Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Hogs, 'Horns set to renew rivalry
Arkansas Texas Wednesday, March 14, 2018, during the inning at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville. Visit nwadg.com/photos to see more photographs from the game.
AUSTIN, Texas -- As far as midweek baseball series go, it would be hard to picture a more intense scenario than what will go down at the University of Texas' Disch-Falk Stadium the next two days.
The No. 9 Arkansas Razorbacks (17-2) and the No. 15 Texas Longhorns (15-7), both riding hot streaks, will play a pair of highly anticipated games, starting tonight at 6:30 in the warmest climate Arkansas has seen this season.
No. 9 ARKANSAS at No. 15 TEXAS
WHEN 6:30 p.m. today
WHERE Disch-Falk Stadium, Austin, Texas
RECORDS Arkansas 17-2; Texas 15-7
STARTING PITCHERS Arkansas LHP Patrick Wicklander (2-1, 2.45 ERA); Texas RHP Jack Neely (0-0, 6.23)
COACHES Dave Van Horn (660-366 in 17th year at Arkansas); David Pierce (293-163 in eighth year at Texas)
RADIO Razorback Sports Network. Not all games will be carried by all affiliates. Check local listings.
TV Longhorn Network
Texas has a 6-4 record against teams ranked in the top 11 this season. … The Razorbacks are No. 38 in the NCAA in hitting (.294), No. 17 in pitching (2.74 ERA), No. 98 in fielding (.971) and No. 38 in scoring (7.3 runs per game). … The Longhorns are No. 190 in hitting (.249), No. 20 in pitching (2.97), No. 203 in fielding (.962) and No. 147 in scoring (5.7). … Neither team has announced a starter for Wednesday’s 6:30 p.m. game. … Sophomore right-hander Marshall Denton (1-0, 1.35 ERA) started last Wednesday’s 11-1 victory over Western Illinois. … Former Arkansas great Kevin McReynolds hit the first of what Texas officials call “monster shots” over the wall in straightaway center field at Disch-Falk Stadium on May 17, 1981. Only 41 such home runs, over a wall that is 400 feet from home plate, have been hit. … Texas shortstop Masen Hibbeler was named the Big 12 Player of the Week after an error-free weekend in a series victory over Texas Tech and playing a part in all four runs in a 4-3 victory Sunday.
THE WEEK AHEAD
TODAY at Texas, 6:30 p.m. (Longhorn Network)
WEDNESDAY at Texas, 6:30 p.m. (Longhorn Network)
FRIDAY at Alabama*, 6 p.m.
SATURDAY at Alabama*, 2 p.m.
SUNDAY at Alabama*, 1 p.m.
TUESDAY at Missouri State, 6:30 p.m.
- SEC game
The Razorbacks (17-2) have ridden sizzling pitching to six consecutive victories, including an SEC-opening sweep of Missouri over the weekend. The Longhorns (15-7) opened Big 12 play with a series victory over No. 11 Texas Tech in Austin.
The former Southwest Conference rivals met three times last year, and the Razorbacks won them all, making emphatic statements in the process.
A fired-up Matt Cronin flashed a horns down signal in front of the Arkansas home fans after closing out a 7-5 victory over Texas on March 14, 2018.
Heston Kjerstad legally steamrolled Longhorns first baseman Jake McKenzie as the Razorbacks mounted a comeback for an 11-5 victory in the College World Series opener for both teams on June 17.
Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said he doesn't get overly worked up to play the Longhorns, despite playing in the old SWC rivalry for the Hogs.
"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."
His players feel a little differently.
"I have always hated Texas," freshman third baseman Jacob Nesbit said after Sunday's 3-2 victory over Missouri completed the sweep.
"I grew up a Texas Tech fan, my parents went there and everything," Nesbit said. "So whenever we would play Texas, we would have a big watch party because we were never really fond of UT."
Arkansas catcher Casey Opitz saw the flare-ups in the old rivalry last year.
"It's going to be a dogfight," Opitz said. "It always is. That is a historic program. They're going to want to win, we're going to want to win, so it's going to be a fun series."
Texas shortstop Masen Hibbeler, the reigning Big 12 Player of the Week, recalled the intensity of last year's games in Fayetteville, won 13-4 and 7-5 by the Razorbacks.
"After playing in Fayetteville and [hearing] their left-field rowdies out there or whatever they call them, I'm definitely ready to have them at the Disch," Hibbeler told reporters in Texas. "They traveled real well to Omaha too, so I got to hear them three times. I am definitely ready to have them hear our fans."
The Longhorns are missing a few key components from last year's team, notably second baseman Kody Clemens, shortstop David Hamilton, catcher/first baseman DJ Petrinksy and McKenzie.
Hamilton and Petrinsky are still on the roster, but Hamilton suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in January and is out for the year, while Petrinsky was lost for the season with a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder on March 6.
Arkansas freshman Patrick Wicklander (2-1, 2.45) ERA will make his fourth midweek start. The left-hander had eight strikeouts and allowed one hit in each of his last starts against North Carolina-Charlotte and Western Illinois. He'll be opposed by Texas right-hander Jack Neely (0-0, 6.23).
Both teams are coming off dominant pitching performances and light hitting in conference-opening series victories.
The Longhorns took two of three from No. 11 Texas Tech in Austin and won 4-3 on Sunday after being no-hit for the first five innings and being shut out on Saturday.
"Ugly wins are a lot better than pretty losses," Texas Coach David Pierce said Sunday. "This just shows the resiliency from this team. We had nothing going in our favor. We couldn't throw strikes, we were getting no-hit through five and we just found a way to win the game.
"That's a tribute to our team and our program right now. They're not going to be denied. You have to beat them."
The Razorbacks swept Missouri, with its three tough starting lefties, and won 3-2 Sunday after being no-hit for the first five innings.
Arkansas hit 16 for 84 (.190) against the Tigers, dropping its team batting average from .310 and an NCAA ranking of 15th to .294.
Texas hit 10 of 79 (.127) vs. Texas Tech, dropping the Longhorns batting average to .249.
"Going into the season everyone thought our strength was offense," Pierce said. "You take David Hamilton and DJ Petrinsky, two of our better hitters out of there and you put young people in there ... you're going to suffer a little bit. They're doing it for the first time."
Texas has a poor fielding percentage of .962, but the Longhorns had no errors in their series victory over the Red Raiders.
The Longhorns already own a three-game sweep against an SEC power, having taken out then-No. 2 LSU, 8-1, 8-4 and 7-6 on March 1-3 in Austin.
The top Arkansas hitters are Kjerstad (.333, 2 HR, 11 RBI), Trevor Ezell (.333, 3, 13), Christian Franklin (.327, 2, 19), Nesbit (.322, 11 RBI), Jack Kenley (.295, 4, 16). Veterans Dominic Fletcher (.273, 2, 12) and Casey Martin (.263, 4, 16) haven't found their grooves yet.
The Longhorns' offense is led by Austin Todd (.289, 2, 21), Ryan Reynolds (.288, 1, 9) and Eric Kennedy (.284, 2, 16).
Sports on 03/19/2019
Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.