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 moving on from Texas trip
Arkansas starter Isaiah Campbell reacts to the final Missouri out Friday, March 15, 2019, during the third inning at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville. Visit nwadg.com/photos to see more photographs from the game.
AUSTIN, Texas -- The University of Arkansas baseball team would like to put Wednesday's pitching meltdown in a 7-6 loss at No. 15 Texas behind it as quickly as possible.
Isaiah Campbell has a chance to do just that tonight as the No. 9 Razorbacks (18-3, 3-0 SEC) open SEC road play with a 6 p.m. game at Alabama. The Crimson Tide (18-4, 1-2) are the only unranked team in the SEC West.
No. 9 Arkansas at Alabama
WHEN 6 p.m. Central
WHERE Sewell-Thomas Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
RECORDS Arkansas 18-3, 3-0 SEC; Alabama 18-4, 1-2
STARTING PITCHERS Arkansas RHP Isaiah Campbell (4-0, 2.37 ERA); Alabama RHP Sam Finnerty (4-1, 2.03)
SERIES Alabama leads 47-41.
COACHES Dave Van Horn (661-367 in 17th season at Arkansas); Brad Bohnannon (45-33 in second season at Alabama)
RADIO Razorback Sports Network. Not all games will be carried by all affiliates. Check local listings.
Arkansas is 37th in the nation in team batting average (.294), 15th in team earned-run average (2.81), 83rd in team fielding percentage (.973) and 30th in scoring (7.5 runs per game). … Alabama is 42nd in batting average (.293), eighth in team ERA (2.37), fourth in team fielding percentage (.985) and 50th in scoring (7.0 rpg). … The top Alabama hitters are Kolby Robinson (.415, 13 RBI), Keith Holcombe (.394, 2 HR, 24 RBI), Morgan McCullough (.368, 1, 15) and Tyler Gentry (.316, 5, 21). … Alabama has stolen 23 bases in 29 attempts, while opponents have been successful on just 7 of 12 stolen base tries. The Razorbacks have been successful on 40 of 46 steal attempts, while opponents are 8 of 15.
The week ahead
TODAY 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.
Arkansas' Friday night starters have won 19 consecutive decisions dating back to Trevor Stephan's victory over Oral Roberts in the 2017 NCAA Fayetteville Regional. Campbell (4-0, 2.37 ERA) has accounted for four of those after Blaine Knight went 14-0 on weekend openers last season. Campbell has pitched 20 innings in his past three starts and has allowed 2 earned runs on 12 hits and 2 walks to go with 34 strikeouts.
Campbell will be opposed by Alabama ace right-hander Sam Finnerty (4-1, 2.03), who picked up his first loss last week by allowing 1 earned run on 4 hits in 6 innings of a 1-0 loss at Ole Miss.
The Razorbacks' young arms went wild on Wednesday, with 14 walks and four hit batsmen in the loss to Texas, which drove in only one run with a base hit.
Despite the mound disaster, Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn saw some things he liked about his club in the two-game split with the Longhorns.
"We compete pretty good when we play on the road," said Van Horn, whose team is 3-2 in road games. "I liked what I saw from our team. I didn't play a couple of our starters and I threw a bunch of young kids and we still had a chance to win the game. So that makes me feel pretty good about some of these players."
The Razorbacks have won five of their last six games against Alabama, including a three-game sweep last season at Baum Stadium by the scores of 7-3, 7-4 and 9-7.
Second-year Coach Brad Bohannon had the Tide on a roll with a 12-game winning streak before Alabama lost two of three at Ole Miss. Alabama ranks eighth nationally with a 2.37 staff ERA and fourth with a sterling .985 team fielding percentage.
"They really, really have made a jump," Van Horn said."Talking to people, just ... offensively they're a lot better. They pitch it a lot better and they play to win. It's going to be a tough series, it's going to be a good series and it's going to be a big test for us to go on the road."
Van Horn pitched Kole Ramage and Zebulon Vermillion behind Patrick Wicklander in Tuesday's 11-4 victory over Texas, but none of the Arkansas veterans were even on the board as available for Wednesday's game.
"They lifted weights, conditioned and threw bullpen and were getting ready for the weekend," Van Horn said of a group that included closer Matt Cronin (0.00 ERA, 6 saves), Ramage (5-0), Kevin Kopps and Jacob Kostyshock.
Van Horn said he thought about leaving Marshall Denton in for a third inning Wednesday after the side-arming right-hander threw two scoreless innings at the Longhorns.
"We thought about it, but obviously he's a guy that we may need on Saturday or Sunday," Van Horn said. "The weekend is so important. We just felt like we needed to get him out of there."
The Razorbacks had 20 hits in the two-game Texas split. Jacob Nesbit went 4 for 7 with a pair of doubles and 4 RBI. Christian Franklin was 3 for 8 with a grand slam and 5 RBI to increase his team lead to 24. Dominic Fletcher was 3 for 9 with 3 doubles and Jack Kenley was 2 for 5 with 4 runs scored and reached base 7 times.
Nesbit has taken over the team lead in hitting at .348. He had a double in each game at Texas for his first extra-base hits. Among regulars, catcher Casey Opitz leads the club with a .463 on-base percentage -- despite a .244 batting average -- while Kenley has a .442 on-base percentage, followed by Nesbit (.418), Trevor Ezell (.416) and Franklin (.406).
On the other end, shortstop Casey Martin is trying to break out of a near season-long struggle in the leadoff spot. Martin went 1 for 9 against Texas and has 2 singles in his last 22 at-bats with 6 strikeouts in that span to see his season average fall to .247.
"He's probably just pressing a little bit," Van Horn said. "It seems like he's behind in the count just about every at bat. He hasn't been in too many hitters' counts, plus counts.
"If he swings at the first pitch, it seems like he's not getting a hit, but if he doesn't swing at it, it's a strike and he gets behind and they throw him a nice pitch. It seems like he's 0-2, 1-2 before he knows what happened. We're just hoping he'll pick it up this weekend. I think he will."
Van Horn said he would go with his normal weekend rotation, meaning freshman right-hander Connor Noland (0-0, 3.80) will start Saturday's 2 p.m. game and junior righty Cody Scroggins (1-0, 3.32) starting Sunday's 1 p.m. finale.
Alabama is likely to counter with Brock Love (2-0, 2.50) on Saturday and Will Freeman (2-1, 3.20) on Sunday.
Sports on 03/22/2019
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