FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas will host Mississippi State, the defending national champions, this weekend for a three-game series beginning tonight at 6 p.m.
No. 2 Arkansas (19-4, 5-1) and Mississippi State (16-10, 3-3) will be televised on the SEC Network tonight. Last season the Bulldogs overcame being swept early in the season by the Hogs in Starkville to go on and win the national championship in Omaha. Dave Van Horn isn’t buying the talk this Mississippi State team isn’t capable like the one last year to do some damage in the SEC and on the national scene.
“Well I haven’t watched them but a couple of times, a few innings here and there,” Van Horn said. “I know they’re very talented. They’ve lost some games but I wouldn’t say they’re not as good. You never know how the season is going to play out. Obviously they were really good last year and they finished unbelievably well. They had some rough days last year as you remember. But it didn’t seem to bother them a bit. So we’re definitely not looking past them. They’re a great team and we’re looking forward to having a really good crowd this weekend. Probably for the first time now that basketball is over that we feel like it will be really loud here. Looking for a great atmosphere. I know the players are excited.”
The Razorbacks not only swept the Bulldogs last season in Starkville, but has won the past six games against them. The Hogs have also won 12 consecutive SEC series in a row. One reason for Arkansas’ recent surge that has saw them start with only one loss in the SEC is the emergence of Braydon Webb at the plate. Webb couldn’t buy a hit to start the season, but now is hitting .241 with a team-leading five home runs and knocked in 14 runs. Webb was always recognized as Arkansas’ best center fielder, but wasn’t hitting earlier and now has started 15 of the 19 games he has played.
“You guys have heard me say it a lot, we’ve always seen his talent,” Van Horn said. “His fall was incredible. He was probably one of our best hitters and probably led us in home runs. He’s always been a really good defender and really good arm. So I just think it’s once he got over the hump a little bit, the confidence goes up. He got two big hits against Missouri that probably helped us win those two games. I know for sure one, and then he got the big double after a couple of guys left the bases loaded with no outs. Also had base loaded two outs and he got a big hit. And you know, might not have won that game either. So I just think it’s confidence. The skill’s there. Hopefully, he’ll continue just to do what he does and play solid defense, be a tough out at the plate. Make a mistake and he can hit the ball out of the park.”
Van Horn will stick with Connor Noland, Hagen Smith and Jaxon Wiggins in the starting rotation. However, at times this season, the bullpen has struggled. In Saturday’s lone loss to Missouri the bullpen struggled to get outs.
“Well, I feel good about two or three of our guys,” Van Horn said. “That’s something that we’re definitely concerned about. And the thing is, we’ve got guys out there with really good arms that haven’t pitched very much yet. If they can make a move – a guy like Nick Griffin or maybe Nick Moten – they both threw yesterday live to hitters, mid-90s stuff with sliders. It was good to see Gabe Starks come in and pitch the other day, the other night against Arkansas-Little Rock. His stuff is really good. Got himself into a jam and pitched his way out of it. Those are three really good arms that can help us. Evan Gray hasn’t had a lot of opportunity. He threw really well yesterday. So I obviously like what I’m seeing from Brady Tygart and Zeb Vermillion. We need a couple more guys. Evan Taylor’s been outstanding. Really if you’ve got about eight guys, counting the three starters, that’s pretty much… You’ve got to have eight, seven or eight, nine. I think we went with six or seven last year and we always say we need one more guy.”
Oklahoma transfer, outfielder Jace Bohrofen, has been limited to seven games due to injuries. Van Horn had an update on him.
“He’ll be on the roster this weekend,” Van Horn said. “He hit live yesterday, took batting practice on the field on Tuesday, looked pretty good. So swinging he’s fine. Obviously throwing he’s fine because it’s his non-throwing shoulder. He hasn’t slide or dove or had any collisions. So I think he’s on his way back. I’m not sure if I’ll start him or play him or what, but I don’t know yet. We’ll see how the workout goes today.”
Bohrofen’s return gives Van Horn more options in the outfield with Webb, Zack Gregory and Chris Lanzilli both hitting well. Brady Slavens has been in a slump for much of the season after an outstanding year in 2021.
“Well, you know, you just kind of go with the guy who’s swinging it the best really,” Van Horn said. “That and if you need to make a defensive replacement. But I really feel like Jace is a pretty good outfielder. Gregory, he’s been an on-base type guy who can lay down a big bunt or gets on base with a walk or a hit by pitch and he’s a pretty good outfielder. He made a really nice play at Mizzou the other day close to the fence. Obviously I feel like Webb is our best center fielder and if he hits or not I’m probably playing him because it’s a defensive thing there. It’s like a catcher: You hope he hits but if he doesn’t he needs to catch well.
“But Lanzilli, he’s played every game I think. He’s probably been the — one of the most solid, consistent hitters that we’ve had. So Slavens has got to try to get back in the lineup, whether it’s DHing. It’s not a problem for me at all. I don’t see it as a problem. I see it as a good thing and it’s nice to have some options out there.”
Friday’s series opener against Mississippi State will broadcast on SEC Network with Mike Morgan (play-by-play) and Mike Rooney (analyst) on the call. Saturday and Sunday’s games will stream on SEC Network+ with Josh Haley and Troy Eklund handling play-by-play and analyst duties, respectively.
Fans can catch all the action through the ESPN app on smartphones, computers and tablets or via Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.
The series can also be heard on the Razorback Sports Network from Learfield/IMG, including locally in Fayetteville on 92.1 FM, with Phil Elson (play-by-play) and Razorback great Bubba Carpenter (analyst) on the call. A full list of radio affiliates is available here.
Mississippi State RHP Preston Johnson (2-1, 3.41 ERA) vs. Arkansas RHP Connor Noland (3-1, 3.41 ERA)
Mississippi State RHP Parker Stinnett (3-0, 4.67 ERA) vs. Arkansas LHP Hagen Smith (4-1, 3.45 ERA)
Mississippi State RHP Cade Smith (4-1, 2.91 ERA) vs. Arkansas RHP Jaxon Wiggins (4-0, 3.71 ERA)
Since 1960, Arkansas is 52-56 all-time against Mississippi State. The Razorbacks have had much of their success at home, however, holding a 25-18 advantage over the Bulldogs in games played in Fayetteville.
Arkansas is on a six-game winning streak against Mississippi State, thanks in part to a three-game series sweep of the Bulldogs last season in Starkville. The Hogs have won their last six home series against the Bulldogs, including sweeps in the 2017 and 2019 seasons.
- Arkansas won its 12th consecutive SEC series last weekend at Mizzou. Vanderbilt (2012-14) and Florida (2017-18) hold the record for most consecutive SEC series wins (15).
- Dave Van Horn earned his 300th SEC win last Sunday on the road at Mizzou to become one of only five head coaches in history to reach the milestone. Mississippi State/Georgia’s Ron Polk, Ole Miss’ Mike Bianco, LSU’s Skip Bertman and Vanderbilt’s Tim Corbin also have 300 or more career SEC wins to their name.
- The series opener between Arkansas and Mississippi State falls on April 1, also known as April Fools’ Day. Arkansas is 21-16 all-time on the day, including 11-4 at home.
- Arkansas is ranked 12th nationally in hits allowed per nine innings (7.3), 13th in strikeouts per nine innings (11.2) and 16th in earned run average (3.46).
- Defensively, Arkansas has been superb with a .986 fielding percentage, ranking first in the SEC and fifth nationally.