Matt Jones is the editor of the Hawgs Sports Network. He is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has a bachelor's and master's degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas.
Diamond Hogs Notebook: Diggs hot, rarity of road sweeps, Morris improving
Arkansas right fielder Kendall Diggs celebrates with teammates during a game against Mississippi State on Sunday, May 7, 2023, in Starkville, Miss.
Kendall Diggs might have a player of the week award awaiting him Monday.
Batting leadoff, the Arkansas right fielder finished the series at Mississippi State 6 for 11 with 3 walks, 10 RBI and 5 runs scored. He had a .643 on-base percentage during the weekend and led off each game with either a walk or a hit.
Diggs hit a grand slam during the fifth inning of the Razorbacks’ 11-6 victory over the Bulldogs on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep. He and Jace Bohrofen each had 4 RBI while hitting in the top spots in the batting order.
It appears Diggs rebounded from a rough patch when he went hitless in four of five games. Three days before the Mississippi State series began, Diggs went 0 for 5 during an extra-innings loss to Lipscomb at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock.
“I’ve just been evaluating my swing, how I’m feeling, looking back at my approach, talking with the coaches — just really focusing on staying through the ball,” Diggs said following Saturday’s game. “[I] see a pitch up in the zone and [am] really getting my 'A' swing off every time.”
The grand slam was Diggs’ second home run of the series. Both came as part of a five-run inning.
Diggs hit a two-run home run during the top of the seventh inning Saturday when the Razorbacks won 14-2 in seven innings.
Diggs’ 13 career home runs have accounted for 33 RBI. Ten of his career homers have come with runners on base, including two grand slams and 6 three-run home runs.
Arkansas has swept four SEC teams — Auburn, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Mississippi State — as part of a 17-7 start to SEC play.
Arkansas is tied with Vanderbilt for the best record in the SEC with two weeks remaining in the regular season.
The sweeps are a big reason why the Razorbacks’ 24-game SEC record is the same as the 2021 Arkansas team that won the SEC with a 22-8 record.
The four sweeps are the program’s most in SEC play since the 2018 Razorbacks also swept four teams. All of the 2018 sweeps were in series played at home.
Road sweeps have been rare for Arkansas. Since 2016, the Razorbacks have swept a team on the road twice — both times at Mississippi State.
Arkansas also swept at Mississippi State’s Dudy Noble Field in 2021 when the Bulldogs won the national championship.
Before that, the Razorbacks’ last SEC sweep away from home came in 2015 over Alabama. The Crimson Tide played their home games at Hoover (Ala.) Metropolitan Stadium that season while their on-campus stadium in Tuscaloosa was being renovated.
Aside from Mississippi State, Arkansas has not swept on an SEC campus since 2014 at Missouri.
Under 21st-year coach Dave Van Horn, the Razorbacks have 39 SEC sweeps, including 10 away from home. Arkansas has not swept anywhere more than Mississippi State (3) under Van Horn.
"It's hard beating anybody three times on the road," Van Horn said before Sunday's game on the Razorback Sports Network. "It's hard beating them three times anywhere. It's something that if you have a chance to get it and you can get it, you check the standings at the end of the year and you've jumped in front of a few people."
With another sweep, the Razorbacks would tie the program record set by Arkansas’ 1999 SEC championship team that swept five times.
Arkansas left-hander Zack Morris threw three innings of scoreless relief Sunday in his most efficient outing of the season.
After inheriting a base runner in the sixth inning, Morris induced two ground-ball outs — including an inning-ending double play — and retired seven consecutive batters until Mississippi State loaded the bases on a hit batsman, an error and a walk in the eighth. Morris stranded the bases loaded when pinch hitter Connor Hujsak lined out to left field on the final pitch he threw.
It was the second consecutive relief appearance in which Morris did not allow a run. He pitched two scoreless innings against Lipscomb.
“That’s the beauty of a midweek game. Even though you don’t win it, you get to see some things and get some guys out there,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “He threw really well [Sunday] and the thing a lot of people probably don’t know is we had him up and down in the bullpen a couple of times this weekend, so he threw a lot of pitches — not just the ones you saw in the game, but getting up, pitching, not coming in. We had him hot last night until we got the last out. It was a really nice job of Zack helping us out today.”
Van Horn has spoken well of Morris’ progress since a bad start to the year. His ERA was 10.26 after he allowed 5 runs and recorded 2 outs at Missouri State on April 25.
Prior to the Lipscomb game, Morris had allowed runs in 9 of 12 appearances, including multiple runs 7 times.
He nearly worked two scoreless innings against Texas A&M on April 29, but issued a two-out walk on a borderline full-count pitch, then hit a batter and exited with the bases loaded. All three of the runners scored against the relief pitcher, Christian Foutch.
Morris’ ERA rose that day despite a solid outing, and it has fallen to 8.49 in the past week.
“I’ve just continued to build the confidence I’ve had in the previous outings,” Morris said. “I’m just trying to get things rolling because this team needs it. I need it, too, but this team needs it more. With a few pitchers going down, I’ve just got to find a way to step up and help this team win.”
Arkansas, ranked sixth this week, might match or exceed its highest ranking of the season when the USA Today Baseball Coaches Poll updates Monday.
Of the nation’s five highest-ranked teams, only second-ranked Wake Forest won its series this week.
No. 1 LSU lost twice at Auburn, No. 3 Florida lost twice at Texas A&M, No. 4 South Carolina was swept at No. 21 Kentucky, and No. 5 Vanderbilt lost twice at Alabama.
The Razorbacks have not been ranked higher than third by coaches this season. That ranking was prior to a series loss at LSU in late March.
More important than poll rankings this time of year is a team’s ranking in the Ratings Performance Index, which is a key metric for seeding the NCAA Tournament.
According to calculations at WarrenNolan.com, Arkansas moved to fifth in RPI during its sweep of Mississippi State, behind Kentucky, Wake Forest, South Carolina and LSU. The NCAA will update the official RPI numbers Monday.
With regular-season series remaining against South Carolina and Vanderbilt, the Razorbacks’ RPI should remain high ahead of the SEC Tournament, especially if Arkansas wins some games against those teams.
A top-five RPI would put the Razorbacks in a good position to be a top-eight national seed in the NCAA postseason that begins next month. The eight highest overall seeds in the tournament have home-field advantage before the College World Series.
Arkansas is 28-3 at home ahead of next weekend’s series there against South Carolina.
• Arkansas scored 11 two-out runs Sunday — their most since scoring 13 with two outs against Oklahoma State in the third game of the season. The Razorbacks scored 19 two-out runs during the Mississippi State series.
• Brady Slavens homered during the third inning Sunday — his third home run in as many days. It is the first time Slavens has homered in three consecutive Division I games. He had home runs in five consecutive games while playing junior college baseball at Johnson County (Kan.) Community College during the shortened 2020 season.
• Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn has an 11-1 record in head-to-head matchups against Mississippi State coach Chris Lemonis.
• The Razorbacks have turned an SEC-leading 45 double plays.
• Arkansas' six-game SEC win streak is its longest during the regular season since the 2019 team won nine in a row. The 2021 Razorbacks won their final eight games against SEC teams, which included four games at the conference tournament.
Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.