Analysis: Noland making right move to diamond only

By: Dudley E. Dawson
Published: Thursday, June 20, 2019
Arkansas Razorbacks Connor Noland (13) throws a pitch during a baseball game, Monday, June 17, 2019 at the TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb. The Arkansas Razorbacks fell to Texas Tech 5-4 ending their College World Series run
Photo by Charlie Kaijo
Arkansas Razorbacks Connor Noland (13) throws a pitch during a baseball game, Monday, June 17, 2019 at the TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb. The Arkansas Razorbacks fell to Texas Tech 5-4 ending their College World Series run

— What had been rumored to be happening for Connor Noland has come to fruition.

The former Greenwood two-sport star who doubled up with baseball and football at Arkansas over the last year made it known he is going to concentrate solely on baseball.

I have no doubt Noland would have been a significant factor at quarterback at Arkansas had he decided to stay the course, but I also believe he is making the right choice. Noland simply has the look, mentality and makeup of a high-end baseball pitcher on the mound.

Sure, there are things that he can get better at as he fine tunes his pitches, approach and gets stronger, but that will come with experience, strength and conditioning and the tutelage of Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn and pitching coach Matt Hobbs.

Noland, mature beyond his years, went 10-0 with a 0.42 ERA as a high school senior, allowing just four earned runs in 66 innings while striking out 123. He struck out 10-plus batters in an outing seven times.

That maturity was something I noticed early in his high school career and it's only growing, including when I saw him throw a no-hitter as a senior. He would have been credited with a perfect game had one of his infielders not thrown a ball high over first base.

Noland simply got the ball back, encouraged his teammate and went back to work to finish off the no-hitter.

Noland’s calmness, maturity and mound presence stood out in a freshman season in which he went 3-5 with a 4.02 ERA. His overall performance was much better than the numbers indicate.

He started 19 of 20 games he appeared in this season and was named a Freshman All-American by Perfect Game.

Noland had several strong outings, including when he went 7 2/3 innings against Mississippi State in April, helping Arkansas complete a sweep of the Bulldogs while out-dueling JT Ginn, a first-round pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2018 and the 2019 SEC freshman of the year.

Noland started one game at quarterback as a true freshman and led Arkansas to a 23-0 win over Tulsa on Oct. 20. While becoming the first true freshman quarterback in 12 years to start and win a game for Arkansas, Noland was 10-of-16 passing for 124 yards, hitting Grayson Gunter for a short touchdown pass and rushing for another.

He finished the season 21-of-42 passing for 255 yards with one touchdown pass and two interceptions.

The dynamic at quarterback has changed for Noland since he arrived at Arkansas. Gone are Ty Storey (to Western Kentucky) and Cole Kelley (to Southeastern Louisiana State), who started 15 of the Razorbacks’ 24 games over the last two seasons.

Now on campus are a pair of graduate transfers in SMU’s Ben Hicks and Texas A&M’s Nick Starkel, who has two years of eligibility.

Add in true freshman K.J. Jefferson of Sardis (Miss.) North Panola and holdover quarterbacks John Stephen Jones, Daulton Hyatt and Jack Lindsey, and that is a lot of players vying for time at one position.

Noland and fellow freshman pitcher Patrick Wicklander (6-2, 4.32 ERA) will give Van Horn two starters who should elevate their baseball profiles next season and put themselves in good shape to be taken in the 2021 MLB Draft.

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