FAYETTEVILLE — The expectations for Arkansas baseball went to another level Thursday when the SEC released its annual preseason coaches poll.
Not only are the Razorbacks picked to win the SEC West, a title it has at least shared in four of the past five seasons, but they’re the preseason favorite to win the overall regular-season championship.
It was somewhat of a surprising selection because most of the preseason top-25 polls have Arkansas behind LSU and/or Florida. The only poll that has the Razorbacks ahead of both schools was Perfect Game, which has them at No. 2. They are No. 3 on D1Baseball and Baseball America, and No. 4 in the NCBWA and USA Today Coaches polls.
Lofty expectations are nothing new in Fayetteville, but it is the first time since 2013 that Arkansas was picked to win the SEC. That year didn’t go as expected, ending with a loss in the Manhattan Regional, but in recent years, being the preseason favorite in the SEC has typically meant good things.
Despite neither of the last two preseason favorites — LSU in 2023 and Ole Miss in 2022 — winning the league, both went on to win the national title. In fact, four of the last national champions were picked to win the SEC before the season. That includes 2017, when Florida and LSU were co-favorites and then met in the College World Series finals. Vanderbilt in 2019 was the other.
Extending beyond that, seven of the past eight College World Series have featured the SEC’s preseason favorite, with six of them making it at least to the semifinals.
One reason that trend could continue is Arkansas’ loaded pitching staff, which is highlighted by the two left-handers taking the mound first in Friday’s intrasquad scrimmage. Just as they have the last two weeks, Hagen Smith and Mason Molina will square off against each other.
Best of Arkansas Sports is at Baum-Walker Stadium and will provide updates from the Arkansas baseball scrimmage below…
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T-1st: Cardinal 0, Gray 0
Hagen Smith’s second pitch of the day is lined up the middle for a single by Will Edmunson. Heck of a response by Smith right there. He blew a couple pitches by Lovich before getting him to look at strike three. On that pitch, Edmunson tried a delayed steal and was gunned down with a perfect throw by White. Helfrick also went down looking to end the opening half inning of the Arkansas baseball scrimmage.
B-1st: Gray 2, Cardinal 0
Peyton Holt got things started by grounding out to shortstop. Hudson White followed with a great at bat against Mason Molina, winning the battle with a single to left in a full count. During Kendall Diggs’ at bat, the Cardinal had White picked off, but Molina’s throw got by Ty Waid at first base. Not only did White get the stolen base, but he moved to third on the E1. Diggs followed with a walk to put runners on the corners for Wehiwa Aloy, who also walked to load the bases. Molina fell behind 3-0 against McLaughlin before giving up a two-run single to right-center. Aloy went first-to-third on the play. Molina got out of the jam by inducing a 5-4-3 double play from Jack Wagner.
T-2nd: Gray 2, Cardinal 0
Really nice play by Holt to start the second inning. He got to a hard-hit ball by Souza in the right field grass and made a strong throw to first for the out. Smith followed that up by striking out Polk, who chased an off speed pitch out of the zone. It wasn’t a perfect inning, though, as Robinett sent a line drive the other way that hit off the wall in left for a double. Jones crashed into the wall trying to make the play. The trainers went out to look at him, but he stayed in. The inning ended with Smith fooling Waid, who chased a pitch out of the zone for a strikeout.
B-2nd: Gray 2, Cardinal 0
Despite crashing into the fence, Jones still led off the second inning at the plate. He grounded out to short, but hustled down the line and at least made it close at first. Sprague-Lott followed with a fly out to center. Beautifully executed bunt by Wilmsmeyer results in a two-out single. It was perfectly placed where the Cardinal couldn’t make a play even if they did everything perfectly. That brings up the top of the order in Holt, who scorched a grounder to short. Souza fielded it cleanly and tossed to second for the force to end the inning.
T-3rd: Gray 2, Cardinal 0
Back out for his third inning of work, Smith fooled Rowland and got him to swing and miss at an offspeed pitch for a strikeout. Grimes then hit a grounder to third, but Sprague-Lott’s throw pulled Wagner off the bag. Wagner made a great effort to swipe down for the tag, but he was safe. It didn’t seem to bother Smith, who struck out Edmunson. He actually tipped it, but White hung on to the foul tip to complete the strikeout. Smith the spotted a fastball that Lovich looked at for strike three. That’s seven strikeouts in three innings for Hagen Smith. His final line: 3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 7 K.
B-3rd: Gray 4, Cardinal 0
With Molina still on the mound, White skied a high fly ball to shallow center for the first out of the third. Diggs followed with a four-pitch walk. On the first next pitch, Aloy singled through the left side. McLaughlin, who drove in two runs his last time up, loses this battle with Molina, looking at strike three. Wagner is who delivered this time, poking a single into center to drive in a run. Aloy went first-to-third on the play. With runners on the corners, Molina bounced a pitch in front of the plate and it got away from Helfrick. Aloy scored and Wagner moved to second on the wild pitch. Molina got out of it by striking out Jones. Molina’s final line: 3 IP, 5 H, 4 R (4 ER), 3 BB, 2 K.
T-4th: Gray 4, Cardinal 0
Right-hander Jake Faherty comes on to pitch in the fourth inning. He walked Helfrick to start his outing. Faherty showed great awareness in picking off Helfrick, who got into a pickle and was eventually put out 1-3-6-3. Souza looked at strike three for the second out. Polk followed by ripping a line drive into right. It was definitely a hit and looked like it might be a double, but Diggs tracked it down, fielded it off a bounce and fired a strike to second, getting Polk out by a mile to end the inning.
B-4th: Gray 5, Cardinal 0
Right-hander Koty Frank is in to pitch for the Cardinal. He’s struggled in his first two preseason outings, so he could use a nice outing today. Frank got off to a nice start, as Sprague-Lott checked his swing and hit a little dribbler. Frank calmly fielded it and got the out. However, Wilmsmeyer followed by driving a shot to left-center that hit off the base of the wall near the 375-foot sign for a double. That brings up the top of the lineup.
Holt nearly beat the shift, but his chopper to the right side wasn’t hit hard enough and the second baseman (Aloy) was able to get to it and get the out at first. It did move Wilmsmeyer to third, though. With two outs, White singled to center for an RBI. Frank ended the inning by getting Diggs to take strike three.
T-5th: Gray 5, Cardinal 0
Faherty is still on the mound for the Gray. Robinett led off the inning with a double to left-center – his second double of the day. He’s been swinging it pretty well of late. Faherty bounced back by striking out Waid. Rowland fouled off several pitches before grounding out up the middle. Aloy made it look easy, despite fielding the ball on the other side of the second base bag. Robinett moved to third on the play. That’s it for Faherty.
Right-hander Will McEntire enters with two outs and a runner on third. He needed just one pitch to end the inning, as he got Grimes to fly out to center.
B-5th: Gray 5, Cardinal 0
Frank is still on the mound for the Cardinal. He got the hot-hitting Aloy to ground out to second to start the inning. McLaughlin followed with an opposite-field line drive, but it hung up long enough for Lovich to catch it in left for the second out. Frank then struck out Wagner to make it a perfect 1-2-3 inning.
T-6th: Gray 5, Cardinal 2
Edmunson hit a singled to right to start the sixth inning. It’s his second hit of the day and they’ve come against two of the Hogs’ better pitchers in Smith and now McEntire. Lovich then hit a high fly ball to shallow left that looked like it might find no man’s land, but Jones did a nice job of running in and calling off the shortstop and third baseman to make the catch. After a long at bat that included several foul balls, Helfrick hit a line drive right back up the middle that McEntire got a glove on, but didn’t hang on to. It was hit so hard that the ball ended up in no-man’s land and the defense couldn’t make a play, giving him an infield single. Souza followed with a line drive through the right side. It drove in a run and moved Helfrick first-to-third. Polk then hit a slow roller to second, which Holt fielded and got the out at first, but it scored another run. Robinett grounded out to first to end the inning.
B-6th: Gray 8, Cardinal 2
Frank stayed in to start the sixth and issued a leadoff walk to Jones before getting Sprague-Lott to foul out to first. That ended his outing. Right-hander Gage Wood came in to pitch with a runner on first.
Wood issued back-to-back walks to Wilmsmeyer and Holt. With the bases loaded, White drove in two runs with a single. He then stole second, with Helfrick throwing the ball into center because no one was covering the bag. The error allowed Holt to score. It could have been worse, but Wood bounced back by striking out Diggs and Aloy.
T-7th: Gray 8, Cardinal 2
McEntire made quick work of the Cardinal in the seventh after a rough previous inning. He struck out Waid and got Rowland to ground out to second. Grimes hit a two-out double, his first hit of the preseason, but McEntire stranded him there by striking out Edmunson.
B-7th: Gray 8, Cardinal 2
Wood was also better in the seventh inning, throwing a perfect 1-2-3 inning. McLaughlin and Wagner grounded out to short and third, respectively, before Jones went down swinging.
T-8th: Gray 8, Cardinal 2
It seems like McEntire got stronger as he went on, as he got Lovich to pop out to short before striking out Helfrick and Souza.
|1. Will Edmunson – CF
|1. Peyton Holt – 2B
|2. Ross Lovich – RF
|2. Hudson White – C
|3. Ryder Helfrick – C
|3. Kendall Diggs – RF
|4. Nolan Souza – SS
|4. Wehiwa Aloy – SS
|5. Hudson Polk – RF
|5. Ben McLaughlin – DH/1B
|6. Reese Robinett – 3B
|6. Jack Wagner – 1B/DH
|7. Ty Waid – 1B
|7. Jayson Jones – LF
|8. Parker Rowland – DH
|8. Jared Sprague-Lott – 3B
|9. Hunter Grimes – DH
|9. Ty Wilmsmeyer – CF
|Pitching: LHP Mason Molina
|Pitching: LHP Hagen Smith
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