The No. 3 Arkansas Razorbacks didn’t do Big Blue Nation any favors on Friday as they started SEC play with a bang, clinching the series on Saturday night from the Kentucky baseball team (14-6). Entering the series, Kentucky sports fans were already reeling from their worst defeat in NCAA Tournament history, a first-round ouster that has sparked some rumblings about going after Eric Musselman to replace John Calipari.
They didn’t find much consolation in Fayetteville, however.
In a 6-2 win on Friday, Razorback pitcher Connor Noland fanned seven over 6 1/3 innings, while Robert Moore collected three hits with three runs batted in to power at Baum-Walker Stadium. Then, in a 9-3 on Saturday, true freshman Hagen Smith did not shy away from the bright lights of the SEC stage. The rookie left-hander fanned seven over six innings of three-run ball in the first conference start of his collegiate career, turning in his third quality start of the season.
The Razorbacks (15-3, 2-0) , winners of 10 straight games, have now won 11 consecutive SEC series dating back to the start of last season. Arkansas has also won its last five SEC opening series, going 13-1 in that span.
Arkansas vs Kentucky Game 2 Recap
Hagen Smith had plenty of run support from the jump as the Razorbacks scored two in the first, three in the second, one in the third and two in the fourth, opening an 8-2 lead by the fifth. Braydon Webb and Peyton Stovall each found their power stroke in the bottom of the second, cranking homers as part of Arkansas’ three-run inning.
Robert Moore continued his tear against Kentucky, collecting a team-leading three runs batted in on the night. The Razorback second baseman had three hits and three RBI in yesterday’s series-opening win.
Zebulon Vermillion was superb in relief of Smith, striking out five over three hitless innings. The veteran right-hander was the only reliever Arkansas needed all night as he locked down his first save of the season in the multi-inning performance (via Razorback Communications).
Arkansas vs Kentucky Game 1 Recap
On Friday, Connor Noland was sharp from the get-go, retiring the first eight Kentucky batters he faced. The Greenwood, Ark., native would ultimately turn in his third quality start of the season, allowing only one run on six hits and two walks. Moore, meanwhile, ignited the Razorback offense from start to finish, giving Arkansas its first lead of the night with his first at-bat in the first inning. The Leawood, Kan., native hit a bases-loaded single to help the Hogs extend a quick 1-0 lead.
The consensus preseason All-American tallied his second hit and second RBI of the night in the fourth, lining a single to center field to give Arkansas a four-run advantage. Moore did even more damage in the seventh, hitting a solo shot to right — his second home run of the year — to put the Hogs up by five.
Chris Lanzilli notched his team-leading seventh multi-hit effort of the season in Friday’s win. The graduate transfer from Wake Forest is now hitting a team-best .383 on the year.
Arkansas’ bullpen was once again superb on Friday night. Evan Taylor (1.2 IP, 1 SO) and Kole Ramage (1.0 IP, 2 SO) entered in relief of Noland, combining for 2 2/3 innings of one-run ball with three strikeouts to lock down the 6-2 win.
The task of making sure Big Blue Nation stays plenty blue starts at 6:30 pm tonight.
Arkansas vs Kentucky
Game 3 Time: Sunday, March 20 (12:00 p.m.)
Arkansas: RHP Jaxon Wiggins(2-0, 4.35)
Kentucky: LHP Tyler Bosma (2-0, 3.60 ERA)
Game 3 Prediction:
With the series in hand, Van Horn may go to some reserves to get them time on the field. The lineup is still potent with a few reserves in it, but Arkansas may be liable to easing up the third game. The Razorbacks swept only two series in conference play last year.
Bosma has been much more effective than the other two starters this season, plus he is rested after not starting in the previous weekend. The Wildcats may steal a game on Sunday.
Wiggins was very good in his first three starts, producing a 2.60 ERA in 17.1 innings. However, the 6-6 sophomore got hit around last Sunday, allowing five runs in 3.1 innings. He could respond well, or it could have been a sign his ERA was deflated against some weaker competition.
Score Prediction: Kentucky wins 6-5
Arkansas vs Kentucky Prediction:
The pitching advantage for Arkansas should give them the advantage to take the first series in SEC play. Both offenses are firing on all cylinders so there should be a lot of runs scored over the weekend.
Since sweeping a SEC series is so hard, the odds dictate that they will drop a game over the weekend. The Razorbacks will still have the series in hand and dropping one game should go little to no damage to their ranking. It is still very possible for the sweep if all three starters produce good outings.
Arkansas wins the series 2 games to 1.
“Hopefully we’ll have some really good crowds this weekend,” Van Horn said. “Our guys haven’t played in front of a really really packed house here yet, a lot of the new guys, and I know they’re really excited about it.”
Lanzilli has reached base safely in every game of 2022 with the help of his current 10-game hit streak. During the streak, he is hitting .472 which has his average up to .375 for the season. He even launched a walk-off home run into the Hog Pen on Sunday against UIC.
The below is background info going into the Arkansas vs Kentucky series
Cayden Wallace is coming off a Player of the Week series against UIC in which he hit three home runs, including two grand slams, and drove in 13 runs. He is also hitting .370 during the team’s offensive streak over the past seven games.
Peyton Stovall had a slow start to the season, starting out 3-22 (.136) in his first five games. He has put together a nine-game hitting streak since then, including multiple hits in five of the last six games. In the past six games, Stovall has gone 13-23 (.565).
Arkansas does not have the only offensive weapons in this series, as the Wildcats have a potent offense as well. They come into Friday with a .324 team batting average and scoring 9.1 runs per game.
Junior third baseman Chase Estep is off to a tremendous start to the 2022 campaign. He is hitting .471 with seven home runs and 21 RBIs in 18 games. Senior first baseman Jacob Plastiak is also off to a hot start, hitting .329 with six home runs and 23 RBIs.
Senior second baseman Daniel Harris IV (.397), senior outfielder Hunter Jump (.319) and junior shortstop Ryan Ritter (.313) give Kentucky five starters hitting above .300 against a somewhat tough non-conference schedule, which includes weekend series with TCU and Western Michigan. Kentucky gave up 20 runs to Indiana in a midweek matchup where Arkansas limited the Hoosiers to two runs in a Friday game.
While the Kentucky baseball lineup is dangerous, the pitching leaves room for improvement. The Wildcats have a team ERA of 5.55. Five of seven Kentucky pitchers with a start in 2022 have an ERA above seven. Arkansas has a team ERA of 3.13 and no pitcher with a start this season has an ERA over 4.50.
“They all count the same,” head coach Dave Van Horn said after the victory Wednesday. “It’s either one win or one loss and you get shots at it. I don’t get too amped up for the opening weekend compared to the third or maybe last weekend. But the first weekend is important because it allows you to maybe win a leg, they all count.”