The Razorback baseball team has surged into a first place tie in the overall SEC standings and a two game lead in the West on the strength of a seven-game conference winning streak. The Hogs are 15-6 in conference play. Reverse those numbers and you have a Kentucky team that is mired in a three-way tie at the bottom of the SEC. But could overconfidence be an issue for Dave Van Horn’s guys who are in Lexington this weekend to face the ‘Cats?
“I don’t think we’ll have a letdown,” Van Horn said to reporters just before the team left Fayetteville. “If we get beat, we get beat. Kentucky’s a little dangerous. This is a team that went to the Minute Maid Classic at the beginning of the year and won all three games. They won two out of three at Ole Miss. Last weekend they won a game at Florida and played another close one. They can get after you. It’s the SEC. Everybody’s good.”
Kentucky’s best shot may come on Saturday when it puts junior left-handed pitcher Zack Thompson on the mound. Thompson got that win against Florida using 11 strikeouts for a 5-1 decision. Thompson is 4-1 on the season. Opponents are hitting just .179 against him. “Potentially a first round draft choice,” Van Horn said of Thompson. “Can pitch 92, (mph) 96. Got a really good curveball. He’s their guy. The guy they feel has to get them a win every weekend.”
Isaiah Campbell, Arkansas Friday starter, is coming off of his shortest outing of the season. The junior right-hander lasted just four and two thirds of an inning against Tennessee while giving up seven runs, three of them earned, in a no decision eventually won by Arkansas 11-9 . Van Horn seemed unconcerned, telling reporters that the strike zone was extremely small in the early innings of that game. “Then it changed,” Van Horn added. “We talked about if Campbell and their starter would have pitched in fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth it might have been a different story for both of them. But his stuff is good. His velocity’s good so hopefully he’ll have a good outing.”
Arkansas’ current conference winning streak was accomplished in spite of the absence of former Sunday starting pitcher Cody Scroggins who has been resting a sore arm. Van Horn said that the senior righty from Bentonville is back and will be available as reliever or even for a Sunday start if need be.
The head Hog also anticipates the return of leading hitter Matt Goodheart who sat out the Saturday and Sunday games against Tennessee after jamming his right shoulder while sliding back into first base on a pickoff move in Friday’s win over the Vols.
“Running, he still holds his arm a little bit,” Van Horn said in announcing Goodheart’s likely return. “But today (Thursday) he’ll hit live on the field and practice tonight. We’ll run the bases and see how he looks but I’m thinking he’s going to be okay.”
The Hogs’ staff ERA is 4.06 compared to the Cats’ 4.89. It is at the plate where the real difference occurs. Arkansas is batting .311 as a team, Kentucky dips to .256. Fielding may require an adjustment for the visitors. Kentucky Proud Park features a 100% Field Turf playing surface.
“It’s quick,” Van Horn noted. “We’ll find out tonight how quick that surface is. It’s a new ball park and good for our league. Their old ballpark had a real short fence in right. It seemed like it stayed wet all the time. It rains a lot up there.”
Even though he maintains a healthy respect for this weekend’s opponent, Van Horn expressed a lot of confidence in his team. “We’ve found different ways to beat you. We beat you with really good pitching. We beat you with pretty good defense most of the time and we’ve been scoring some runs.”
“This team is fun to coach,” Van Horn continued. “They show up everyday and play. They’re younger than last year’s team but I think time will tell. We’re still a work in progress. If we stay healthy we’ve got a chance to have a pretty good year but I don’t get carried away with it.”
Right now Arkansas’ pretty good year translates into a top five national ranking with just three series left in the regular season. Start times for the three games are 5:30 pm Friday, Saturday at 1 pm and and Sunday noon. All three games can be seen on SEC Network plus.