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 leaves impression in debut
Arkansas reliever Connor Noland (right) collides Friday, Feb. 26, 2021, with Southeast Missouri State's Danny Wright as Wright is tagged out on his way to first during the sixth inning of the Razorbacks' 7-3 win at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Connor Noland has earned SEC pitcher of the week and freshman of the week awards during his time at Arkansas, but Razorbacks coach Dave Van Horn said he has never seen Noland pitch as well as he did Friday against Southeast Missouri State.
Noland allowed 1 run on 2 hits in 4 1/3 innings of relief and earned the win in Arkansas’ 7-3 victory over the Redhawks at Baum-Walker Stadium. Noland struck out five and did not allow a walk.Arkansas defeats SEMO 7-3
“It was really good to see Connor come in,” Van Horn said, “and the stuff he had today was probably the best I’ve seen him have since he’s been here when you look at everything combined — the velocity, the location of his fastball, and then the breaking ball had really good depth. He was working ahead in the count and just did a tremendous job once he got comfortable out there.”
Noland entered in the fourth inning with the game tied 2-2. Evan Taylor walked Ty Stauss and Connor Basler with one out, and threw two wild pitches to allow Stauss into scoring position.
Noland got out of the jam when Peyton Leeper lined out to first base for an inning-ending double play.
“That was the biggest point in the game and he established himself and we didn’t have to go back to the bullpen until the end,” Van Horn said. “I’m happy for him. It was a good win for us.”
Van Horn said the combination of velocity and command was the best he has seen from Noland.
“He’s thrown 88-89 with that command,” Van Horn said, “but not 91-93, 94 mph.”
Noland said his velocity has increased in recent weeks.
“I felt good, felt strong out there,” Noland said. “I felt like I could drive the ball through the zone.”
It was the season debut for Noland, a two-year starter — including the No. 1 starter in 2020 — who has not made the rotation for the first two weekends this season. He was Arkansas’ 14th pitcher to appear in a game this year.
“It felt really good to get back out there,” Noland said. “Obviously there was a longer wait than expected, but everybody gets an opportunity and I’m just happy to get a win out there.”
Noland had appeared out of the bullpen just once before, on March 26, 2019, when he retired all three batters he faced at Missouri State. That appearance came three days after one of the worst outings of Noland’s career, when he didn’t make it out of the second inning of a loss at Alabama.
Connor Noland, who played quarterback for the Razorbacks in 2018, nearly recorded his first college tackle to end the sixth inning Friday.
Noland collided with SEMO six-hole hitter Danny Wright after he fielded a dribbler that stayed fair inside the first-base line. Noland hip checked Wright as he tagged him out, but both players were able to stay on their feet.
"I've seen a lot of football in my life, but I haven't really seen that one before," Noland said. "I don't know what was going on, but I wasn't going to get knocked over."
ELITE defender @cnoland_13— Razorback Baseball (@RazorbackBSB) February 26, 2021
📺 https://t.co/etpH3dz6Na pic.twitter.com/DxEoG83nnt
Vermillion struggles with command
Arkansas starter Zebulon Vermillion walked 4 SEMO batters in 3 innings Thursday, which brought his walk total to 6 through 7 innings this year.
The walks are uncharacteristic for Vermillion, who had walked nine in 39 innings entering the season. Vermillion did not walk any batters in 7 1/3 innings last season, and didn’t have any walks in 9 1/3 innings as a freshman in 2018.
“He’s a strike thrower and we’re seeing him get behind in the count, and climbing his way in,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “It’s a lot of 2-2, 3-2 counts. Mechanically I don’t know if something is off, but we’re definitely going to go back and review some things and try to figure this out.”
Vermillion has not factored into a decision in his two starts. He allowed two runs each game.
Bullpen ‘great’ again
Arkansas’ relief pitchers turned in another stellar effort Friday — their fourth in four games.
Noland, Evan Taylor and Kevin Kopps combined to allow 1 run and 3 hits, and struck out 7 in 6 innings. Taylor walked two batters.
“It was another great job by our bullpen,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said.
Beginning with last Sunday’s 4-0 win over Texas, 10 Razorback relief pitchers — including 4 pitchers who threw twice — have combined to allow 3 runs in 25 innings.
Franklin homers hurt
Christian Franklin’s solo home run during the eighth inning came three pitches after he fouled a pitch off the inside of his left foot.
Franklin drove a 2-1 pitch the opposite way and into the opposing bullpen in right field.
Braydon Webb replaced Franklin in center field in the ninth inning. A team spokesman said Franklin was taken out of the game for precautionary reasons at the coach’s discretion, and is expected to play Saturday.
Catcher Dylan Leach and designated hitter Charlie Welch each made their Arkansas debut Friday and both went 1-for-3.
Leach singled to left field in his first career at-bat with two outs in the third inning, and scored on a two-run home run by Robert Moore. Welch hit a two-run homer in the sixth.
Veteran catcher Casey Opitz replaced Leach for the ninth inning.
Saturday’s game is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m., four hours earlier than originally planned.
The time change was was made due to a rainy forecast Saturday. According to the National Weather Service, there is a 60% chance of rain in Fayetteville after noon.
Sunday’s series finale is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m.
9 in a row
Arkansas extended its win streak to nine games, which is the program’s longest streak since it won 10 consecutive games in 2012.
The Razorbacks are 5-0 this season and won their final four games before the 2020 season was suspended.
Arkansas players are free to use whatever bats they prefer this season.
The Razorbacks have used Easton products for several years, although an exact number of years is not known. Easton previously had an equipment contract with Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn, but that contract expired at the end of the 2020 season.
The Razorbacks are expected to enter into a new equipment agreement by the start of the 2022 season, but that contract will be with the program instead of with the head coach.
The Razorbacks’ three games at Louisiana Tech on March 12-14 will be televised by Cox Sports TV.
Announcers for the game will be Brett Dolan (play-by-play) and Troy Eklund (analyst). Dolan and Eklund are the announcers for Arkansas’ home games broadcast by SEC Network-Plus.
Arkansas’ Brady Slavens hit the team’s only home run during the first three games of the season — a three-run homer during the sixth inning of a 4-0 win over Texas last Sunday.
But the Razorbacks have quickly added to the total in two games against SEMO. The four home runs Friday followed a two-homer game Thursday.
Christian Franklin has hit solo home runs in both games against the Redhawks. Slavens also homered Thursday, and Robert Moore, Cayden Wallace and Charlie Welch each hit their first home run Friday.
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