Hogs head West for self-discovery

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Thursday, February 21, 2019
Arkansas center fielder Dominic Fletcher takes off his batting gloves after making an out against Eastern Illinois Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019, at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas center fielder Dominic Fletcher takes off his batting gloves after making an out against Eastern Illinois Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019, at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- The No. 12 University of Arkansas baseball team will hit the West Coast on the second weekend of the season for the second year in a row.

The Razorbacks (3-0) are hoping for better results this time around in a three-game set at the University of Southern California, starting tonight at 9 Central at Dedeaux Field in Los Angeles.

Last year, Arkansas went 2-2 in San Diego over a five-day span before going on to reach the College World Series finals.

The Razorbacks opened last weekend with a three-game sweep of Eastern Illinois in temperatures hovering in the 30s and low 40s. They will play in warmer temperatures but have the "marine layer" atmosphere to contend with against the Trojans (2-1).

"They're a West Coast team, have a lot of good players," Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. "It's hard to tell how they are after one weekend. Same with us. I think for both teams -- I would imagine they feel the same as us -- that this will be a weekend to kind of tell where we're at."

The Trojans opened the season with a series victory at home over Nebraska-Omaha, winning the first two games 6-5 and 11-0 before falling 12-9 in the finale.

USC tied for eighth in the Pac-12 last season with a 26-28 overall record and a 12-18 mark in league play. Arkansas won two of three against the Trojans last season at Baum Stadium, sandwiching 4-0 and 7-6 victories around a 3-1 loss.

"They played us tough last year," said outfielder Dominic Fletcher, a native of Cypress, Calif., who estimated he'd have 20-25 friends and family at the games this weekend. "We ended up taking the series, but it was a really fun one. I'm excited to go see friends and family, for sure."

The Razorbacks bused to Tulsa early Wednesday, then flew to Dallas before connecting to Los Angeles.

"The travel will not be extremely tough, but not as easy as it normally is when we go this far away," Van Horn said. "I think it'll be good for the team ... practicing on somebody else's field the night before the first ballgame. This will just give us a feel for what it's like to go on a good conference trip."

The West Coast figures to give the Hogs a respite from what has been steady, cold weather in Northwest Arkansas.

"It's going to be really nice to be in warmer weather, and L.A. always has nice weather," Arkansas third baseman Jacob Nesbit said. "It's going to be cool out there."

Arkansas hit three home runs -- by Heston Kjerstad, Fletcher and Eric Cole -- in its four games in San Diego last year. Van Horn said it's harder to hit home runs in night games because of coastal weather conditions.

"During the day, the ball carries a lot better than it does at night," he said. "At night, you have to get into it pretty good. You have to drive it."

The Razorbacks will take an SEC-best .376 team batting average into the series, led by infielder Trevor Ezell (.500), second baseman Jack Kenley (.444), shortstop Casey Martin (.429), catcher Casey Opitz (.429) and Nesbit (.400).

Because rain and near-freezing temperatures pushed opening day starter Isaiah Campbell (1-0, 5.40 ERA) back a day last weekend, he'll pitch in Game 2 for the Razorbacks, opening the door for junior right-hander Cody Scroggins today.

The redshirt junior from Bentonville will make his first career start in what is expected to be a bullpen-style Game 1 for the Razorbacks against lefty Quentin Longrie (0-0, 0.00), who beat the Razorbacks 3-1 last year. Longrie allowed 8 hits, 3 walks and 1 run in 7⅓ innings while matched up against Campbell in Game 2 at Baum Stadium.

Fletcher went 1 for 15 with a home run and 3 RBI while hitting in the No. 2 and 3 spots in the order in last year's games in California.

"I don't think I necessarily put too much pressure on myself," said Fletcher, who has hit cleanup this season. "It's just kind of that's when I got in a little funk over there and had to work my way out of it. But I've tried this year to do a little better job of not pressing."

Van Horn said he's talked to the junior about not trying to do too much in front of his family and buddies this year.

"He wanted to do so well in front of ... a lot of family," Van Horn said. "And he knew a lot of the guys we were playing. I just feel like he learned from that.

"Hopefully he'll have a good weekend. He doesn't have to do anything great. Just be himself and do what he does, which is play great defense and hopefully get a couple of big hits for us and help us win some games."

Sports on 02/21/2019

UP NEXT

ARKANSAS BASEBALL

at Southern California

WHEN 9 p.m. Central

WHERE Dedeaux Field, Los Angeles

RECORDS No. 12 Arkansas 3-0; USC 2-1

STARTING PITCHERS Arkansas RHP Cody Scroggins (0-0, 9.00 ERA); Quentin Longrie (0-0, 0.00)

SERIES Tied 2-2.

COACHES Dave Van Horn (646-364 in 17th year at Arkansas); Dan Hobbs (166-172 in 7th year at USC)

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

TV None

SHORT HOPS

Arkansas RHP Isaiah Campbell (1-0, 5.40 ERA) is expected to face right-hander Kyle Hurt (0-0, 3.60) in Friday’s 8 p.m. game. … Arkansas freshman RHP Connor Noland (0-0, 0.00) is slated to start Saturday’s 8 p.m. finale against LHP John Beller (1-0, 0.00). … The Trojans hit .234 (22 of 92) against the Hogs last year, while Arkansas hit .295 (28 of 95) in three games vs. the Trojans. … Arkansas right-hander Kevin Kopps, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, is available this weekend after being held out last week, Dave Van Horn said. … Arkansas is first in the SEC in team batting average (.376), tied for eighth in team ERA (3.00) and 10th in fielding percentage (.973) in the SEC. … USC is eighth in the Pac-12 in team batting average (.323), eighth in team ERA (3.67) and eighth in fielding percentage (.982).

UPCOMING GAMES

TODAY at Southern Cal, 9 p.m.

FRIDAY at Southern Cal, 8 p.m.

SATURDAY at Southern Cal, 8 p.m.

SUNDAY Off

MONDAY Off

TUESDAY Off

WEDNESDAY Memphis, 3 p.m.

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