With the SEC West race coming down to the wire between Arkansas and Texas A&M, the Hogs are looking to sweep the rug from under the Aggies’ feet in a high-stakes weekend. Texas A&M won its Game 1 on the road in a series with Ole Miss, while the No. 7 Razorbacks (38-14, 18-10) did their part by winning the series opener vs the Alabama Crimson Tide (27-25, 10-17).
Behind Peyton Stovall’s two-run tater and Cayden Wallace’s go-ahead three-run shot in the fifth, the Hogs overpowered Alabama (27-25, 10-17 SEC) with seven unanswered runs on its way to a 7-3 win on Thursday night at Sewell-Thomas Stadium.
With the victory, the Arkansas baseball program has now won 18 or more conference games for the fifth consecutive season. SEC East foe Florida was the last team to achieve the feat, doing so from 2014-18.
Arkansas and the No. 6 Texas A&M baseball team remain tied atop the SEC Western Division standings with two games left to play. The Hogs are seeking their fourth consecutive division title (2018, 2019 & 2021).
Meanwhile, the RPI rankings continue to short hand the Hogs. Even though the Razorbacks are competing for the SEC West title and overall No. 2 seed in the SEC, they entered the series as the seventh ranked team in the SEC RPI. RPI will play a role in which the all-important seeding come NCAA Tournament, and wins normally translation into higher seeding.
So, predictably, Texas A&M’s victory over Ole Miss on Thursday night helped it go from No. 19 to No. 15. Not so predictably, Arkansas actually dropped despite its victory – going from No. 26 to No. 27.
No time to worry, though. The Hogs are right back at it tonight (details below).
Arkansas vs Alabama Game 1 Recap
Will McEntire made his first career SEC start on Thursday night and gave the Razorbacks four innings of three-run ball. The redshirt sophomore struck out four while allowing eight hits and issuing two walks before giving way to the bullpen.
Alabama mounted a 3-0 lead after four innings of play, but Arkansas turned it up a notch offensively in the fifth. The Hogs broke through for five runs, thanks to Stovall and Wallace’s rally-igniting home runs.
Stovall’s two-run homer to right center was his fourth of the season, while Wallace’s three-run tank to over the playground in left was his ninth of the year. Wallace is now slashing .306/.399/.526 with 46 runs batted in, which ties for the team lead.
Ahead 5-3, Arkansas turned to Kole Ramage, Evan Taylor and Brady Tygart to preserve the lead. The trio did exactly that, combining for eight strikeouts over five scoreless innings in relief of McEntire.
Ramage fanned two in his 1 1/3 innings out of the bullpen, while Taylor punched out a season-high four over two frames to improve to 5-0 on the season. Tygart locked down the final 1 2/3 innings, striking out two and securing his team-leading eighth save of the year.
The bullpen’s job was made even easier in the top of the ninth after Jalen Battles’ two-run double to the gap in left center extended the Hogs’ advantage to 7-3. Battles finished his night with a pair of hits, tying him with Wallace for the team lead in multi-hit games (17) this season. (via Razorback Communications)
Arkansas vs Alabama Game 2:
Time: Friday, May 20 (7:00 p.m.)
Alabama: RHP Jacob McNairy (5-2, 4.60 ERA)
Arkansas: RHP Connor Noland (5-3, 3.38 ERA)
Game 2 Prediction:
Alabama has lost four of McNairy’s last five starts, but it was mostly because of the lack of run support. He got an average 1.8 runs of support in those losses. He has not allowed more than three runs in his last five starts.
Until this weekend, Noland has been the series opener. Game two generally belonged to freshman Hagar Smith. As the season closes and the SEC West is as tight as it can get, Van Horn had to make an adjustment.
Noland is coming off his two worst starts, allowing eight runs over nine innings against Auburn and Vanderbilt. This slight step down in competition might be the key to Noland getting back on track.
Score Prediction: Arkansas wins 4-3
Arkansas vs Alabama Game 3
Time: Saturday, May 21 (1:00 p.m.)
Alabama: LHP Grayson Hitt (4-3, 5.02 ERA)
Arkansas: RHP Jaxon Wiggins (6-2, 5.31 ERA)
Game 3 Prediction:
Hitt had a 1.26 ERA in non-conference games, but has struggled against SEC lineups to the tune of a 6.45 ERA. Bama has lost three of his last four starts after a 7-1 start to the year. He has a 15.68 ERA in those losses.
Wiggins was in a rough patch earlier in the season, but his last two starts have been pretty good, allowing three runs over 9.1 innings. In his last start, the 6-6 righty went four shutout innings with seven strikeouts before being replaced in the fifth with two runners on base who came around to score.
This could be a wild game with two pitchers who had had their recent struggles. But Wiggins appearing to be back on track could be the difference Arkansas needs.
Score Prediction: Arkansas wins 7-6
Arkansas vs Alabama Series Prediction
Arkansas is playing to win the SEC West and Alabama is playing to stay in the SEC Tournament. Both teams need to win.
Arkansas has been the better team all season and are coming off a few tough series in a row with Vanderbilt and Auburn and before them, they played a recently surging Ole Miss and Texas A&M. The Hogs should keep their foot on the gas and build momentum against Alabama, even though the series is on the road.
The Razorbacks do have the extra motivation of the SEC West title hanging in the balance, which should hopefully carry them to a sweep against a faltering Crimson Tide club.
Alabama Baseball Background
The below published before the series began
Alabama has a high team batting average at .280 but a low home run total with 57. Arkansas, meanwhile, is hitting .272 with 77 home runs.
The Crimson Tide are led in batting by sophomore right fielder Andrew Pinckney and senior left fielder Tommy Seidl. They both are hitting .318 for the year with Pinckney knocking six home runs and 26 RBIs while Seidl has three home runs and 22 RBIs.
Pinckney is hitting .409 with two dingers and nine RBIs over the past 11 games. Seidl is 6-13 with a home run and three RBIs over his last four contests.
Senior first baseman Drew Williamson leads the team in RBIs with 42 while batting .298 and swatting eight long balls. Junior third baseman Zane Denton leads the team with 12 round-trippers to go with 41 RBIs.
Williamson is hitting .333 with a home run and five RBIs over his last five contests, but Denton is 3-42 over the past four SEC series.
Alabama also has former Razorback catcher Dominic Tamez in their starting lineup. Tamez played in 2020 for the Razorbacks, then transferred out and killed it at McLennan Community College for a season. McLennnan is the Texas junior college where Dave Van Horn and Jalen Battles both played as well.
Tamez now hits .292 with five home runs and 30 RBIs.
Trend with Arkansas Baseball
For the current Razorbacks, the offense is slowly trending upward despite the 0-5 loss to Vanderbilt in seven innings. Going into that game, Arkansas was scoring 7.6 runs over the past five contests.
Junior second baseman Robert Moore has struggled all season, but over the past two series, he is batting .292 with two home runs and seven RBIs. Following a 2-26 stretch, senior shortstop Jalen Battles went 5-9 with two doubles, a home run and four RBIs over three games before the seven-inning shutout against Vanderbilt Sunday.
Sophomore third baseman Cayden Wallace has been killing SEC pitching as of late, hitting .351 over the past three series, with six doubles, two home runs and seven RBIs.
After a 10-20 stretch against Ole Miss and Auburn, Vanderbilt refused to pitch to senior center fielder Braydon Webb. He was 0-6 in the series but drew five walks. Always with a rough series, senior catcher Michael Turner took a tough 1-13 against Vanderbilt.
Junior left fielder Zack Gregory is behind on the upswing, going 1-18 over his last 11 games. Freshman designated hitter Kendall Diggs has gone 3-25 with four walks and two home runs since being thrust into the starting lineup.
The Razorbacks have had a tough schedule to end the year, playing at Texas A&M, vs Ole Miss, at Auburn and vs Vanderbilt in four consecutive weeks. This schedule has brought them to a 7-7 record over their last 14 games. The last Arkansas team to have a .500 or worse stretch that lasted 14 or more games was in 2019 when Arkansas lost eight games in a 15 game span, but still made the trip to Omaha.
More on Arkansas baseball here: