Dave Van Horn at Swatters Club

By Nate Allen

FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas’ last starting pitching link to its last College World Series team likely starts Arkansas’ 2022 baseball season starting the Razorbacks’ season opener.

Connor Noland, the senior  from Greenwood and the last victorious starting quarterback (over Tulsa in his lone start)  for former football Coach Chad Morris’ 2-10 Razorbacks in 2018 become 2019 freshman  starter for Dave Van Horn’s most recent College World Series Razorbacks,  for now is penciled to start the Feb. 18 season-opener at Baum-Walker Stadium against Illinois State.

Noland was 2-0 in three starts of the by March 12 covid terminated 2020 season. He fell upon injury hard times in 2021, 

1-0 but with a bloated 6.91 ERA in only 14 1-3 innings.

“Connor has really been good,” Van Horn said, interviewed by the UA’s Brett Dolan  during Monday’s Swatters Club Zoom to Razorbacks baseball boosters. “You’ll probably see him Day One against Illinois State.”

Van Horn explained why.

“Last year he was hurt,” Van Horn said.  “He came back and we tried to pitch him and that wasn’t the best version of Connor Noland. We’re seeing it now.  Day One in the fall you could tell he was different. You could tell in the summer. He stayed here and got in the best shape of his life.  Changed his diet and that’s huge.  He looks great.”

Great enough to start at the top.

“Can he be an ace?” Van Horn said repeating a question. “Sure. He’s got four pitches a regular fastball, a really good sinking fastball … he might have five pitches. They are always working on things.”

Van Horn cited several returning Razorbacks pitchers as improved but said some freshman arms are pitching in trying to fill relief and perhaps some starting roles.

“Some young guys are going to help us.  Left-hander Hagen Smith has a chance to jump into the rotation as a true freshman.  Nick Moten a right-hander.   Brady Tygart a right-hander.  Austin Ledbetter, an instate kid (from Bryant) has four pitches and throws a lot of strikes. I think he’ll help us.  We have plans to use those freshmen.”

Van Horn noted one last achievement of his 2021 Razorbacks, 50-13 and undisputed winners of the SEC West, SEC Overall, SEC Tournament and Fayetteville Regional champions before edged in Game Three of the Super Regional by the North Carolina State Wolfpack advancing to the College World Series.

As a team their academic grade point averaged 3.2.

“What a great bunch of guys to coach,” Van Horn said.  “The 2021 team will always go down as one of my favorite teams because they worked hard and they played to win.  They won 50 games. Probably the most wins since I’ve been here.  But what makes these wins special it was probably against the first or second toughest schedule in the country.  We won the overall SEC championship which I have said many a time is harder to do than win the national championship just because of the 10 weekends of grind. Obviously we didn’t get to the College World Series but they did everything else.”

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