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.
Hollan had shown signs before South Carolina gem
Arkansas pitcher Hunter Hollan is shown during a game against South Carolina on Sunday, May 14, 2023, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — There were context clues at Mississippi State a week earlier that Hunter Hollan might be due for a breakout performance against South Carolina.
Hollan’s 68 pitches and 3 2/3 innings at Mississippi State were both season-low totals. He allowed 4 runs, 4 hits and 3 walks, and struck out 3 while throwing 39 of 68 pitches for strikes.
On the surface it appeared his struggles might be entering another week as he battled a nerve issue in his left leg.
But Arkansas pitching coach Matt Hobbs hinted before the South Carolina start there were indications at Mississippi State that Hollan was moving in the right direction and might soon have a turnaround.
“His stuff was much better, so I think we all felt really good about it,” Hobbs said last week of the Mississippi State outing. “He felt good about it, too. He didn’t feel good about how he pitched; he felt good about his stuff.
"We know Hunter is going to be fine in terms of the strike zone, so I think we’ll see a much better product [against South Carolina] out of him.”
That was the case as Hollan threw a complete game and shut down one of the SEC’s best hitting lineups. He allowed 1 run, 5 hits and 1 walk, and struck out a career-high 10 batters in 113 pitches.
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Hollan’s performance earned him the SEC pitcher of the week award Monday. He is the second Arkansas pitcher to earn the honor the season. Right-hander Will McEntire was awarded after he threw a complete game against Louisiana Tech on March 11.
Perfect Game also honored Hollan on Monday with its national pitcher of the week award.
“He was amazing,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “He gave up a home run to the eight-hole hitter and was lights out after that, honestly."
Hollan threw 80 pitches for strikes and retired 19 consecutive hitters from the third to the ninth innings. His strike percentage of 70.8% was his best of the year and eclipsed a 68.9% rate against Wright State on Feb. 26.
“That is a big-time percentage right there," Van Horn said. "For him to do that, it just keeps your fielders on their toes when you’re out in the strike zone, and as a former infielder I loved it. Every pitch it was like, ‘Here it comes.’”
As has been the case many times, Hollan was shakier toward the start than near the end of his outing. The Gamecocks doubled and singled against him to lead off the second inning, and had runners at first and third base with nobody out.
After a pop up to first base for the first out, Hollan escaped the jam when he snagged a line drive off the bat of Talmadge LeCroy and threw out Cole Messina scrambling to get back to third base. He gave up two more hits — including the solo home run to Will Tippett — and walked a batter in the third inning.
Going into the fourth inning, Hollan had thrown 46 pitches. The pitch count was 94 going into the ninth.
“It was just one of those kinds of games where you have to give him credit,” South Carolina coach Mark Kingston said. “We had him on the ropes early and he wiggled out of it and then he settled.
“Lefties are known to do that in our game. If you don’t get them early when they are on the ropes, they tend to settle in, and he settled in today.”
Hollan confirmed he felt he needed to be good given how the series had gone to that point. With 15 combined runs, the Razorbacks and the Gamecocks played the lowest-scoring series of the SEC season.
Hollan recalled the conversation between himself and catcher Parker Rowland during the pregame.
“He said, ‘This is about to be a dogfight. That lineup is good,’” Hollan said. “I was like, ‘We just have to compete, fill up the zone and we’re going to hit.’ I knew that if I just got quick innings to get us back in the dugout we were going to have a good chance.”
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