Not road Hogs: Bulldogs in the way for series victory

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Friday, April 20, 2018
Arkansas pitcher Blaine Knight throws during a game against South Carolina on Thursday, April 12, 2018, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas pitcher Blaine Knight throws during a game against South Carolina on Thursday, April 12, 2018, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- The No. 3 Arkansas Razorbacks handled their business at home with a 9-1 record at Baum Stadium and North Little Rock's Dickey-Stephens Park over a two-week stretch.

The next order of business for the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville: Winning a road series.

The Razorbacks (28-10, 10-5 SEC) will try to win their first road series of the season this weekend at Mississippi State (19-19, 5-10) starting tonight at 6:30 at Dudy Noble Field.

"You know, we had a great home stand, but I think we're ready to prove we're a team that can not only win games at home but also get series wins on the road," Arkansas freshman Heston Kjerstad said after Tuesday's 11-7 comeback victory over Missouri State.

The Razorbacks went 2-2 in their first road trip to San Diego, lost a single game 6-3 at North Carolina-Charlotte, then lost back-to-back road series at No. 2 Florida and No. 4 Ole Miss. The Hogs dropped the final game in each of those series, 5-4 at Florida and 11-10 at Ole Miss.

"I think we play pretty good on the road," Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. "We just, the first two conference series on the road you're talking Florida and Ole Miss, two pretty good teams.

"We played a couple of good games at each place, but there was one game in my opinion we gave away."

The Razorbacks lost their first series-opening game last week, 3-2 against South Carolina at Baum Stadium, though starter Blaine Knight did not get a decision and left with a 2-1 lead. In his previous starts he got a no-decision in a 9-4 victory over Sean Hjelle and Kentucky and had beaten top projected draft picks Brady Singer of Florida, Ryan Rolison of Ole Miss and Casey Mize of Auburn. Knight came out after throwing 70 pitches in four innings against the Gamecocks.

"I've told people the kid's not superhuman," Arkansas pitching coach Wes Johnson said. "You look at what he's done. I mean, he beats Hjelle here, and he beats Singer, then he beats Rolison, then beats Mize.

"Then you look at it and he gives up 1 run in 4 innings and strikes out 4 and doesn't walk a guy. But he was just flat. For me, I don't think it was a bad start. I just thought, 'You're tired. We've leaned on you.' And he was coming off throwing 100-plus pitches in back-to-back weeks. Blaine will be just fine on Friday."

Knight (6-0, 1.95 ERA) will match up against Mississippi State left-hander Konnor Pilkington (2-5, 2.57) in tonight's opener.

The Razorbacks and Bulldogs have exchanged regular season sweeps the last two seasons, with Mississippi State winning 7-0, 5-1 and 9-4 in Starkville, Miss., in 2016.

The Bulldogs were rocked early this season when Coach Andy Cannizaro was forced out Feb. 20 after making what he called "poor decisions" and asking for forgiveness.

Athletic Director John Cohen replaced Cannizaro, an All-American at Tulane and former LSU assistant coach, with Gary Henderson, the former Kentucky head coach and assistant at Florida, Oregon State and Kentucky, among other schools.

"They still have pretty much the same amount of talent they've always had," Van Horn said. "They're probably just not as deep on the mound or in that bullpen, but they've got good players.

"Obviously they had a shakeup with the head coach and kind of threw them for a loop. They got off to a bad start. They've slowly rebounded."

Mississippi State beat Ole Miss in two of three games two weeks ago, then coughed up a four-run lead to lose 7-5 at Auburn on Sunday to drop the series.

"Dave's club has a lot of balance," Henderson said. "They've got some depth in the bullpen. They've got good offensive players that are right- and left-handed, and have a switch hitter in there as well. They've got really good power and they're getting better as the season goes along."

Arkansas ranks second in the country with its 60 home runs.

Johnson will make his first official return to Starkville since helping the Bulldogs win the 2016 SEC regular-season championship.

"They're really nice folks back there," Johnson said. "There's still people I talk to back in Starkville, just because they were so good to me."

Bob Holt of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette contributed information for this article.

Sports on 04/20/2018

ARKANSAS BASEBALL

at Mississippi State

WHEN 6:30 p.m., Friday

WHERE Dudy Noble Field, Starkville, Miss.

RECORDS No. 3 Arkansas 28-10, 10-5 SEC; Mississippi State 19-19, 5-10

SERIES Mississippi State leads 53-43

COACHES Dave Van Horn (623-353 in 16th season at Arkansas, 1208-593 in 30th season overall); Gary Henderson (19-16 in first season at Mississippi State, 277-215 in ninth season overall)

STARTING PITCHERS Arkansas RHP Blaine Knight (6-0, 1.95); Mississippi State LHP Konnor Pilkington (2-5, 2.57)

RADIO Razorback Sports Network. Not all games will be carried by all affiliates. Check local listings.

TV/INTERNET SEC Network-Plus

SHORT HOPS

Saturday’s pitching matchup will pit Arkansas LHP Kacey Murphy (5-2, 2.00 ERA) against Mississippi State LHP Ethan Small (3-3, 2.94). Murphy allowed a single to lead off the seventh to break up a perfect game in his last start, a 2-0 victory over South Carolina last Saturday. … Arkansas and Mississippi State have split their past 76 regular-season games. … Mississippi State interim coach Gary Henderson was the fastest coach to 200 victories at Kentucky. … Arkansas has lost its last two series at Mississippi State, but won the two series prior to that, including a sweep at Dudy Noble Field in 2010 by scores of 8-3, 8-5 and 13-3.

THE WEEK AHEAD

TODAY at Miss. State*, 6:30 p.m.

SATURDAY at Miss. State*, 6 p.m.

SUNDAY at Miss. State*, 1 p.m.

MONDAY Off

TUESDAY Texas Tech, 6:30 p.m.

WEDNESDAY Texas Tech, 6 p.m. (SEC Network)

THURSDAY Off

*SEC game

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