Arkansas vs James Madison: Dukes’ Star Has Already Faced 2 Hogs

Fenwick Trimble, Parker Coil, Arkansas baseball, James Madison baseball, Arkansas vs James Madison
photo credit: JMU Athletics / Baumology

FAYETTEVILLE — Dave Van Horn got creative when constructing the 2024 Arkansas baseball schedule.

Before heading to Arlington, Texas, for a major showcase event, the Razorbacks will open the season with a four-game series against James Madison beginning Friday.

The games are scheduled one per day through Monday — an unusual day of the week to play on in college baseball, which routinely has games Tuesday through Sunday.

However, the strategy is sound.

“When we scheduled (the series), we thought in a perfect world – due to playing in the tournament the next weekend – we could play on Monday or even play four through the weekend with a doubleheader if we have to due to weather,” Van Horn said. “Not playing Tuesday gives us a chance to recover some of our bullpen more heading into that tournament.”

Arkansas will get the benefit of playing another nine innings, such as giving more pitchers a chance to get on the mound and other backups an opportunity for at bats, without burning any arms for the Kubota College Baseball Series the following weekend.

By playing on Monday, instead of Tuesday or Wednesday, the pitchers who close out the James Madison series should be ready to go again by the Sunday game against Michigan — if not by Friday or Saturday against Oregon State and Oklahoma State, respectively.

Four-game series are also nothing new for the Razorbacks. In fact, this is the fourth time in five seasons they’ve scheduled one. They swept the previous three: Gonzaga in 2020, Southeast Missouri in 2021 and Illinois-Chicago in 2022.

The main difference with those is that they started on Thursdays. That isn’t possible in the Arkansas vs James Madison series because it’s on opening weekend and the NCAA sets the first day of the season, which, at least recently, is always a Friday.

Starting Rotations for Arkansas vs James Madison

Friday — ARK Jr. LHP Hagen Smith vs. JMU Jr. RHP Todd Mozoki
Saturday — ARK Jr. RHP Brady Tygart vs. JMU So. LHP Max Kuhle
Sunday — ARK Jr. LHP Mason Molina vs. JMU Sr. RHP Ryan Murphy
Monday — ARK Fr. LHP Colin Fisher vs. TBA

Unlike some years, there was very little mystery surrounding the Razorbacks’ first three starting pitchers, as they have what’s widely considered one of the best weekend rotations in the country.

Perhaps the biggest question for Arkansas baseball was the order of the second two pitchers, which Dave Van Horn answered Wednesday by announcing Brady Tygart and Mason Molina would follow Hagen Smith on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

That means Arkansas will go left-right-left with its starters, but Van Horn said there wasn’t any big strategic reason behind the order.

“It really doesn’t matter and it could change,” Van Horn said. “Just maybe the two guys (Smith and Tygart) who have been in our program the longest. You could go through a lot of things, maybe how they pitched, but I think they’re pretty equal.”

With this being a four-game series, though, there was some uncertainty surrounding who the Monday starter would be.

Sophomore Ben Bybee appeared to be the frontrunner. However, the big right-hander missed a preseason outing because of a lingering hamstring issue and a couple of freshmen – right-hander Gabe Gaeckle and left-hander Colin Fisher – were electric in the scrimmages leading up to the season.

Although he did return this past weekend, Bybee struggled in the indoor scrimmage on Sunday. Van Horn said he didn’t have his best stuff and his command wasn’t as sharp as it had been. That opened the door for the freshmen and Fisher got the nod over Gaeckle.

It may have been a surprising move, but it’s also important to remember that it isn’t permanent and other pitchers will likely get an opportunity to start midweek games.

“We had a little meeting before practice started (and) we just talked about it’s just the beginning of the season,” Van Horn said. “The game will tell us what to do, you guys will show us what to do. The cream will rise to the top and we’ll figure it out.”

What to Watch in Arkansas vs James Madison

The Razorbacks are clearly the better team on paper, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be tested on opening weekend – and that’s not a bad thing.

As a team, James Madison hit .298 last year, which ranked as the 52nd-best batting average in Division I last season, but it was No. 119 in slugging percentage at .459.

Where they lacked in power, though, the Dukes seemed to make up with small ball. They were not afraid to steal a base or lay down a bunt in 2023. In fact, their 123 stolen base attempts were tied for the 36th-most in the country and their 50 sacrifice bunts ranked 10th. On top of that, they struck out only 377 times – fewer than every team in the SEC.

It sounds like they’ll have a similar offensive philosophy in 2024.

“I think the biggest thing was minimizing the strikeouts – (that) was our biggest focus – and putting the ball in play and creating pressure,” James Madison baseball coach Marlin Ikenberry said in an interview posted to the James Madison baseball account on Twitter. “Our returning guys know what to expect this year. They’ve developed drastically since last year.”

That will put pressure on a mostly new-look Arkansas infield. The only familiar face this weekend will be Peyton Holt, who was projected to start at third base, but is now back at second base with Peyton Stovall out with a broken foot.

Ben McLaughlin is back from last year, too, but he primarily played as a designated hitter and is now competing with Tarleton State transfer Jack Wagner for the starting job at first base. Sacramento State transfer Wehiwa Aloy and Richmond transfer Jared Sprague-Lott are expected to start at shortstop and third base, respectively.

It’ll also likely be a newcomer behind the plate, with Texas Tech transfer Hudson White and freshman Ryder Helfrick projected as the top two catchers on the depth chart.

Defending against stolen bases and sacrifice bunts requires all of those players to be on the same page and know exactly what to do in each situation. If James Madison does continue that small ball trend this year, that will come into play this weekend.

That’s especially intriguing for White, as the biggest knock on him coming out of the transfer portal was on defense; he threw out only 10 of 68 potential base stealers last season. We could find out quickly if he’s improved as much defensively as the Arkansas baseball coaches have said he has.

Scouting James Madison Baseball

2023 Record: 31-25 (15-13 Sun Belt)
Final 2023 RPI: No. 100
Projected Finish in 2024: 10th out of 14 (coaches)
Head Coach: Marlin Ikenberry (9th season)

This has been the Year of James Madison sports, as the football and men’s basketball teams have spent time ranked inside the top 25, and the softball program is only a couple years removed from a Women’s College World Series run.

On the baseball diamond, though, the Dukes are still waiting for their big breakthrough. They made it all the way to Omaha in 1983, but haven’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 2011.

It won’t be easy to snap that drought this year, as this will be James Madison’s second season in the Sun Belt after previously playing in the CAA. It’s not the SEC, but the Sun Belt has emerged as arguably the premier mid-major league in college baseball in recent years.

Led by head coach Marlin Ikenberry, the Dukes managed to post a winning record in conference play last year, but are picked to finish 10th in the 14-team league this year after losing several key pieces from that team.

“This is a team that last year hit right at almost .300, won a lot of games,” Van Horn said. “They’re competitive and I don’t feel like they would have scheduled to come here a couple years ago if they didn’t feel good about what they had in their program at the time – and also what’s coming in – to start the season on the road a long way from home like this.”

The good news for James Madison is that outfielder Fenwick Trimble is back as a junior after starting every game and earning second-team All-Sun Belt honors in 2023. He slashed .342/.452/.631 and led the team in doubles (22), home runs (13), RBIs (52) and OPS (1.083). That production has made Trimble a legitimate MLB Draft prospect, with D1Baseball tabbing him as the 157th-best college prospect for this year’s draft.

Over the summer, Trimble was invited to play in the prestigious Cape Cod League and actually squared off with a couple of Razorbacks. He went 2 for 4 with a couple of singles, including an infield single, against left-hander Parker Coil and was retired with a fly out to center in his one matchup with right-hander Jake Faherty.

“After going to the Cape Cod League and being named preseason (All-Sun Belt), he’s going to be the guy that is going to be pitched to very, very differently every at bat,” Ikenberry said. “He’s just got a really good mind for the game. High, high baseball IQ and I’m not too worried about him.”

The only other player who started every game for the Dukes last year was second baseman Mike Mancini. He, too, is back after hitting .284 with two home runs and 36 RBIs last year.

Catcher Jason Schiavone (51 starts) hit just .224, but showed some pop with nine home runs last year, while infielder Jacob Steinberg (.355, 19 RBIs in 19 games) and designated hitter Ryan Dooley (.324, 19 RBIs in 25 games) were productive in limited action.

Steinberg’s season was cut short by an injury. He is notable because he actually began his career as a pitcher at Ole Miss in 2019, when he redshirted, and is now a sixth-year senior at James Madison.

“It’s awesome to have him back. The way he ended his season last year was something that hit us in the face a little bit because he was having such a great year. … To have him in the lineup and be steady and ready to go Day 1 is going to be good.”

On the mound, the Dukes return nine of their 12 pitchers who threw at least 20 innings last season. That includes two-thirds of their starting rotation in right-handers Todd Mozoki and Ryan Murphy, as well as their closer, right-hander Joe Vogatsky.

At least on paper, Vogatsky may have been James Madison’s best pitcher last season. He had the best ERA on the team at 3.34, plus held opponents to a .217 batting average and racked up 36 strikeouts in just 29 2/3 innings across 21 relief appearances.

The Dukes’ best lefty is arguably T.R. Williams. His 5.84 ERA isn’t overly impressive, but it might be somewhat misleading because opponents hit just .214 off him and he had 41 strikeouts in 37 innings. In addition to making 15 appearances out of the pen, Williams also started three games last year, so they seem to believe he’s capable of being a starter, but he probably needs to improve his command (25 walks, 4 HBP, 5 wild pitches).

How to Watch Arkansas vs James Madison

Location: Baum-Walker Stadium (Fayetteville, Ark.)

Schedule (TV/Stream)

Friday, Feb. 16 – 2 p.m. CT (SECN+)
Saturday, Feb. 17 – 2 p.m. CT (SECN+)
Sunday, Feb. 18 – 1 p.m. CT (SECN+)
Monday, Feb. 19 – Noon CT (SECN+)

NOTE: Friday’s game was originally scheduled for 3 p.m., but it has been moved up one hour to 2 p.m. because of “impending weather,” the UA announced Thursday. There’s a slight chance of rain during game time, but the biggest threat is the cold. Temperature at first pitch is expected to be about 42 degrees and it’ll steadily drop into the upper-30s by the end of the game.


Hear from head coaches Dave Van Horn and Marlin Ikenberry ahead of this weekend’s Arkansas vs James Madison series:

YouTube video


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