RazorbacksSports

Baseball Razorbacks to close regular season at Alabama

Razorback senior pitcher Connor Noland (#13) from Greenwood, AR throws a strike against Vanderbilt at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville, AR.

By Otis Kirk

Special to the Nate Allen Sports Service

FAYETTEVILLE — No. 5 Arkansas will close out the regular season with a three-game series at Alabama with the SEC West title and even possibly hosting a super regional at stake.

Arkansas (37-14, 17-10) is tied with Texas A&M in the SEC West. Alabama (27-24, 10-16) is trying to play its way into post postseason action. The Razorbacks are coming off a home series against Vanderbilt that saw a 12-game SEC home series winning streak snapped. Dave Van Horn talked about if he feels the Hogs are assured of hosting a regional and super regional at this point.

“Well, I don’t know if we have a regional host wrapped up,” Van Horn said. “I hope we do. But I told our guys, we’ve got to keep playing. We’ve got to get better. We’ve got to do the little things better, we’ve got to drive in runs. You know, all the things that you have to improve on. Holding runners. You can get exposed pretty quick.

“But I don’t know. We get to go to Alabama, stay in Alabama, go over to Hoover. We still have a lot to play for. We’d like to get a bye the first round. We don’t have anything locked up there. We want to get better. We want to win the tournament. It would be nice if we had an opportunity to host and come back here and play.”

Alabama lost both its games at Auburn this past weekend. The Sunday game was canceled due to weather. Despite some struggles this season, Alabama is 20-10 at home. Van Horn knows the Razorbacks will get the Tide’s best shot.

“We’ve got to win some series,” Van Horn said. “We’ve got to go on the road and play Alabama, who’s fighting to try to get to a regional. They’ve got an older team and I know they can hit.”

The corner outfielders for Alabama lead the team in batting average. Andrew Pinckney plays right field and is hitting .318 with six home runs and 26 RBI. Left fielder Tommy Seidl is also hitting .318, three home runs and 22 RBI. First baseman Drew Williamson leads the team with 42 RBI. He is hitting .298 and has eight home runs. Third baseman Zane Denton tops the Tide with 12 home runs. He is hitting .254 and has 41 RBI.

On the mound, the Tide is expected to send right-hander Garrett McMillan (4-4, 3.52 ERA) to the mound on Thursday. He will be followed by another righty Jacob McNairy (5-2, 4.60 ERA) and then left-handed pitcher Grayson Hitt (4-3, 5.02).

Arkansas’ starting staff has remained the same each weekend. That is Connor Noland (5-3, 3.78) on Thursday, Hagen Smith (6-2, 4.34) and then Jaxon Wiggins (6-2, 5.31). It was Wiggins who was the best of the trio last weekend. In a seven-inning game on Sunday, Wiggins went 4.1 innings, allowed four hits, three runs, two earned, walked one and struck out eight.

“I feel really good about him,” Van Horn said. “I’m very confident when he’s on the mound. He was frustrated for a couple of weeks there. Last weekend, he pitched against a really good team, like he did today, and he held them down. Last week’s was on the road and against a team that likes to go the other way a lot. He did a great job for us. And today I felt like he duplicated it.”

A pitcher who has emerged as one of the key members of the bullpen is lefty Will McEntire. He was the midweek starter and pitched well in his four starts. He has also pitched extremely well out of the bullpen against both Auburn and Vanderbilt. He has an ERA of 1.96, is 1-1, pitched 23 innings, has struck out 25 hitters and walked 11.

Thursday night’s game will begin at 6 p.m. Friday night’s contest is slated to start at 7 p.m. on the SEC Network and then the final is Saturday at 1 p.m. Thursday and Saturday games are both on the SEC Network+.

The remaining three teams with still some hope of winning the SEC West will all be on the road as well. Texas A&M (33-16, 17-10) is at Ole Miss (31-19, 13-14), Auburn (36-16, 15-11) travels to Kentucky (28-23, 10-17) and LSU (34-18, 14-13) hits the road to Vanderbilt (35-16, 14-13).

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