UPDATED: In baseball, Arkansas has had quite the run these last 20 years: seven NCAA Regional championships, five College World Series appearances, two SEC championships and a CWS runner-up finish.
In all that time, though, the Razorbacks have never gotten off to a hotter conference start than they have this season. Even with the series finale loss at Kentucky, Arkansas baseball is still sitting pretty. It has won three straight SEC series, is ranked No. 4 in the nation according to Baseball America and can secure an SEC West crown outright if it wins five of its final six games.
Staying hot at home will help. The last time Arkansas played at Baum Stadium, sophomore catcher Casey Opitz sent a 2-0 fastball screaming down the left field line in the bottom of the 10th inning to give then-No. 6 Arkansas a 4-3 win over the No. 18 Volunteers.
The walk-off victory gave Arkansas its second straight SEC series sweep after bringing out the brooms against No. 2 Mississippi State the weekend before. It also landed the Hogs a seventh straight SEC win, which was extended with two more wins at Lexington this weekend. Arkansas now sits at 17-7 in conference.
“I feel great about it, because you’ve got to take the wins when you can get them,” Hogs coach Dave Van Horn said after that Tennessee win. “You never know when it’s going to flip on you. You have injuries, you have guys go into little slumps. Teams hit balls that are flares. The game isn’t always fair. You can make pitches and you don’t get a call. You can hit the ball on the nose and it goes right at somebody.”
These 2019 Hogs (37-12 overall) now share the record for the best-ever start through 24 SEC games. Below is a complete list of the hottest-starting Hog teams since Arkansas’ first SEC season in 1992:
2013 Razorback baseball team
First 24 SEC games: 15-9 (62.5%)
Hottest stretch: 7-0 (six straight SEC wins)
Final SEC record: 18-11 (62.1%)
Final overall record: 39-22 (63.9%)
Leading hitters: Tyler Spoon (68), Brian Anderson (68), Matt Vinson (61)
How the ’13 Hogs finished their season
2010 Razorback baseball team
Through first 24 SEC games: 16-8 (66.6%)
Hottest stretch: 13-0 (8 straight SEC wins)
Final SEC record: 18-12 (60%); 2nd in the SEC West
Final overall record: 43-21 (67.2%)
Leading hitters: Zack Cox (102), Collin Kuhn (87), Brett Eibner (72), Bo Bigham (72)
How the 2010 Hogs finished their season:
1999 Razorback baseball team
Through first 24 SEC games: 17-7 (70.8%)
Hottest stretch: 7-0 (7 straight SEC wins)
Final SEC record: 22-8 (73.3%); SEC Champions
Final overall record: 42-23 (64.6%)
How the ’99 Hogs performed after their early May hot streak:
2004 Razorback baseball team
Through first 24 SEC games: 16-8 (66.6%)
Hottest stretch: 5-0 with three straight SEC wins. (The ’04 Hogs also won eight straight non-conference games to open the season.)
Final SEC record: 19-11; SEC Champions
Final overall record: 45-24
Leading hitters: Haas Pratt (80), Danny Hamblin (77), Casey Rowlett (74)
These Hogs didn’t finish the regular season as strongly as they began it. In the month of May, before the SEC Tournament, they went .500 in conference play:
- 2019 Razorback baseball team
SEC record: 17-7 (70.8%)
Overall record: 37-12 (75.5%)
Final SEC record: TBA
Final overall record: TBA
Hottest stretch: 10-1. In there is seven straight SEC wins including this beauty:
“This team is pretty much fearless, Dave Van Horn said after the heart-pounding Tennessee win. “They just play and they think they can win. They don’t really care how far they’re down. If they’ve got some at-bats left, they feel like they can come back.”
So far, the ’19 Hogs are historically good. But can they finish strong enough to take the crown as the SEC era’s all-time best regular-season Razorback baseball team?
The answer will boil down to how Arkansas performs in its next two series against LSU and will come in the next two series against LSU and Texas A&M. The Tigers, historically, have been the Hogs’ most difficult SEC foe in the Dave Van Horn era.
“Sweeps of the Tigers in Baton Rouge and Fayetteville during the 2004 and 2011 seasons, respectively, are head coach Dave Van Horn’s only series wins against them in 16 years. Over that span, the Razorbacks are 18-40 (.310) against LSU, including a 1-9 record in the postseason (SEC Tournament/College World Series) and an 0-10 mark in rubber matches.”
“If Arkansas can get over that hump and win the series, it would be guaranteed to have sole possession of first place in the SEC West going into the final weekend.”–Andrew Hutchinson
Hog fans simply can’t wait to see how well this team finishes.
In Game 2 of the most recent series against Kentucky, Arkansas won its ninth-straight SEC win — the program’s longest such streak since 2010.
Full highlights of Arkansas’ win over Tennessee
Press release from Arkansas’ record-tying 4-3 win over Tennessee
Casey Opitz, who came into the at-bat 0-for-4 and with just one hit in the series, came up in the 10th with two outs and runners on second and two outs and sent the 9,419 fans in Baum-Walker Stadium home happy as he was able to score Jack Kenley with his hit. It was Opitz second walk-off hit this year as he also had the walk-off single in the series finale against Missouri (March 17), which also finished off a sweep.
Arkansas (34-11, 15-6 SEC) actually struggled at the plate early on against Tennessee (31-14, 9-12 SEC) starting pitcher Zach Linginfelter, managing just two runs in 4.1 innings, one coming off a solo home run by Kenley in the second. Linginfelter finished with nine strikeouts, but was relieved in the fifth inning after loading the bases with one out. Redmond Walsh came into the game in a tight spot and hit Heston Kjerstad on his first pitch to bring Arkansas’ second run home.
After leaving runners in scoring position in the fifth, seventh and eighth innings and with Tennessee taking a 3-2 lead, the Hogs finally got the big swing it needed to tie the game and send it to extras in the bottom of the ninth. Christian Franklin, who was coming off a four-hit game, tailed a 2-1 pitch the opposite way and wrapped it around the foul pole for his fifth home run of the year, tying the game at 3-3.
Franklin was 2-for-3 in the game and finished the series 7-for-11 (.636) with three extra-base hits and two RBIs. He joined Kenley as the only Razorback baseball player with a multi-hit performance on Sunday. Following his homer in the second, Kenley had a double in the fourth and a single in the 10th that helped extend the game-winning rally. It’s his second game with three or more hits this year.
Noland Sharp For Second-Straight Week
Freshman right-hander Connor Noland looked sharp for the second-straight week, going seven strong with just one unearned run allowed on two hits and a career-high 10 strikeouts. Noland had a no-hitter going until the sixth inning when Jake Rucker hit a lead-off single. That hit eventually led to the unearned run, snapping a scoreless streak of 15.1 innings for Noland.
Hogs Making a Habit Of The Walk-Off
Sunday’s walk-off win was the third for the Razorback baseball team this year and fifth game won in the final inning. Casey Opitz now has two of Arkansas’ walk-off hits this year, while Heston Kjerstad had his own in the opening weekend to help the Hogs sweep Eastern Illinois. On the road, Arkansas won game two of its series with Auburn, scoring three runs in the top of the 15th inning before shutting it out in the bottom half. The next week, the Razorback baseball squad staved off the sweep at Vanderbilt, scoring five runs in the top of the ninth, winning 14-12, which was the first win of the now seven-game conference winning streak. The seven-game streak is the longest for the Razorbacks since winning nine conference games in a row in 2010.
Razorback baseball quotables:
“I thought Connor Noland was lights out. The guy had everything working. I think he just got a little bit tired, but man, he was spotting up his fastball in, he could throw it away. He started mixing in that slider and some changeups. Then he had the regular curveball. He was good and he gave us a chance on a Sunday when we didn’t have a lot of experienced arms that were ready to go.” – Head coach Dave Van Horn on Connor Noland’s performance
“I pretty much had the mindset I had for every at bat. I’m a good hitter. You’ve got to believe that or nothing is going to happen for you. I just came up there and took that at bat for what it was. I took what he gave me and produced. It was a fast ball down the middle.” – Casey Opitz on his mindset in the final at-bat even though he was hitless
“My blood was rushing really fast. I didn’t have any control over what I was saying. I went into the dugout screaming ‘Let’s go!, to my teammates.” – Christian Franklin on the feeling of hitting the game-tying homer in the bottom of the ninth
“It was just one of those things where you go in, and you’re like, ‘I got to get this done for my guys.’ I did my best to try and throw strikes and get outs.” – Elijah Trest on coming out of the bullpen and throwing a perfect 10th inning