Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year three times.
Razorback Baseball Notebook:
Slavens, Vermillion not ready yet
Arkansas first baseman Brady Slavens bats during an SEC Tournament game against Georgia on Wednesday, May 26, 2021, in Hoover, Ala. (SEC pool photo)
FAYETTEVILLE — The No. 1-ranked University of Arkansas will be without first baseman Brady Slavens for today’s NCAA Tournament opener against NJIT and will not have pitcher Zebulon Vermillion for the entire regional, Coach Dave Van Horn said on Thursday.
Slavens suffered a right high ankle sprain after his cleat slid off first base while successfully running out a ground ball during the Razorbacks’ 11-2 win over Georgia in their SEC Tournament opener last Wednesday.
While Slavens appears to be making good progress, such as being out of a walking boot on Monday, Van Horn indicated he’s not yet ready to play.
“Brady was actually in practice gear [Thursday], walking around, getting a little antsy,” Van Horn said. “As far as going up trying to get a base hit for us, I don’t see it yet.”
Van Horn said Slavens is on the Hogs’ 27-man roster for the regional in case he is fit enough to play during the weekend.
“I think he’s getting better every day,” Van Horn said. “Obviously swinging the bat there’s a little twist there on the front foot when you start to swing. That might be something we’re not ready to experiment with yet, so not tomorrow anyway.”
Vermillion took himself out of last Saturday’s SEC Tournament semifinal win over Ole Miss after three pitches with what was described as tightness in his bicep.
“We’re not going to pitch him this weekend,” Van Horn said. “He’s not done for the year, but he does have a little bit of inflammation in there, fluid in there, and they’re working on getting it out of there so we can get him back.”
Vermillion (3-0, 4.69 ERA) started the season opener against Texas Tech and made starts on six of the first seven weekends before going to the bullpen, where he has made his last eight appearances.
Arkansas has been the consensus No. 1 team nationally for most of the season and is making its 33rd appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The Razorbacks have advanced to the College World Series 10 times.
NJIT (New Jersey Institute of Technology) is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time, and by being sent to Fayetteville to play Arkansas in the first round, presumably the selection committee viewed the Highlanders as the No. 64 team.
That doesn’t mean the Highlanders are going to be intimidated when they take on the Razorbacks.
“No one is scared of Arkansas,” NJIT senior catcher Paul Franzoni told Steve Politi, a columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger and NJ.com.
Franzoni is a team captain.
“He kind of sets the tone for our team from a leadership standpoint,” NJIT Coach Robbie McClellan said. “College athletics is all about winning or losing, so there’s two teams that show up every single day and both teams expect to win.
“I think what he was trying to say is that we want to give a good effort and we’re not afraid of competition. We’re going to play our game and they’re going to play their game and we’ll see where it falls at the end of the day.”
Nebraska left-hander Cade Povich, who will start the No. 19 Cornhuskers’ opener against Northeastern tonight, has added height, size and velocity the last couple of years.
“Only about 2 1/2 short years ago he threw 83 mph,” Nebraska Coach Will Bolt said. “He was what you call a knife fighter, a guy who’s got to go out there and compete with less than above average stuff.”
Povich has 79 strikeouts in 73 1/3 innings and a 1.12 WHIP. Bolt said the Cornhuskers decided to stick with Povich in the leadoff role this weekend, as has been the case most of the year.
“He’s probably grown about 4 inches … and put on probably about 25 pounds, so naturally his velocity has gotten better,” Bolt said. “He’s always been a strike thrower. He’s always been a guy that’s been able to keep hitters off balance and now that the velocity has come, it just makes him that much more difficult to hit.”
Northeastern Coach Mike Glavine said right-hander Sebastian Keane (6-1, 3.93 ERA) is his most rested starter and who he’ll throw against Nebraska.
The 6-3, 187-pound redshirt freshman pitched just once in the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament last weekend, while staff ace Cam Schlittler (8-0, 1.72) and Kyle Murphy (6-1, 3.86) pitched twice.
“Sebastian’s pitched great for us all year,” Glavine said. “I don’t want to sort of limp into the game and just go with our No. 1 because he’s our No. 1. Last weekend took a lot out of us and we’ve had to recover these last few days so it makes the most sense to give Cam an extra day.”
Remember the Retrievers?
NJIT plays in the America East Conference, where Maryland-Baltimore County also is a member.
In 2018, UMBC became the only No. 16 seed ever to beat a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Basketball Tournament when the Retrievers shocked Virginia 74-54 in Charlotte, N.C.
Northeastern has 119 stolen bases to rank third nationally.
The Huskies have six players with double-digit steals, led by Ben Malgeri (23 of 28) and Scott Holzwasser (22 of 28).
Coach Mike Glavine said one of his program-building philosophies is recruiting speed.
“We look for athletes on the offensive side, guys that can run,” Glavine said. “I love speed — the exact opposite of what I was as a player. I couldn’t run, I was slow as molasses, so I think I want players that are not like me and they tend to really be fast and can do a lot of things.
“When you have team speed, you get two opportunities. You get it on the offensive side and the defensive side.”
Jared Dupere (14 of 15), Jeff Costello (13 of 18), Spenser Smith (12 of 16) and Ian Fair (10 of 12) all have 10 or more steals.
The Huskies are third in Division I with 2.57 steals per game.
“They’ve got speed and they’re fearless,” Nebraska Coach Will Bolt said. “That’s part of their game.
“We need to keep them off base, first of all. That’s the best way to shut it down, and to get the leadoff hitter out. That’s a really good way to do it.”
Charlie Welch, the standout pinch-hitter for the Razorbacks, has a strong ratio of extra-base hits to total hits. Welch has 3 doubles and 5 home runs, the extra-base hits accounting for 8 of his 18 (44.4%) total hits.
That’s a good ratio, particularly for a player used largely as a pinch hitter, but it’s not the best on the team.
Center fielder Christian Franklin has 15 doubles, 2 triples and 12 home runs, and his 29 extra-base hits add up to more than half, 51.8%, of his 56 total hits.
Other high percentages among the Razorbacks: Brady Slavens (45%, 27 of 60), and Robert Moore (42.1%, 24 of 57).
Muss visits fans
Eric Musselman, Arkansas’ men’s basketball coach, frequently attends other sporting events on campus to show his support.
On Thursday, several photos were posted on Twitter of Musselman posing with fans who were waiting in line outside of Baum-Walker Stadium to get the best spots in the HogPen area.
NJIT Coach Robbie McClellan said the team was looking forward to enjoying a barbecue dinner on Thursday night.
Hopefully the Highlanders found the Northwest Arkansas version of barbecue better than what New Jersey has to offer.
“They have one,” McClellan said when asked if there is a barbecue restaurant in New Jersey. “But it’s not too good.”
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