Arkansas, Texas set to hook it up in Austin

By: Dudley E. Dawson
Published: Monday, March 18, 2019
Casey Martin, Arkansas third baseman, attempts to make an out with a throw to first after fielding a ground ball in the 5th inning against Texas Sunday, June 17, 2018, during game three of the NCAA Men's College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha.
Photo by Ben Goff
Casey Martin, Arkansas third baseman, attempts to make an out with a throw to first after fielding a ground ball in the 5th inning against Texas Sunday, June 17, 2018, during game three of the NCAA Men's College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha.

— Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn once played against Texas and wanted to beat the Razorbacks’ old arch rival with every fiber of his being.

But now as he heads up the program, it’s a bit different as No. 9 Arkansas (17-2) visits No. 15 Texas (15-7) in Austin for a two-game set beginning Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.

The Razorbacks moved up to No. 9 in the USA Today Coaches Poll on Monday.

“To me, I get more pumped up about playing teams in our league,” Van Horn said. “To me, it’s like playing Oklahoma State or Oklahoma … They’re just good programs, good teams, big-name schools. And obviously you’d like to get a win, but I don’t feel any extra excitement or anxiety or whatever. I think it’s going to be a good atmosphere, and I’m looking forward to our players experiencing it. Hopefully, it goes well.”

The series, which will be televised by the Longhorn Network, will end with a 6:30 p.m. first pitch Wednesday before the Razorbacks head off for a weekend SEC series at Alabama.

Arkansas freshman left-hander Patrick Wicklander (2-1, .245 ERA) will start Tuesday against Texas freshman right-hander Jack Neely (0-0, 6.23).

Razorback closer Matt Cronin could throw an inning in Game 1. Wednesday’s game likely will be a bullpen contest.

"Probably a little bit of everybody,” Van Horn said. “Because that’s awfully close to the weekend. You could call it a bullpen day or whatever where guys just get … We’ll probably throw a couple of our younger guys and just see if we have a chance to win it. We’ll do what we have to do at the end.”

Texas, which swept LSU in a three-game series earlier this year at University Federal Credit Union Disch-Falk Field, has lost three straight to Arkansas, including a game in the 2018 College World Series in Omaha.

“I’m excited to go down there and play,” Van Horn said. “I haven’t been in their ballpark since they renovated it (in 2009). It looks nice on TV. I think playing at USC (earlier this season) helped us and after that, playing at Texas.

“… It’s supposed to be nice weather, nice park. They’ve got a really good team, and it’s going to be great crowds. Hopefully it’ll help us maybe handle the crowds at Alabama or wherever down the road. I think it’ll be a good experience for our team.”

After completing a three-game SEC sweep of Missouri on Sunday with a 3-2 win on catcher Casey Opitz’s walk-off single, Van Horn said he was looking forward to the team's five-game road swing during spring break.

“We kind of planned this as far as whenever we finish spring break on the road. We like to go on the road,” Van Horn said. “No reason to stay around here and play games. We might as well go on the road and then we can get somebody back, maybe, as far as games the next year down the road.

“We’re going to…fly into Houston and then we fly into Austin. After the series is over we get to take a charter plane to Alabama. But we just felt like there’s no rush getting there. We don’t need to be that spoiled that we need to charter right into Austin tomorrow. Save the athletic department a little money. … I’m looking forward to going on the road. My family’s on spring break. It’s just me and dog, you know? Let’s go.”

The Razorbacks players are also looking forward to hitting the road to play during spring break.

“It is going to be a dogfight,” Opitz said. “It always is. That is a historic program. They are going to want to win, we are going to want to win, so it is going to be a fun series.”

Opitz expects Texas, ranked as high as No. 4 in the Baseball America poll, to be hyped about the series.

“I’m sure,” Opitz said. “They want to beat us. Every team wants to beat us.”

Arkansas infielder and Coppell, Texas, native Jacob Nesbit has special incentive for the series.

“I have always hated Texas,” Nesbit said. “…I grew up a Texas Tech fan, my parents went there and everything. So whenever we would play Texas, we would have a big watch party because we were never really fond of UT.

“I am really excited. My parents are going to come out and it's going to be a fun one for sure.”

Texas senior shortstop Masen Hibbeler was named the Big 12’s Player of the Week after going 7-of-12 with five RBIs in his team’s mid-week win over Texas Southern and while taking two wins in three conference games against Texas Tech.

Junior outfielder Austin Todd (.289, 2 HRs, 21 RBIs), junior infielder Ryan Reynolds (.288, HR, 9 RBIs) and freshman outfielder Eric Kennedy (.284, 2 HRs, 16 RBIs) are the only Longhorns hitting over .260.

Redshirt sophomore infielder Zach Zubia and redshirt senior outfielder Tate Shaw both have 12 RBIs while Texas leadoff man Duke Ellis is second in the nation with 26 walks and has stolen seven bases in as many tries.

Arkansas has four players hitting over .322 and seven regulars over .260.

“We beat them three times last year, especially in Omaha, so I am sure they are going to be out for some blood,” Arkansas pitcher Cody Scroggins said. “I am sure it's going to be a great series.”

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