Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
Nebraska has Arkansas’ attention
Arkansas' Tyler Spoon lays down a bunt to move Brian Anderson into scoring position during the eighth inning of play against Alabama Saturday, March 22, 2014, at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas won’t be lacking for incentive when it starts a stretch of 10 games in 13 days with a nonconference game tonight against Nebraska.
The Razorbacks (17-10, 4-5 SEC) are not only looking to bounce back after losing two of three to Mississippi State over the weekend in Starkville, Miss., but Arkansas has a score to settle with Nebraska (15-12), which held Arkansas to two runs and no-hit Arkansas in a doubleheader sweep last year in Lincoln.
But the Razorbacks enter tonight’s 6:35 game, the first of a two-game midweek series at Baum Stadium, at less than full strength.
NEBRASKA AT ARKANSAS
WHEN 6:35 p.m., today
WHERE Baum Stadium, Fayetteville
RECORDS Nebraska 15-12; Arkansas 17-10
TV/RADIO Cox Sports Television
PITCHING MATCHUP Nebraska: Jake Hohensee (RHP: 0-2, 7.59 ERA); Arkansas: Colin Poche (LHP: 2-0, 0.53)
SHORT HOPS Nebraska leads the series 11-7, including a doubleheader sweep by scores of 3-0 and 4-2 last year in Lincoln, Neb. … Wednesday’s projected starter for Nebraska, Kyle Kubat, threw five hitless innings in the Huskers’ 3-0 victory over the Hogs last year. … Arkansas’ Joe Serrano went 2 for 8 against the Huskers last season, while Eric Fisher was 1 for 4, Tyler Spoon was 0 for 8, Jake Wise was 0 for 4, and Brian Anderson was 0 for 3. … The Huskers’ Ryan Boldt is hitting .486 over the past 10 games. … Nebraska’s Jake Hohensee, a 6-3 freshman from Lincoln, is making his second start of the year.
Sophomore outfielder Tyler Spoon is questionable with a left shoulder ailment he suffered in batting practice on Sunday in Starkville, and shortstop Brett McAfee is likely to be sidelined with a lower-back issue, a source of frustration to Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn.
“Just to put our best team out on the field, we haven’t been able to do that for more than half this season,” said Van Horn, who led the Cornhuskers to two College World Series appearances during a five-year stint in 1998-2002. “If we can just hold it together, fight through the next couple of weekends until we can get some guys healed up, hopefully get some guys going offensively a little bit, that’ll give us a chance down the stretch.
Arkansas left-hander Colin Poche (2-0, 0.53 ERA) is scheduled to face right-hander Jake Hohensee (0-2, 7.59) in tonight’s game. Razorbacks’ freshman Alex Phillips (2-0, 1.29) will oppose junior lefthander Kyle Kubat (1-1, 4.91) in Wednesday’s 1:35 p.m. game.
Motivated as Arkansas might be for the Cornhuskers, there are more important games coming up.
No. 1-ranked South Carolina (24-3, 6-3) follows Nebraska to Baum Stadium for a three-game SEC series, the first game scheduled for an ESPNU broadcast Thursday at 7:05 p.m. The Razorbacks host UNLV for two midweek games next week before returning to the SEC road to face LSU.
“I know the next two weeks are going to be real critical for us with these 10 ballgames, and if we can hang in there, it’ll be a major plus,” Van Horn said.
The Razorbacks are hitting .259 and struggling to score runs again, with two runs in the final 22 innings against Mississippi State.
“What’s great is we get to play Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday,” Arkansas infielder Bobby Wernes said on Sunday. “So we get to bounce back real quick. That’s the great thing about baseball. We’ll be ready to go and be able to get right back on it.”
McAfee has not played since going 1 for 3 in a 2-1 loss at California in Arkansas’ final game at the Cal Classic on March 9.
“He hasn’t played in a conference game yet,” Van Horn said. “We miss his bat a lot. I think Mike Bernal has done a nice job defensively [at shortstop]. Offensively, that’s where Brett has really excelled better this year.”
Eight Cornhuskers are hitting .300 or better, led by Ben Miller (.349), Ryan Boldt (.348), Ty Kildow (.343) and Pat Kelly (.336). Tanner Lubach, a .314 hitter, has two of Nebraska’s five home runs. The Cornhuskers have played only one Big Ten series, losing 2 of 3 at Iowa.
Nebraska is coached by Darin Erstad, a first-team All-American for the Cornhuskers in 1995, who went on to have a 14-year career in the major leagues
“Nebraska has a very good offensive team,” Van Horn said. “It’s going to be a major challenge for us. They’re hitting .311 as a team and that’s kind of rare these days in college baseball.”
Sports, Pages 19 on 04/01/2014