Arkansas Set to Face No. 1 LSU in SEC Series
By Otis Kirk
FAYETTEVILLE — No. 5 Arkansas just finished an 18-game homestand and now will head to LSU for its first true road games of the 2023 season.
Arkansas (19-2, 3-0) opened the season in Arlington playing in the College Baseball Showdown. They went 2-1 on the neutral Globe Life Field. During the homestand Arkansas opened SEC play with a sweep of Auburn. But now they will face No. 1 LSU (19-2, 2-1) for three games. Dave Van Horn knows this weekend will be a great series between two of the top teams in the nation.
“It’s the SEC,” Van Horn said. “It’s kind of what I tell the players all the time – you want to play in the SEC for weekends like this.”
LSU lost to Iowa on Feb. 25 and then fell against Texas A&M in Game 3 of the SEC opener for both teams this past weekend at College Station. Van Horn knows LSU presents a lot of challenges.
“Opening weekend against Auburn went our way and now we are going to play a great LSU team that has a lot of experience, they are physical, can really pitch, can really hit and are playing great defense as well,” Van Horn said. “I think they are fielding like .990.
“They don’t give you anything. You have to beat them. They don’t give you a thing. So we know what we are getting into.”
Van Horn feels he learned several things about his team during these 18 games.
“I learned that we’ve got a little bit of depth with our position players,” Van Horn said. “I feel good about how if somebody gets hurt or needs a day off, we might lose a little experience, but we’ve got guys that can get it done.
“We also found some pitchers came in and give us some innings or close out a game. It’s just been fun to watch them kind of develop as a team a little bit.
“We’ve been here for three weeks straight just playing baseball. It seems like we have played a lot of games – like you said 18 of them and we have won 17 of them and now we get to go back on the road.”
LSU is 14-0 at Alex Box Stadium this season. Van Horn went into more detail about the team’s first true road games.
“We have been preparing the team for the SEC since the day they got here,” Van Horn said. “And the guys that have been here, they have been a part of it. They’ve seen it.
“It is a very tough environment and then you throw in that there are the number one team in the country. And they are doing pretty much all three phases of the game, the main phases – pitching, hitting and fielding for the most part, about as good as anybody in the country.
“So this will be my 10th or 11th down there (while) coaching here and again I know what we are up against. It is going to be a big challenge and I think our guys are looking forward to going down there.
“You never know how it is going to go, but I think we are looking forward to just getting out of town. We are on spring break right now and they’re bored. They are ready to go somewhere else.”
Junior right-handed pitcher Paul Skenes, 6-6, 247, presents a lot of issues for Arkansas hitters and anyone else that faces him this season. Skenes is 5-0 with an ERA of 0.59 this season. In the SEC opening 9-0 win over Texas A&M this past Friday, Skenes pitched 6.1 innings, allowing just four hits, no runs and struck out 11 without giving up a walk.
“You usually don’t get too many chances to get him,” Van Horn said. “He has got an incredible fastball, a good breaking ball, he throws strikes. He’s big and can go nine innings and throw 110 pitches or whatever he needs to do.
“We’ll just go down there and do what we do. We’ll fight and if we get a chance, hopefully we’ll get him. If we don’t, we will move on to the next day.”
As far as his own pitching rotation, Van Horn will use the same as last weekend. That will be Hunter Hollan on Friday, Will McEntire Saturday and then TBA on Sunday. Cody Adcock got the start this past Sunday. Hagen Smith has moved the bullpen and pitched in two of the three games against Auburn.
“That sounds good to me,” Van Horn said. “I’ll go with that. That’s exactly what we’ll do.”
Friday night’s game will begin at 7 p.m. and televised on ESPN2. Saturday’s game at 1 p.m. will be available on the SEC Network. Then Sunday’s contest begins at noon on ESPN.