FAYETTEVILLE – Given the home team has annually swept the last three Arkansas Razorbacks vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs SEC West baseball series, Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn already anticipated a rough road visiting Starkville, Miss. this weekend.
Van Horn anticipated even tougher for this series at State’s Dudy Noble Field starting at 6:30 tonight and 2 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday upon viewing Coach Chris Lemonis’ Bulldogs firsthand in February.
Sunday’s game will be televised by the SEC Network.
As part of the State Farm College Baseball Showdown matching SEC West teams Arkansas, Mississippi State and Ole Miss against Big 12 teams Texas, Texas Tech and TCU at the Texas Rangers’ Global Life Field in Arlington, Texas, Van Horn saw the Bulldogs beating Texas and Texas Tech and losing, 3-2 to TCU the same weekend that Arkansas swept Tech, Texas and TCU.
“We know how good they are,” Van Horn said. “We got to see them play three games in Arlington. They’re really good.”
Good enough at 17-4 overall, 2-1 in the SEC winning 2 of 3 at LSU, to be No. 3 to Arkansas’ No. 2 in this week’s D1 Baseball rankings.
The Razorbacks, stopping a 3-game losing streak winning the last two of the 3-game SEC West series last weekend over Alabama at Baum-Walker Stadium followed by a 2-game nonconference sweep over Memphis at Baum-Walker, bring 16-3 and 2-1 overall and SEC records to Starkville.
The Razorbacks have played well since absorbing a 16-1 shellacking from Alabama last Friday and even gained something from getting rolled by the Tide.
In long relief, junior left-hander Patrick Wicklander, the displaced starter from Arkansas’ 2019 College World and Arkansas’ No. 2 starting the 2020 nationally shut down by covid campaign, threw so well over 5 1-3, that Van Horn starts him tonight.
“It’s not like he hasn’t pitched in regionals, super regionals, conference games, on the road, at home,” Van Horn said. “If he can give us four quality innings, that’d be great. Anything over that would be even better.”
Benton’s Peyton Pallette, Arkansas’ customary Friday night starter but wild against Alabama and chased during the Tide’s 10-run second inning, threw an inning of scoreless relief against Memphis and readies in the bullpen.
“We wanted to get him on the mound just to kind of get that Alabama game out of his system a little bit,” Van Horn said. “We have confidence in him, obviously. He’ll be out of the pen this weekend. If Wicklander gives us X amount of innings, then it might be Pallette. It depends on how many innings we go and what the score is, but he’ll be a big part of that bullpen this weekend.”
Zebulon Vermillion, winning successive 8-1 games over Alabama and Louisiana Tech, and Lael Lockhart will start Saturday and Sunday for Arkansas.
Since last Friday’s 16-1 beatdown the Razorbacks mostly bounced back in 9-1 and 3-1 victories over Alabama and 14-1 and 9-4 over Memphis.
The defense came through, too.
“ I think our defense has done a great job overall,” Van Horn said after Wednesday’s win concluded the Memphis series. “We made one error the whole Alabama series and we made one error today. We didn’t make one yesterday.”
They can’t afford to make many in Starkville.
“They’re one of the best teams in the country,” Van Horn said. Statistically their pitching staff ( a 2.30 team ERA) is as good as anybody in the country. Maybe the deepest in the country. Offensively they’ve got a really good lineup. They just keep coming at you. If they get ahead of you, they’ve got a couple of guys in the bullpen who can come in and they usually get it done. We know what we’re headed into.”
Particularly since the State of Mississippi has relaxed rules regarding precautions against covid 19.
“We’re headed into a place that has a great baseball team,” Van Horn said. “But not only that, I think they get to have full capacity. So that’s probably going to be around 12 or 14,000, maybe more. So uh, it’ll definitely be a challenge. We’ll see how we handle it.”
Photos courtesy of Craven Whitlow, CW3, Sports Action