Ezell does it: Redshirt senior adds maturity, experience to young Hogs

By: Matt Jones
Published: Friday, March 15, 2019
Arkansas first baseman Trevor Ezell celebrates Friday, March 1, 2019, after hitting a run-scoring triple during the sixth inning against Stony Brook in the first game of a doubleheader at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas first baseman Trevor Ezell celebrates Friday, March 1, 2019, after hitting a run-scoring triple during the sixth inning against Stony Brook in the first game of a doubleheader at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville.

— Prior to Friday's Southeastern Conference opener, Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn and Missouri coach Steve Bieser will shake hands and exchange lineup cards at home plate.

Razorbacks first baseman Trevor Ezell might watch the customary exchange with an odd feeling. Bieser was Ezell's first college head coach at Southeast Missouri State from 2015-16; Van Horn is his last.

"I've only seen Coach Bieser a couple of times since he went to Missouri," Ezell said. "We played them when I was still at SEMO, so I got to see him there, but I haven't got to see him a whole lot. It will be good to see him and will be interesting playing against him."

Ezell was in the visitor's dugout the last time Bieser brought a team to Fayetteville four years ago this week. He started twice in left field and hit leadoff, and finished the two-game series 2-for-6 with an RBI, four walks and two runs scored.

SEMO split the series with the Razorbacks, who went on to play in the College World Series.

The years since have provided Ezell a memorable ride that has included a coaching change, two surgeries and a decision to transfer that brought him back home to play for a program that began recruiting him late in his high school career.

"I should have had him for three or four years," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said at Swatter's Club earlier this week, "but we messed up there."

Bieser, who is in his third season at Missouri, pulled an unheralded recruiting coup some seven years ago when he convinced Ezell to play for him at SEMO, an Ohio Valley Conference program located in Cape Girardeau.

Ezell attended Bryant High School, a baseball powerhouse south of Little Rock that has long been a recruiting hotspot for the Razorbacks. Ezell's high school teammates included Blaine Knight and Evan Lee, members of Arkansas' national runner-up team last season.

Ezell was a breakout player at Bryant as a junior, batting .512 with 31 RBI and helping the Hornets to a state championship. By the time the Razorbacks became interested, he had already committed to play for SEMO and wasn't interested in reneging on his pledge.

"I would have had the chance to go to junior college and potentially get picked up the next year by Coach Van Horn," Ezell said, "but I wanted to stick with it because I really liked SEMO and really liked the staff they had there.

"I loved my four years there at SEMO."

Trevor Ezell dives toward the bag as Arkansas first baseman Clark Eagan catches a pickoff attempt Tuesday, March 17, 2015, in Fayetteville. Four years after handing the College World Series-bound Razorbacks a home loss, Ezell has become Arkansas' hottest hitter. (Photo by J.T. Wampler)

Ezell started all 59 games as an infielder/outfielder in 2015 at SEMO and was named Freshman All-American after scoring 66 runs, one shy of the single-season school record.

He was a second-team All-OVC pick the next year, but he was dealt a setback when as a junior he suffered a season-ending back injury seven games into the season. He had surgery two summers ago to repair a herniated disc in his lower back and was granted a medical redshirt for the 2017 season.

Ezell hit .377 last year in his return from the injury, but played through another injury that he suffered three weeks after the season began, a torn labrum that required another off-season surgery. Ezell had seven staples inserted to hold the labrum together and still hasn't fully recovered.

He can't throw overhanded, which is ironic because after injuring his shoulder throwing from a low arm slot, he was forced to throw over the top most of last season. His throwing motion now is more side armed.

"The way they tightened it, it's just stiffer," Ezell said.

He got his first start as a Razorback at second base - his natural position - Tuesday night, but had a throwing error and pulled the first baseman off the bag on another throw from deep in the hole, a play that was scored as the only hit allowed by Arkansas that night. Van Horn estimated Ezell's shoulder was only about halfway ready to play the position.

"I think when it warms up it’s going to get better," Van Horn said. "I mean, honestly, he's throwing at 50 percent. If he can get it to 60 or 70 percent or where it was before the surgery, that would make a huge difference because he really knows how to play the game, and be in a position to do some things."

Ezell has been Arkansas' regular starter at first base this season. He had never played the position prior to the week of the Razorbacks' season opener. Opening weekend was an adventure, but he has settled in at the position and is playing it well despite his non-prototypical 5-8 frame.

"You have to be instinctual about it and move around, catch the ball and not think about it too much," Ezell said.

His maturation at the position was evident during a game against Louisiana Tech last Saturday when a chopper was hit toward him. He took two steps backward, set his hips and threw a good ball to the first baseman covering the bag at first.

"A lot of choppers I've gotten, I've tried to charge and go get it," Ezell said. "That was one that I kind of drop stepped and got the hop. Seeing more hops there gives me more of a chance to do that."

Nothing has slowed Ezell at the plate. More than a quarter of a way through the season, the switch hitter ranks high on the Razorbacks' leaderboard, showing a mature approach one would expect from a soon-to-be 23 year old.

Hitting third in the lineup, he leads Arkansas with a .362 batting average and seven stolen bases, and is second in runs scored (17), hits (21), home runs (3) and slugging (.603). Ezell has 13 RBI, has drawn 10 walks and has an on-base percentage of .449.

"He's just a tough out, will take some pitches, get deep into counts a lot of times and that’s what he did throughout his career at SEMO," Van Horn said following a game against Southern Cal last month. "We needed that mature approach in the middle of our order and he does a great job."


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