FAYETTEVILLE – Two brilliant starts as Arkansas’ No. 2 starter has vaulted Benton’s Peyton Pallette to No. 1 starter for the No. 1 Razorbacks.
Second-year freshman right-hander Pallette will start today’s first game of a 3-game series for the 7-0 Razorbacks at Baum-Walker Stadium against the Murray State Racers, 5-3 of the Ohio Valley Conference.
The Razorbacks and Racers play at 3 p.m. today, 1 p.m. Saturday, moved to an earlier start to lessen conflict with Arkansas’ 4 p.m, Saturday men’s basketball game against Texas A&M at Walton Arena, and 1 p.m. Sunday.
In two starts against the Texas Longhorns and Southeast Missouri State Redhawks Pallette, 1-0, a 0.00 earned run average throwing 9 1-3 scoreless innings while striking out 16 vs. four hits and two walks.
“Tremendous starts, both of them,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said at Monday’s virtual meeting of Swatters Club. “I think he’s thrown like 9 1-3 innings and he’s already got 16 strikeouts, but what I love is he only has two walks. It’s great to play defense behind guys that throw it over the plate like that.”
And deserving of college baseball’s version of Friday night lights as the weekend series opening pitcher.
“We think he’s ready for it,” Van Horn said. “We didn’t just give it to him. He had to earn it. So here we are Week Three and we just put him up there.”
Zebulon Vermillion, Arkansas’ Game One starter thus far, returns to the bullpen from which he excelled last year.
Lael Lockhart, the graduate transfer from the University of Houston, continues Sunday as Arkansas’ Game Three starter.
Caleb Bolden, brilliant relieving Pallette combining for the 4-0 shutout of Texas on Sunday, Feb. 21 but not hot failing to survive the first inning starting that next Thursday on short rest against SEMO, draws Saturday’s start on plenty of rest.
“Probably just how well he pitched against Texas and then we didn’t give him enough time to get ready,” Van Horn said of giving Bolden the shot for Saturday’s start. “We’ll see if he can throw somewhere close to what he did out of the bullpen.”
Van Horn has played left field roulette since incumbent left fielder Braydon Webb’s 1 for 16 batting slump start, but says he’ll go back to Webb as Friday’s left fielder to “try to get him going.”
“He’s our best defender out there,” Van Horn said. “He can really run. He got off to a really slow start in fall baseball, finished strong. He was really swinging the bat well in January, early February.”
Van Horn said catcher Casey Opitz, injuring his wrist and neck in a base-running collision with SEMO’s first baseman but passing concussion protocol, should be okay to play against Murray State.
However freshman backup catcher Dylan Leach may start today’s game to give Opitz another recovery day.
Though he’s batting just .200, freshman Cayden Wallace of Greenbrier continues starting in right field swatting two home runs and two doubles and a legendary fouling off 10 pitches at bat drawing a key walk in a rally comeback victory over SEMO.
“He brings a lot of power potential to the lineup,” Van Horn said. “The batting average is down a little but it’s going to climb. He has had some really good at bats. I think he had a 15-pitch at bat the other night which is incredible for someone that young at this level. He’s taking his walks. Just looking forward to watching him develop and continue to get better.”
Coach Dan Skirka’s Murray State arrive off a 4-game winning streak winning the last three of a four-game series with Purdue-Fort Wayne and then defeating Arkansas State.
“They got after Arkansas State the other day,” Van Horn said. They are a very old team for college baseball. They’re winning right now, so they’re feeling pretty confident rolling into Fayetteville, that’s for sure.”
Second baseman Jordan Cozart, .387 with three home runs and eight RBI in eight games, is Murray State’s by far best hitter.
“If there’s a situation when you have a hot hitter like that, where you can pitch around him a little bit, that’s what we’ll do,” Van Horn said.