Noland gem leads No. 10 Hogs to sweep of No. 2 'Dogs

By: Dudley E. Dawson
Published: Saturday, April 20, 2019
Arkansas pitcher Connor Noland throws during a game against Mississippi State on Saturday, April 20, 2019, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas pitcher Connor Noland throws during a game against Mississippi State on Saturday, April 20, 2019, in Fayetteville.

— Mississippi State rode into Fayetteville this weekend with a No. 2 ranking, leading the SEC Western Division and playing as well as any team in the conference.

No. 10 Arkansas responded by breaking out the broom and sweeping its way to the top spot in the West.

Freshman Connor Noland hurled a career-high 7 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball and his teammates backed him up with an eight-run sixth inning as the Razorbacks whipped the Bulldogs 10-2 Saturday at Baum-Walker Stadium.

“Just a great job by our team obviously all three days coming out and really playing solid baseball and putting together some really good innings offensively,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. “But today the story was Connor Noland. I mean, he was just lights-out.

“He had his two-seamer going, sinking....Most of his pitches were right at 90, and then he had a really good slider. He mixed in some changeups to some lefties. But he kind of went with the harder breaking pitch today and just did a super job.”

It was the fourth time in as many years that the home team has swept the visitor in the series. The home team has won seven series in a row between the Razorbacks and Bulldogs.

The Razorbacks moved ahead of Texas A&M for the top spot in the SEC West. There are five teams at the top of the West that are separated by just two games.

“Better than being in second,” Van Horn said. “So we’ll take it. It’s like I told the players, you don’t really look at the standings this time of year. You just keep playing and you try to grab a win whenever you get one, the league is so tight.

“You look at it going into this weekend, there’s four or five teams within one or two games of each other out of seven. It can flip on you real quick. Mississippi State was in first place coming up here, feeling pretty good, and it didn’t go good. We talk about that stuff. You have to keep working and you can’t think you have it all figured out because you don’t.”

Mississippi State (32-9, 10-8) had won five straight games and eight of nine contests before entering the series with Arkansas, which won the first two games of the series by scores of 5-3 and 12-5.

“We just got beat,” Mississippi State Chris Lemonis said. “We lost a tough game on Thursday night and then these last two games were tough as well. I thought we got a good start today, but we are just not doing enough to win right now.

“We have to get back, get to work and just play good baseball.”

Arkansas got the win despite the absence of sophomore right fielder Heston Kjerstad, who was ejected Friday night after arguing a strike call and had to sit out Saturday’s game.

Kjerstad had started the previous 108 games and had never missed a game in his career. He will be back for a two-game midweek series with Northwestern State that starts Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.

“That’s a lot of games and I’d like to see that kid come out on Tuesday and hammer,” Van Horn said. “Maybe he needed a little break, maybe it’ll be good for him. He’s a great player, been a great teammate. He’s disappointed that it all went down and he’ll come back with a little fire this week, I’m sure.”

Noland out-dueled Mississippi State’s JT Ginn, a first-round Los Angeles Dodgers draft pick last season. Noland had been scuffling before he pitched two innings in Tuesday’s 16-4 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

Noland allowed four hits, fanned four and threw a wild pitch, but did not walk anyone while throwing 89 pitches, 60 of which were strikes.

He left the game to a standing ovation in the eighth inning.

“I’ve been waiting for that moment and going 7 ⅔ innings for a long time,” Noland said. “I mean that’s what you dream about, going out there and performing well at your peak performance. That was a big thing and just happy it happened.”

Van Horn praised Noland’s maturity.

“I’ve said all along that he’s mature for being a freshman college,” Van Horn said. “His mental makeup is advanced over some kids his age — maybe a lot — that we coach. It’s one reason why liked him right when he got in here and started working with us. We felt like he’d have a chance to pitch on the weekend, because of the mental part of it.

“Physically, he’s already there. Now he just needs experience. But you did see the mature part of him come out this whole week leading up today, and he got rewarded for it.”

Noland’s effort was surprising to Lemonis, who knew the freshman did not record an out while last weekend against Vanderbilt while facing five batters.

Noland (2-2) gave up two hits in the opening inning to put runners at the corners with one out, but worked his way out of it and kept the Bulldogs off the scoreboard.

“I thought he was good,” Lemonis said. “I thought we got to him early, but he got off the hook and the next thing, he settled in and pitched well.”

Arkansas was facing one of the league’s best pitchers in Ginn (7-2), who had allowed only Jacob Nesbit’s RBI single in the fifth inning before an eventful sixth that saw 12 Razorbacks come to the plate.

“I thought he pitched well into the sixth,” Lemonis said. “We went for the matchup there because we had a rested bullpen, but it didn’t work out."

Casey Martin led off the bottom of the sixth with a double - his first of two hits in the inning - and Matt Goodheart’s walk prompted Lemonis to take out Ginn, who visibly showed his displeasure with the move.

Three of the next four batters against reliever Trysten Barlow reached base via a walk, a hit batsman and an error that allowed two runs to score put Arkansas up 4-0.

It got worse for the Bulldogs quickly when Nesbit jumped all over a fastball for a three-run home run and suddenly the Razorbacks were up 7-0 over the shellshocked Bulldogs.

“That was a big swing,” Van Horn said. “He timed him up a couple other pitches and hit a fastball that’s from a lefty like that who’s 92 miles per hour. You have to guess and cheat a little bit. He got one in his wheelhouse and he was connected when he hit it. Everything was lined up perfectly and it jumped off his bat.

“In the dugout we knew it was out, especially because the wind was slightly blowing out. But even on a day with no wind, that ball’s probably going to get out of the park because he back spun it a little bit. That was the swing that put us over the top.”

Nesbit said he ambushed a fastball.

“I was just looking for a pitch I could handle," Nesbit said. “He threw me a fastball on the first pitch of the at bat that kind of sawed off my hands little bit. And he threw me a fastball again on the next pitch and I didn’t miss it that time.”

Trevor Ezell doubled to plate Christian Franklin and Goodheart’s RBI groundout pushed the lead to 9-0 before the Bulldogs could get out of the sixth inning.

“They just have some really good hitters, a nice blend of left and right and have some speed in there,” Lemonis said. “But we have got to throw more strikes. We just have to pound the strike zone and throw more strikes.”

Van Horn was surprised, but pleased to see his team get to Ginn a bit and force the change.

“He’s got an electric arm,” Van Horn said. “ His velocity, his command is good. He throws a lot of strikes. It just seemed like he couldn’t quite get the slider over any more. He got it over a few times early and hitters know in the back of their mind that’s there and then the fastball just seems to be a little quicker getting on them.

“We got his pitch count up. He was rolling along there and all of a sudden he’s thrown 20-something pitches in the inning. I think, in my opinion, I’ve only seen him in person one time obviously at this level, I feel like he’s a lot better out of the windup than he is the stretch as far as his command. A lot of pitchers are that way.”

Mississippi State avoided the shutout by scoring a pair of runs against reliever Jacob Kostyshock in the ninth. Zebulon Vermillion closed out the game by facing the final four batters.

Arkansas drew over 20,000 fans to Baum Walker this weekend.

“This was a good crowd, a good college baseball crowd,” Lemonis said. “There are good ones all over the SEC, but this is one of the best and they really help and support their team.”

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