FAYETTEVILLE – Even losing pitchers Peyton Pallette for the season during the Regionals postseason during last week’s SEC Tournament, it seems the Arkansas Razorbacks start the Fayetteville Regional at their Baum-Walker Stadium with their deepest, most flexible pitching staff.
Losing Benton’s Pallette, either a starter or reliever in every SEC series until an arm injury, was a major blow.
And senior Vermillion, whose extensive exam of a biceps injury was delayed until Tuesday because of Memorial Day, has pitched some key innings.
But the staff effectiveness going 4-0 over Georgia, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Tennessee to win last week’s SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala. prompted asking Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn if his pitching staff is at its most flexible.
“In a way,” Van Horn said. “Just because of the success that the guys had getting guys out there. I think they should be confident. They get confidence from the other guys on the team and the coaching staff to put them out there.
Arkansas ace starter Patrick Wicklander’s struggling start against Vanderbilt actually exemplified pitching depth. It marked the first of two occasions, beating Tennessee Sunday was the second, for long reliever Ryan Costeiu to record SEC Tournament victories with incomparable SEC Pitcher of the Year reliever Kevin Kopps, 10-0 record and 10 saves, netting the saves.
Resting Kopps between the Vanderbilt and Tennessee games brought forth relievers Heston Tole and Connor Noland, the 2020 staff ace injured and ineffective throughout much of 2021, to supreme heights against an Ole Miss team hosting a NCAA Regional as are the nationally No. 1 ranked SEC champion/SEC Tournament champion Razorbacks and highly ranked SEC teams Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, Florida and South Carolina.
Lael Lockhart pitched six perfect innings before finally touched for a seventh-inning single and 2-run home run in Arkansas’ 11-2 SEC Tournament opening victory over Georgia and threw one shutout relief inning Sunday against Tennessee.
And for starters leaving the Hogs in prime position to finish, Caleb Bolden threw four shutout innings against Ole Miss and freshman Jaxon Wiggins yielded but one run in 3 2-3 against Tennessee.
“Getting Connor Noland out there for nine outs against a really good hitting team and the way he pitched was good,” Van Horn said. “I thought Bolden gave us a good start, and obviously Lockhart gave us a great start then a really good inning (Sunday). Wiggins threw the ball extremely well. I mean, I could go on and on.”
One exception. Left-hander Caden Monke, 5-1 3.38 earned run average and three scoreless innings during the regular-season closing sweep over Florida in Fayetteville, couldn’t find the plate in two appearances at Hoover.
“The one guy we’ve got to get going a little bit is Caden Monke,” Van Horn said. “He threw great against Florida then he didn’t have a good weekend. We’ve got to have him. So we’ll try to get him straightened up this week. You’ll see him out there.”
Van Horn on Monday said he likely won’t reveal his Fayetteville Regional starting pitching plans until Thursday.
The top-seeded Razorbacks open the 4-team double-elimination tournament at 2 p.m. Friday against the fourth-seeded America East Conference champion New Jersey Institute of Technology Highlanders.
Second-seeded Big Ten champion Nebraska and third-seeded Colonial Athletic Conference champion Northeastern meet at 7 p.m. Friday.
The schedule continues Saturday with a 2 p.m. loser’s bracket game and 8 p.m. winner’s bracket game, and a Sunday 2 p.m loser’s bracket final and 8 p.m. championship game.
If necessary, a winner take all championship game would be played Monday night.
The winner of the Fayetteville Regional plays the winner of the Ruston Regional in the best 2 of 3 Super Regional deciding the winner advancing among the Elite Eight playing for the national championship at the College World Series in Omaha.
Host Louisiana Tech, North Carolina State, Alabama and Rider College comprise the Ruston field.