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.
Ole Miss, Arkansas starters in spotlight
Arkansas pitcher Isaiah Campbell (55) delivers against Alabama during an NCAA college baseball game in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Friday, March 22, 2019. (Gary Cosby Jr./The Tuscaloosa News via AP)
FAYETTEVILLE -- Every Friday night in the SEC pits top-notch pitchers against each other across the league landscape.
Tonight's matchup at Baum-Walker Stadium between No. 8 Arkansas and No. 22 Ole Miss projects as one of the best the conference will produce in 2019.
No. 8 Arkansas vs. Ole Miss
WHEN 8 p.m. today
WHERE Baum-Walker Stadium
RECORDS Ole Miss 18-8, 3-3 SEC; Arkansas 21-4, 5-1
STARTING PITCHERS Ole Miss RHP Will Etheridge (4-1, 0.71); Arkansas RHP Isaiah Campbell (5-0, 1.93)
SERIES Arkansas leads 47-44.
COACHES Mike Bianco (728-420-1 in 19th season at Mississippi); Dave Van Horn (664-368 in 17th season at Arkansas)
RADIO Razorback Sports Network. Not all games will be carried by all affiliates. Check local listings.
Arkansas has the lowest opponent batting average (.181) in SEC play. … The Razorbacks and Rebels have both attempted 53 steals, and Arkansas has been successful on 46 of those tries (.868 percent), while Ole Miss has swiped 45 (.849) bases. … Ole Miss is sixth in the SEC in team batting average (.284), 10th in team earned-run average (3.91), sixth in team fielding percentage (.974) and third in scoring (8.2 runs per game). … Arkansas is third in the SEC in team batting average (.295), seventh in team ERA (3.15), 11th in fielding percentage (.972) and fourth in scoring (7.4 rpg). … Ole Miss is second in the SEC with 30 home runs, while the Hogs are tied for fifth with Mississippi State with 26 home runs.
THE WEEK AHEAD
TODAY Ole Miss*, 8 p.m. (ESPNU)
SATURDAY Ole Miss*, 3 p.m. (SEC Network)
SUNDAY Ole Miss*, 1:30 p.m.
TUESDAY UALR, 6:30 p.m.
THURSDAY at Auburn*, 6:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
Arkansas right-hander Isaiah Campbell (5-0, 1.93 ERA) will take on Ole Miss righty Will Etheridge (4-1, 0.71) in a later-than-normal 8 p.m. start that was dictated by the broadcast on ESPNU.
Campbell has not allowed a run in 14 innings in his SEC starts against Missouri and at Alabama, and only two runs covering 27 innings in his last four starts. He has lowered his ERA by 3.30 in those four games.
"I'm just going out there and competing," Campbell said. "I'm taking it one pitch at a time, not letting the moment get too big, and not thinking about the past or the future. Just taking it one pitch at a time and throwing strikes and letting the defense do the work."
Etheridge's ERA would rank fifth in the SEC if he had pitched 2/3 more innings to qualify.
The 6-5, 240-pounder from Lilburn, Ga., was a reliever last season.
"He's really good," Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. "Everything he throws moves. He's got a really good fastball that will run in on the righties and away from the lefties. His change-up is the same way. A lot of movement and depth. A big, strong kid with a lot of experience.
"Nobody's really gotten to him. He's got a great record. His ERA is almost non-existent. He's definitely kind of taken that Friday night role and run with it."
So has Campbell, who has 41 strikeouts, 3 walks and 17 hits allowed in his last 27 innings.
The 6-4, 225-pounder has carried on the streak of the Razorbacks' Friday night starters winning 20 consecutive decisions that dates back to a Trevor Stephan start against Oral Roberts in the 2017 NCAA Fayetteville Regional.
"I had a ton of confidence in him stepping into the Friday night guy role and I think everyone else on the team does too," Arkansas center fielder Dominic Fletcher said. "We all faced him in the fall and it's not very fun up there, so we know kind of what the other hitters are going against. Just fun to watch him out there every Friday night."
Van Horn said he would stick with right-hander Connor Noland (0-1, 4.50 ERA) for Saturday's scheduled 3 p.m. game and right-hander Cody Scroggins (2-0, 3.00) for Sunday's 1:30 p.m. finale.
Noland had his worst start Saturday at Alabama, while he and left-handed freshman Patrick Wicklander (2-1, 4.44) both threw well in Tuesday's 8-2 victory at Missouri State.
"[Noland] has done it already, has a little experience," Van Horn said. "He threw the ball a little better on Tuesday. Velocity was up."
Campbell is one of five qualifying SEC pitchers who has not allowed an earned run in conference play.
"We saw that he was better in the fall and the attitude seemed to be a little different," Van Horn said. "He took the lead as far as leadership. I mean he got voted one of our team captains and he just kind of evolved, through maturity and talent.
"He's very talented. Obviously up until now he's been really good. I don't expect him to be any different. Now do I expect him to go out and shut people down like he's been doing? He's going to run into some tough spots. But I think one thing he's learned is how to get out of a jam. And he couldn't do that before this year."
Campbell said there's been no difference in how he feels stepping into the "ace" role on Fridays.
"I took the same approach last year when I was throwing Saturday or Sunday," Campbell said. "This year on Friday night we're facing the other team's ace and I have to go out there and compete to do my best because we're going to get the best on their side."
Campbell will face an Ole Miss lineup that ranks sixth in the SEC with a .284 batting average and third with 213 runs. Outfielder Ryan Olenek leads the way with a .420 average, while outfielder Thomas Dillard (.337, 9 home runs, 28 RBI) is the only other regular over .300.
The Razorbacks have seven regulars hitting .300 or better, led by designated hitter Matt Goodheart (.352, 9 RBI), third baseman Jacob Nesbit (.337, 1 HR, 20 RBI), right fielder Heston Kjerstad (.327, 5, 17), first baseman Trevor Ezell (.315, 3, 15) and Fletcher (.312, 4, 19).
Goodheart leads the conference with a .563 batting average, an .813 slugging percentage and a .650 on-base percentage through six league games.
"Not a whole lot to it," Goodheart said. "Just trying to relax and do the same thing Fletcher's doing honestly, just see good pitches to hit and trying to do damage with them."
Sports on 03/29/2019
Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.