet. It was the first time this year he really showcased the power for which he’s known.

Edmunson had a couple of hits, including a double, and walked twice. He also hit the ball hard on one of his outs. It looked like the kind of day he regularly had in junior college, in summer ball and over the fall in scrimmages.

Despite entering the game late, Lovich immediately hit an RBI single on the first pitch he saw and added two more singles in two-strike counts, with one also driving in a run, to make him 3 for 3.

That spot is still wide open and Dave Van Horn is hopeful they can each continue producing at such a pace to make the decision hard on him, but they’ll face a much better pitching staff this weekend than what they saw against Grambling. It’ll be interesting to see who gets starts and how they do when given a chance against Murray State.

Another thing to keep an eye on is whether or not Hudson Polk gets a start at designated hitter, which Van Horn said was a possibility after he hit a grand slam as the starting catcher Tuesday.

While he may not have the potential to hit for as high of an average as other DH candidates, Polk has flashed some serious power since returning to campus in the fall. That’s something Arkansas’ lineup has lacked early in the season.

Scouting Murray State Baseball

2023 Record: 31-28 (14-13 MVC)
Final 2023 RPI: No. 171
2024 Record: 6-2
Projected Finish in 2024: 4th out of 10 teams (coaches)
Head Coach: Dan Skirka (6th season)

In 2023, their first season in the baseball-rich Missouri Valley Conference, the Racers reached the semifinals of the conference tournament before suffering back-to-back one-run losses to end their campaign. Now in Year 2 as a member of the MVC, Murray State is picked to finish fourth in the league.

The Racers are off to a solid start, with their two losses coming by a combined three runs, and have been a pretty balanced team.

Center fielder Dustin Mercer and shortstop Drew Vogel are back after all-conference campaigns last season and have picked up where they left off. Mercer, who was their right fielder last year, is hitting .333 with two home runs and seven RBIs, while Vogel is hitting .375 with one homer and seven RBIs. Both of them are redshirt juniors.

They are two of six regulars hitting over .300 so far and, as good as they’ve been, they’re not even at the top of that list. Third baseman Carson Garner leads Murray State in all three Triple Crown categories — batting average (.440), home runs (5) and RBIs (13) — and right fielder Jonathan Hogart has been a huge pickup out of the transfer portal, hitting .419 in his first season in the program. He was at Louisiana Tech last year and started the first month of the season or so before going down with a season-ending injury.

Another bat the Razorbacks will have to be careful with is senior Taylor Howell, a power-hitting catcher/first baseman who hit 12 home runs last season. Although he has only one long ball so far, the Franklin, Tenn., product is hitting .310. This won’t be his first trip to Baum-Walker Stadium, either, as Howell was at Memphis in 2021 when the Tigers visited for a two-game midweek series in which he went 0 for 6.

He isn’t the only Murray State baseball player familiar with the Razorbacks’ home ballpark, though. Left-hander Thomas McNabb, a key bullpen arm for the Racers, is from Conway and was a junior when the Wampus Cats lost to Springdale Har-Ber in the 2018 Class 6A state championship game at Baum-Walker.

McNabb originally signed with UCA, but ended up taking the JUCO route by transferring to Crowder C.C. He eventually landed at Murray State last year and made 23 appearances out of the pen. He had more strikeouts (41) than innings pitched (31 1/3), but did post a 6.03 ERA. So far this year, McNabb has three strikeouts in three scoreless innings across two outings.

A couple of other guys the Racers depend on out of the bullpen include right-hander Alex Elsing and left-hander Allen Roulette.

Elsing has made a team-high three appearances so far despite pitching only 5 2/3 innings, but has great numbers, with 12 strikeouts to just one walk while limiting opponents to a .105 batting average. Roulette appears to be more of a long relief option, with 10 1/3 innings in his two appearances. He’s a South Alabama transfer in his third season at Murray State and has 10 strikeouts while holding opponents to a .189 average.

Those are some of the main pitchers, but Murray State actually has a pretty good staff overall. The Racers rank highly in most pitching categories nationally, with a 3.73 ERA and 1.06 WHIP to go along with 86 strikeouts and 20 walks in 70 innings. Their 4.3 strikeout-to-walk ratio ranks fourth in Division I, just behind Arkansas’ at 4.5.

Arkansas Baseball Last Week

The Razorbacks traveled to Arlington, Texas, last weekend and played three different opponents in the Kubota College Baseball Series at Globe Life Field. All three games were decided by one run, with Arkansas coming out on top in two of them. In midweek action, the Razorbacks run-ruled Grambling.

If you missed any of the games, check out our in-depth recaps below:


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