Thu May 09, 2024

By Lance Hawley

Sports Razorbacks

Hogs to Host Mississippi State this Weekend

Arkansas Baseball Razorbacks Baseball
Hogs to Host Mississippi State this Weekend
By Otis Kirk

FAYETTEVILLE -- No. 3 Arkansas will host its final regular season series this weekend with No. 14 Mississippi State the opponent.

Arkansas (40-9, 17-7) is 31-2 at Baum-Walker Stadium. Mississippi State (32-16, 14-10) is 7-7 away from home. This is an important series for both teams as seeding for regionals and possible hosting super regional is at stake. Dave Van Horn will attack this weekend with the regular rotation of Hagen Smith, Brady Tygart and Mason Molina.

"After yesterday’s workout we’re going to stick with the same rotation," Van Horn said. "Because they both (Tygart and Molina) feel good, healthy. No one has a sore arm. No complaints. Ready to go."

Van Horn had said Sunday in Lexington and Monday at Swatter's Club he was hoping some days off and rest with no mid-week game mixed with not traveling should help the team.

"It was good," Van Horn said. "It was good. You could tell they were excited to be back out on the field. Went out there an hour and a half, two hours. It just seemed a little different, a little louder. I expect today’s workout will be the same and guys getting ready to play their last home SEC series here at Baum-Walker. But it’ll be good."

Mississippi State has two hurlers who steal the headlines. Right-handed pitcher Khal Stephen (7-3, 2.96) and both-handed pitcher Jurrangelo Cijntje (7-1, 3.53) present a challenge for the Hogs or any team. Cijntje gets a lot of publicity since he can throw with both arms. He was a natural left-handed pitcher, but started also throwing with his right hand at age six. But Stephen is also worthy of a lot of praise.

"Well, they’re both really hard throwers," Van Horn said. "You’ve just got to stay in the zone. They’re awfully good. That’s as good a 1-2 punch in the league, the way I look at it. At least statistically, Stephen has been getting after it on Fridays and Cijntje’s been doing great on Saturdays. Real, real well. Yeah, we’ve got our hands full and we know it."

Former Batesville standout Gage Wood is someone seeing his stock on the rise in recent weeks. He started a game against Missouri State and pitched long relief against Kentucky. Van Horn has gone on record saying he may steal someone's job referring to starters.

"We’ll kind of let the game tell us what to do for the most part," Van Horn said of Wood's role this week. "He can either be early out of the pen if it doesn’t go well or he could finish a game for us as well. He’s thrown the ball as good as anybody and he deserves to be out there. So just kind of see how’s it going. What’s the score. What’s the inning. Are we up, are we down. Where we’re at. We know what he can do. We’ll see how we’re playing and the feel of the game before we make a decision on whether we’re going to get him going or not."

Wood (3-1, 2.81) has pitched 25.2 innings, struck out 40 hitters and walked six in 17 appearances including the one start. Right fielder Kendall Diggs is hitting .247 with six home runs and 32 runs batted in. Those aren't the numbers that was expected of him entering the season.

"Yeah, we’ve talked to Kendall a lot," Van Horn said. "The biggest issue is he’s hurt. He hurt himself sliding head first on a field that had a little too much water on it in the first inning and he stuck basically and he hurt his left shoulder, his non-throwing arm. He didn’t really say a whole lot about it, although we were really worried about him when it happened. Because I have seen that a dozen times. Usually something happens. Usually a tear, and it pops out, pops in. 

"When he hit the wall the other day in the first inning against Kentucky in Game 3, when the ball went off the top of the wall and bounced out, he fell down. … It’s bothering him again. We’re not sure if he’s going to start tomorrow or not. The pain’s starting to go away, and then he hits the wall again. So he’s dealing with that.

"And I just want him to be up front with me and tell me that he’s pain-free, or I don’t want to play him. That’s my thing. I just want him to not have anything mental, something lurking in there thinking, ‘I can’t swing at that pitch, I can’t hit that pitch, and that’s why I’m not hitting that pitch.’ I’d rather play somebody else. Yesterday in our workout he didn’t swing. I had him doing some other things. He played defense. He’s going to swing today. He said it’s feeling a lot better."

Right fielder Dakota Jordan leads the Bulldogs with 16 home runs, 56 runs batted in and hitting. 367. Center fielder Connor Hujsak is next with eight home runs, 41 runs batted in and an average of .349. Shortstop David Mershow is hitting .333 with four home runs and first baseman Hunter Hines has 14 round trippers on the season with 47 runs batted in and .286 batting average.

“He’s (Dakota Jordan) got like 55, 60 RBIs and 16 home runs," Van Horn said. "He’ll strike out a little bit, but he’ll also hit the ball hard. When he hits it, watch out. He’s a big guy that takes up the whole batters box. He is still almost hitting .370. He’s a tough one. You’ve got Hunter Hines who can hit as far as anyone in the league from the other side of the plate. You got some run scorers mixed in there. They’ve got a few guys who can run. They’ve stolen like 55 or 60 bases. Only been thrown out like 10 times or something. They just take what you give them. And if you don’t hold them, they’re going to go. If you make a mistake, they can hit it over your head. That’s what I’m saying. They are a dangerous team. They’re very talented. That team has been playing their best baseball since last month.”

Arkansas and Mississippi State will play Friday night at 6:30 p.m. and then 6 p.m. on Saturday night. Both can be streamed on the SEC Network+. Sunday's game on the SEC Network will begin at 2 p.m.