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.
Hogs expecting rowdy welcome
University of Arkansas pitcher Jalen Beeks fires a pitch against Alabama at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville March 21.
Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn knows the task this weekend against a hot Mississippi State baseball team will be a tough one.
“They’ve been really good at home, drawing really big crowds,” Van Horn said of the Bulldogs, who are 15-5 at Dudy Noble Field in Starkville, Miss., this season. “It’s going to be a tough environment for our team.”
Arkansas (16-8, 3-3 SEC) will send left-hander Jalen Beeks (3-2) to the mound for tonight’s 6:30 series opener against the No. 16 Bulldogs (18-9, 4-2), who are tied with Auburn and Ole Miss atop the SEC West. Sophomore right-hander Preston Brown (3-0, 1.12 ERA) will start for the Bulldogs, who have won seven of their past nine games.
Mississippi State, which was ranked as high as No. 2 in the preseason by Collegiate Baseball, averaged 8,793 fans for last weekend’s series victory against No. 3 Vanderbilt.
“We’d love to have the same type of home-field advantage we did last weekend, with a tremendous vocal crowd,” Mississippi State Coach John Cohen told reporters Thursday.
“If you’re winning and they’re coming out, it’s loud and they’re on you,” Van Horn said. “They let you know when you mess up. The only way you can calm these crowds down is to go out and score runs and get ahead of them.”
The Razorbacks have scored nine runs twice in their six SEC games, and in the other four games they have scored four runs, winning twice.
Beeks has two losses and a no-decision in his past three outings despite allowing only five earned runs over that span. Van Horn said right-hander Trey Killian (1-3, 2.36 ERA), the SEC’s pitcher of the week, will start Saturday’s 2 p.m. game, followed by right-hander Chris Oliver (2-2, 1.74) on Sunday.
The Razorbacks have dropped their ERA to 2.10, compared to Mississippi State’s 2.85.
“Their pitching numbers are ridiculous,” said Cohen, whose team is batting .268 and features four players hitting better than .300. “We played Vanderbilt last weekend, looked at their pitching numbers, then you look at Arkansas and they’re really almost identical. It’s a very good pitching staff, and they’re very well-coached.”
The Bulldogs’ starters notched three quality starts - at least six innings with no more than three earned runs allowed - against Vanderbilt for the first time since the 2011 NCAA Atlanta Regional.
The Razorbacks, whose team batting average is .265, are led by second baseman Brian Anderson (.330 average, 2 home runs, 20 RBI) and outfielder Tyler Spoon (.289,
The game will be a homecoming of sorts for Arkansas designated hitter KJ Wilkerson, a native of Bay St. Louis, Miss., who began his college career as a football player at Mississippi State before transferring to Pearl River Community College in Hattiesburg, Miss., to concentrate on baseball.
“I remember him being a great athlete, just not a great baseball player yet,” Cohen said. “He needed to go get some at-bats and kind of figure out the game a little bit.”
Wilkerson, who homered in Arkansas’ season-opening victory over Appalachian State, is batting .295 with 7 RBI and 10 runs scored.
“He had an incredible start for us, helped us win some games early, then slumped a little bit for a couple of weeks,” Van Horn said. “He’s a threat in the middle, and hopefully he can get it going.”Today’s game ARKANSAS AT MISSISSIPPI STATE WHEN 6:30 p.m. Central WHERE Dudy Noble Field, Starkville, Miss.
RECORDS Arkansas 16-8, 3-3 SEC; Miss. State 18-9, 4-2.
RANKINGS Mississippi State is No. 16 by Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball and USA Today/ESPN coaches polls RADIO RSP statewide radio network. Not all games will be carried by affiliates. Check local listings.
INTERNET arkansas3razorbacks.com and ESPN3
PITCHING MATCHUP Arkansas: Jalen Beeks (LHP, 3-2, 1.56 ERA); Miss. State: Preston Brown (RHP, 3-0, 1.12)
THE WEEK AHEAD
TODAY at Miss. State, 6:30 p.m.
SATURDAY at Miss. State, 2 p.m.
SUNDAY at Miss. State, 1:30 p.m.
MONDAY Off TUESDAY Nebraska, 6:35 p.m.
WEDNESDAY Nebraska, 1:35 p.m.
THURSDAY South Carolina, 7 p.m.
WEDNESDAY’S GAMES Kentucky 9, Xavier 6 So. Carolina 4, Coastal Carolina 0 Arkansas 3, Miss. Valley State 0
THURSDAY’S GAME Missouri 4, Auburn 3
TODAY’S GAMES All times Central Missouri at Auburn, 6 p.m.
Texas A&M at Georgia, 6 p.m.
Tennessee at South Carolina, 6 p.m.
Arkansas at Mississippi St., 6:30 p.m. Kentucky at Vanderbilt, 6:30 p.m.
LSU at Florida, 6:30 p.m.
Mississippi at Alabama, 6:30 p.m.
SATURDAY’S GAMES Missouri at Auburn, noon Texas A&M at Georgia, noon LSU at Florida, noon Arkansas at Mississippi State, 2 p.m.
Kentucky at Vanderbilt, 2 p.m.
Tennessee at South Carolina, 3 p.m.
Mississippi at Alabama, 6 p.m.
Sports, Pages 17 on 03/28/2014