With snow gone, Hogs ready to go

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Friday, February 14, 2014
Arkansas' baseball team runs situation drills during the first practice of the season on Friday, Jan. 24, 2014 at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
Photo by Michael Woods
Arkansas' baseball team runs situation drills during the first practice of the season on Friday, Jan. 24, 2014 at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE - The blanket of snow that covered Northwest Arkansas the past couple of weeks cleared off over the past couple of days, just in time for No. 25 Arkansas to open its baseball season on Valentine’s Day in rapidly improving weather conditions.

The Razorbacks will host Appalachian State today at Baum Stadium in the opening game of a three-game series. Today’s high is projected to reach 52 degrees and the temperature is expected to rise through the weekend, reaching the mid-60s for Sunday’s finale.

Arkansas will send junior left-hander Jalen Beeks (6-2, 2.20 ERA) of Prairie Grove to the mound for the opener against junior right-hander Jamie Nunn (9-5, 3.96).

“We’ve been cooped up here in the snow and stuff, and we’re just ready to go out there and play,” said Beeks, who like Saturday’s starter Chris Oliver has a chance to wind up in a closer’s role for the Razorbacks. “It’s going to be good weather for the first time in a while, so I’m excited about that, and the first start of my career here, so obviously I’m really pumped up about it.”

Arkansas, coming off a 39-22 season that began with a No. 1 ranking in three polls, hopes its fortunes improve like the weather. The Razorbacks are picked to finish fifth in the SEC West.

“You want to prove people wrong and that we’re going to be better than projected,” said Coach Dave Van Horn, who is beginning his 12th season at Arkansas. “Last year might’ve been our shot to win a national championship and we didn’t win it. This year we still have a shot.

“It’s a long shot, but we don’t talk about that. We just talk about getting better and showing up every day and trying to win the day and the inning we’re playing.”

Appalachian State was 30-24 last season when it finished fifth in the Southern Conference and didn’t advance beyond its conference tournament.

The Mountaineers, picked to finish third in the conference, return seven position players and three starting pitchers under second-year coach Billy Jones. They are led by Nunn, who opened the 2013 season with a 6-3 victory over North Carolina State ace Carlos Rodon, the ACC’s pitcher of the year and USA Baseball’s player of the year.

Nunn is a second-team preseason all-conference pickalong with outfielder Jaylin Davis, while fifth-year senior outfielder Tyler Zupcic, who missed all of 2013 following knee surgery, is a first-team selection.

“Offensively, we are going to be better than I anticipated,” Jones said. “Our weekend rotation should be solid. There are going to be some questions answered in the bullpen.”

Arkansas brings back five prominent regulars in second baseman Brian Anderson (.325, 36 RBI), a second-team preseason All-American, right fielder Tyler Spoon (.288, 49 RBI), outfielder/designated hitter Joe Serrano (.295, 18 RBI), catcher Jake Wise (.212, 23 RBI) and shortstop Brett McAfee (.263, 18 RBI). However, Spoon and Wise are coming off sports hernia surgeries and Wise is rehabbing from right elbow surgery.

“I’ve been running around, scrimmaging,” Spoon said. “I feel great.”

“I’ve kind of looked at it as my body getting refreshed,” Wise said. “I didn’t have to play summer ball. I got a mental break, and I was just able to kind of look back and look at the game a different way.”

Arkansas’ other starters are expected to be freshman center fielder Andrew Benintendi hitting leadoff, junior Eric Fisher (.238, 13 RBI), a part-time starter last year, at first base and sophomore Bobby Wernes at third base.

Van Horn and pitching coach Dave Jorn said the right-hander Oliver (2-2, 2.25) from Farmington will start Saturday’s game, followed by freshman Alex Phillips, a 6-4, 225-pounder, who has four- and two-seam fastballs, a 12-to-6 curve and a change-up.

“It’s a giant honor, and I’m very excited about getting that starting position,” Phillips said. “I feel like I worked pretty hard for it, and there’s a lot of guys that really deserved it.”Weekend schedule TODAY’S GAMES All times Central Missouri State at Central Arkansas, 3 p.m.

Creighton at UALR, 3 p.m.

Appalachian State at Arkansas, 3:05 p.m.

Miami (Ohio) at Arkansas State, 6 p.m.

Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Tulane, 6:30 p.m. SATURDAY’S GAMES Appalachian State at Arkansas, 12:05 p.m.

Miami (Ohio) at Arkansas State, 2 p.m.

Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Tulane (DH), 2 p.m.

Missouri State at Central Arkansas, 3 p.m.

Creighton at UALR, 3 p.m.

SUNDAY’S GAMES Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Tulane, 1 p.m.

Miami (Ohio) at Arkansas State, 1 p.m.

Missouri State at Central Arkansas, 1 p.m.

Creighton at UALR, 1 p.m.

Appalachian State at Arkansas, 1:05 p.m.

Today’s game APPALACHIAN STATE VS. ARKANSAS WHEN 3:05 p.m.

WHERE Baum Stadium, Fayetteville 2013 RECORDS Appalachian State 30-24, 13-14 (fifth in Southern Conference); Arkansas 39-22, 18-11 (second in SEC West) RADIO RSP statewide radio network.

Not all games will be carried by affiliates. Check local listings.

INTERNET www.arkansasrazorbacks.com and ESPN3

Sports, Pages 19 on 02/14/2014

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