Arkansas ready for challenge

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Friday, April 12, 2019
Arkansas pitcher Isaiah Campbell (55) delivers against Alabama during an NCAA college baseball game in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Friday, March 22, 2019. (Gary Cosby Jr./The Tuscaloosa News via AP)
Arkansas pitcher Isaiah Campbell (55) delivers against Alabama during an NCAA college baseball game in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Friday, March 22, 2019. (Gary Cosby Jr./The Tuscaloosa News via AP)

FAYETTEVILLE -- A lengthy streak for University of Arkansas aces will be in play when the No. 10 Razorbacks baseball team travels to face No. 7 Vanderbilt in the SEC's top marquee matchup of the weekend.

Arkansas 6-4 right-hander Isaiah Campbell (6-0, 2.29 ERA) will try to extend an amazing streak of weekend-opening winning decisions for Razorbacks starters when he squares off against 6-5 right-hander Drake Fellows (6-0, 3.44).

Today’s game

NO. 10 ARKANSAS AT NO. 7 VANDERBILT

WHEN 7 p.m. Central

WHERE Hawkins Field, Nashville, Tenn.

RECORDS Arkansas 25-8, 8-4 SEC; Vanderbilt 25-8, 7-5

STARTING PITCHERS Arkansas RHP Isaiah Campbell (6-0, 2.29 ERA); Vanderbilt RHP Drake Fellows (6-0, 3.44)

SERIES Arkansas leads 31-27

COACHES Dave Van Horn (668-372 in 17th year at Arkansas); Tim Corbin (706-350-1 in 17th year at Vanderbilt)

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

TV SEC Network

SHORT HOPS Arkansas assistant coach Nate Thompson, whose father passed away in Kansas, will coach in all three games before missing Tuesday’s nonconference game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. … RHP Cody Scroggins did not travel with the team on Thursday in order to attend the funeral service for his grandmother. He was scheduled to fly into Nashville today. … The Razorbacks are No. 4 in SEC hitting (.291), No. 8 in pitching (3.66), No. 10 in fielding (.971) and No. 3 in scoring (7.3). … The Commodores are No. 2 in hitting (.308), No. 7 in pitching (3.64), No. 1 in fielding (.982) and No. 3 in scoring (8.03). … Saturday’s scheduled matchup on ESPNU is Arkansas RHP Connor Noland (0-1, 4.59 ERA) vs. Vanderbilt freshman RHP Kumar Rocker (2-4, 5.90). … Arkansas leads the SEC with 21 sacrifice bunts.

THE WEEK AHEAD

TODAY at Vanderbilt, 7 p.m. (SECN)

SATURDAY at Vanderbilt, 8 p.m. (ESPNU)

SUNDAY at Vanderbilt, 1 p.m.

MONDAY Off

TUESDAY Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 6:30 p.m.

WEDNESDAY Off

THURSDAY Mississippi State, 8 p.m. (ESPNU)

Arkansas starters have won 21 consecutive decisions in their last 28 weekend-opening games dating back to the 2017 NCAA Fayetteville Regional. The Razorbacks are 24-4 in those games with none of the losses pinned on starters Trevor Stephan (1-0), Blaine Knight (14-0), Kacey Murphy (1-0) or Campbell (6-0), who was on the mid-season watch list for the Golden Spikes Award, which is given to the best amateur baseball player.

Potentially disruptive weather is of concern all weekend for the series, which is scheduled to start tonight at 7 on the all-turf layout at Hawkins Field in Nashville.

"They're awfully good at home," Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. "I mean they've put the hurt on some people at their own ball park. They haven't played super good away, but they've put up big numbers at home. It's a different setting, an all-field turf, and it's real cozy and can be intimidating. They've put together some really big innings."

The Razorbacks (25-8, 8-4), a tri-leader in the SEC West with LSU and Ole Miss, have won all three of their road series (at USC, Alabama and Auburn) by a 2-1 count after not taking a road series victory last year.

"It's just a mindset on the road," Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad said after his two-home run game in Tuesday's 15-8 victory over Oral Roberts. "We may be a little bit more focused or maybe a little bit better in a different environment we're not used to. I think we thrive under that this year."

Added shortstop Casey Martin, "I know we come out there with intensity, I think more intensity than we had last year and that might play a big part of why we succeed so well on the road."

Van Horn said his team's confidence is higher on the road this season.

"We're not scared on the road, I can tell you that," he said. "You can see it in their faces."

Vanderbilt (25-8, 7-5), which is 18-3 at home, will try to extend a three-game home winning streak against the Razorbacks at Hawkins Field. The Commodores, a preseason No. 1 in several polls, are two games behind Georgia in the SEC East.

"It's a turf field, a turf mound, so it's going to be a little different," Campbell said. "Vanderbilt, they're an experienced team both pitching and hitting. They've had guys on the weekend who have thrown for them on the weekend for a couple of years and they have some guys coming out of the bullpen that are experienced.

"Then on the hitting side, they have a really good lineup, kind of like an Ole Miss lineup where top to bottom they're going to be really tough to get out. For me, it's just keeps attacking, keep throwing strikes and keep letting the defense do the work. I think it will be a really good game on Friday night."

Van Horn and his counterpart Tim Corbin are tied for the second-longest tenures among current SEC coaches behind Ole Miss' Mike Bianco, who started two seasons earlier in 2001. Van Horn has an 18-20 record in head-to-head meetings, including series victories at Hawkins Field in 2004, 2006 and 2010.

Van Horn said he planned to start right-hander Connor Noland (0-1, 4.59) in Game 2 and have right-hander Cody Scroggins (2-0, 3.13) on call for relief duties as he was while appearing in two games in the series victory at Auburn last week. Freshman left-hander Patrick Wicklander (3-1, 3.82), who threw a two-hitter over five scoreless innings of an 8-0 victory at Auburn last Saturday, or Scroggins is likely to start Game 3.

Arkansas designated hitter Matt Goodheart (.372, 1 HR, 19 RBI) leads the SEC with a .462 batting average in conference games, a whopping 43 percentage points ahead of Tennessee's Alerick Soularie. He's joined in the .300 club by Dominic Fletcher (.321, 4, 24) and Kjerstad (.312, 9, 27), while Trevor Ezell (.298, 5, 23), Christian Franklin (.297, 4, 27) and Jack Kenley (.297, 6, 25) are close. Reserve Curtis Washington Jr. is hitting .500 with a .714 slugging percentage in limited use.

Seven Razorbacks have between 23 and 27 RBI, which Kjerstad and Franklin leading the team.

The Commodores are led at the plate by Austin Martin (.388, 3 HR, 17 RBI), Ethan Paul (.354, 4, 40) and J.J. Bleday (.351), who leads the SEC and is tied for fourth nationally with 14 home runs and has 41 RBI.

Vanderbilt has two other regulars hitting better than .300 in Cooper Davis (.348, 19 RBI) and Stephen Scott (.320, 3, 25).

The Commodores have listed freshman Kumar Rocker (2-4, 5.90), the son of former Arkansas football assistant coach Tracy Rocker, as their Game 2 starter and junior Patrick Raby (5-1, 2.48) for Game 3.

Van Horn knows the Commodores will be hard to beat at Hawkins Field.

"We're going to run into an extremely tough team in a different type of ballpark," he said. "It's extremely quick with all that turf, there's not foul territory. Like I said, this is going to be a major challenge at Vandy."

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story had an incorrect number of wins for Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin. It was been corrected.

Sports on 04/12/2019

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