Andrew Hutchinson has been a multimedia reporter for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette since 2014.
Davenport Field plays to strengths
Davenport Field, Virginia's baseball stadium, is known as a pitcher's ballpark. (courtesy photo/Virginia Athletics)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. When Arkansas takes the field Friday, it will do so in a ballpark that suits its playing style.
The Razorbacks are a team predominantly reliant on pitching and Virginia’s Davenport Field is a pitcher’s park. Centerfield is 404 feet from home plate, while it’s 332 feet down the lines and 370 feet to the alleys.
Davenport Field used to be even larger, but the left field wall was shortened and moved in 17 feet following the 2005 season.
“It kind of reminds us of our ballpark, maybe more of a pitcher's park,” coach Dave Van Horn said. “Who's to say because Virginia's numbers are incredible.”
The Cavaliers come into the Regional with a .277 team batting average and 32 home runs.
Playing their home games at Baum Stadium, a slightly smaller ballpark, the Razorbacks posted a team batting average 14 points lower (.263) and hit six fewer home runs than Virginia.
Before Arkansas can play Virginia, though, it must get through Liberty Friday night.
The Flames are throwing their senior ace, right-hander Trey Lambert.
Lambert, the Big South Conference Pitcher of the Year, is 11-2 with a 2.10 ERA. He has struck out 66 batters in 102 2/3 innings and walked only 25.
“He throws nothing but strikes,” Van Horn said. “He’s a four pitch mix and throws four pitches for a strike. The guy can pitch. He’s a veteran and he’s not going to be intimidated.”
The Razorbacks will counter with right-hander Chris Oliver, who is 8-4 with a 2.45 ERA.
Starting Oliver came as a surprise to many because Trey Killian had been Arkansas’ Friday-night starter for most of SEC play, but Van Horn said he could have started either one.
“I just felt like maybe it was a little better matchup for us,” Van Horn said. “That's what it's about this time of year. Some matchups are bad and we just felt like Chris was the guy we needed to throw.”
Oliver’s toughest challenge in Liberty’s lineup will be Ryan Seiz, who was named a second-team All-American by Louisville Slugger Thursday morning and was also the Big South Conference Player of the Year.
Seiz comes into the Charlottesville Regional with a .362 batting average. He also has 12 home runs, 16 doubles and two triples for a slugging percentage of .612, which is 20th in the country.
"I know he's got good numbers,” Oliver said. “I know he's going to be a tough out. I've just got to make pitches and do my job and it will be all right."
If Arkansas plays Virginia on Saturday, whether in the winner’s or loser’s bracket, Van Horn said he knows his team will be facing another strong pitching staff.
"It's pretty easy when you look at their numbers,” Van Horn said. “It starts on the mound with them. They field the ball extremely well and have pitching depth, outstanding starting pitching and a couple of guys out of the bullpen that have gotten it done.”
The Razorbacks' game against Liberty is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. Central and will air nationally on ESPNU.