Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Razorback Baseball Notebook:
Noland, Wicklander still in plans
Connor Noland is seen here during a scrimmage against Oklahoma on Friday, Sept. 10, 2019.
Arkansas’ top two starters from last season did not pitch during the College Baseball Showdown in Arlington, Texas, but Razorbacks coach Dave Van Horn said both are still in the mix this year.
“They’ll both pitch. They may both start. We’ll make that decision here shortly,” Van Horn said when asked about pitching plans for the upcoming series against Southeast Missouri State. “They’re definitely going to get the ball.”
Van Horn said Noland was warming up when Kevin Kopps recorded the final out with two TCU runners aboard during the ninth inning of the Razorbacks’ 4-1 victory Monday.
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“We had Noland and (Evan) Gray up there at the end, and if it would have gotten a little bit dicey, we were going to bring in Noland, to be honest with you,” Van Horn said. “Possibly Gray, but we were probably leaning toward the veteran there.”
Noland and Wicklander were on the All-SEC Freshman Team in 2019 when both pitchers worked their way into the weekend rotation alongside veteran Isaiah Campbell. Noland has 22 career starts and Wicklander has 19 career starts.
“Just because Pat and Connor are not going to be starters opening weekend does not mean they are not huge parts of our pitching staff,” Arkansas pitching coach Matt Hobbs said last week prior to the season opener.
“It’s a long season….We have to figure out what’s the best mix for our pitching staff, and when you have a large group of talented players it’s going to take some time to weed through some of these things.”
Two of Arkansas’ wins in Arlington included rallies in the eighth or ninth innings.
The Razorbacks scored five runs in the ninth inning during their 13-9 victory over Texas Tech. The Red Raiders led 9-8 entering the ninth.
Against TCU, Arkansas scored two runs in the eighth inning on an RBI triple from Christian Franklin to score Jalen Battles, and an RBI single by Cullen Smith to score Franklin. TCU led 1-0 entering the eighth.
The Razorbacks scored two more runs in the ninth inning of their 4-1 win over the Horned Frogs.
“You know that says something similar to the team we had in 2019, my freshman year,” Franklin said. “We had a good mix of younger guys and older guys and we pulled for each other, and we have that on this team. We care about each other and coming back in the late innings like that shows we’re never out of it. Our coaches do a good job keeping us fired up and that we’re never out of any game.”
Blunders on the Bases
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn complimented the Razorbacks’ base running during their 13-9 victory over Texas Tech on Saturday.
The Razorbacks were less impressive against TCU on Monday. Arkansas had four outs on the bases.
“We made a few base-running mistakes after really running the bases well on Saturday,” Van Horn said. “It hurt us tonight but we overcame it.”
In the second inning, designated hitter Brady Slavens was thrown out at third base while trying to advance from second on a ground ball to the left side of the infield. Moments later Casey Opitz was picked off on a throw from TCU catcher Zach Humphreys to first base, which ended the inning.
Arkansas ran itself out of another scoring opportunity in the seventh when Cayden Wallace hit a ball hard to left field with two runners aboard.
Braydon Webb was on second base and Slavens was on first, and both advanced on contact. But they began to retreat when it appeared TCU left fielder Elijah Nunez caught the ball.
When the ball bounced out of Nunez’s glove, Webb ran to third, but Slavens and Wallace crossed paths between first and second. Wallace was called out and Slavens remained at first.
“Our runner at first did not need to pass second base because then he had to go back and touch the (first base) bag, so he took his eyes off the ball, didn’t know where it was and didn’t realize it was on the ground,” Van Horn said. “As a matter of fact, he didn’t even know what happened until he came over at the end of the inning and I told him.
“Webb at second base, kind of the same thing, was kind of hanging out and then he put his head down running. Then he decided he better get back.
“We just needed to run with our eyes on the ball and just see if he really did have it.”
Arkansas’ final out on the bases came in the eighth inning when Cullen Smith got caught trying to steal second base on a pickoff throw from TCU pitcher Haylen Green. Smith had singled to score the Razorbacks’ go-ahead run.
Lineup Moving Forward
Arkansas will have a decision to make about its lineup when designated hitter Matt Goodheart returns from an unspecified health condition.
Goodheart did not make the trip to Arlington, but might be available for the Razorbacks’ upcoming series against Southeast Missouri State.
His replacement in the lineup, Brady Slavens, went 5-for-12 with 4 runs and 4 RBI in Arlington. Slavens drove in all four of the Razorbacks’ runs on Sunday against Texas, including a three-run home run.
Van Horn said Slavens might play in the field some moving forward, either at first base or right field. Cullen Smith, who started at first base, can also play across the diamond at third.
“There’s different options,” Van Horn said. “I thought (Zack) Gregory did a nice job the two times he came in this weekend, so I’d like to get him a start or two this week. There’s some young guys I want to get some at-bats, but I don’t know what’s going on with Matt right now as far as timetable on getting him back. But until we get him back, some other guys are going to get some opportunities, and hopefully they do well.”
Arkansas and Ole Miss went undefeated at the College Baseball Showdown, and Mississippi State went 2-1 to give the SEC an overall record of 8-1 over the three days in Arlington.
The three SEC West favorites were playing three teams from the Big 12 — No. 4 Texas Tech, No. 10 Texas and No. 11 TCU.
“There’s three pretty good teams here and four back in their hometown right now, too,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said of the division. “The division is going to be tough. The whole league is tough. What can you say? There’s some good teams here from the Big 12, and obviously it can flip from weekend to weekend, but the teams from our league played really well this weekend.”
SEC West teams were a combined 17-4 overall during the first weekend of the season.
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