Arkansas baseball 'pretty good' as Arkansas State comes to town

Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn is shown during a game against LSU on Friday, March 29, 2024, in Fayetteville. (Hank Layton/NWA Democrat-Gazette)

FAYETTEVILLE — University of Arkansas baseball Coach Dave Van Horn reminded the big crowd in attendance at the monthly Swatter’s Club meeting Monday that when he left the early March meeting he said he’d know a lot more about the Razorbacks come April 1.

That’s no joke.

Van Horn’s review of the last month: “I think we’re pretty good.”

The Razorbacks went 14-1 since the last Swatter’s Club meeting, commandeered the No. 1 ranking in all the college baseball polls and started 8-1 in SEC play. They are coming off a three-game sweep of LSU at Baum-Walker Stadium.

Arkansas’ only loss since a 2-1 walk-off setback in 14 innings to Oklahoma State on Feb. 24 was an 8-6 defeat at Auburn on March 23 in a game the Hogs’ led 5-1.

“We’re 23-3 and 8-1 in league play,” Van Horn said. “Obviously that’s not bad. A lot of it has to do with competition amongst the team. That’s driving it.”

The Razorbacks will jump back into their in-state midweek run at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Baum-Walker Stadium with a game against Arkansas State (16-14), which is off to a 3-6 start in Sun Belt play.

The Red Wolves got a strong start from Dylan Heine (2-0), who worked 6 1/3 innings, to defeat Georgia Southern’s Ty Fisher 6-3 on Saturday to salvage the final game of their series.

“The biggest thing is when we play the game right, we really like our team,” Arkansas State Coach Tommy Raffo said. “There’s some moments that we’re not probably in tune, maybe either on the mound or in the field or at the plate, and that’s baseball. But I think there’s a real want-to to keep trying to improve. That’s the biggest thing is to keep improving and keep developing.”

Arkansas State right-hander Kole Turner (1-1, 5.19), a junior from White Rock, British Columbia, will be opposed by Razorback left-hander Colin Fisher (4-1, 2.50), a freshman from Noble, Okla.

Turner pitched well in a 7-4 win at Arkansas-Pine Bluff last week, working 6 1/3 innings and allowing 2 runs on 3 hits and 1 walks with 7 strikeouts.

“He’s had some ups and downs a little bit,” Raffo said. “I think the biggest thing right now is the confidence and the competitiveness and the development at the Division I level. He’s been improving every week and it showed up last week.

“[He’s] got to be in the strike zone, obviously, when you look at some of the numbers, and when he does that he does a really good job.”

Third baseman Daedrick Cail (.252, 4 home runs, 23 RBI) and shortstop Cason Cambell (.242, 1 HR, 10 RBI) backed up Turner’s effort with home runs, while center fielder Blake Burris (.295, 2 HR, 12 RBI) and catcher Ryan Hunter had two hits each.

Austen Jaslove (.327, 5 HR, 18 RBI), Allen Grier (.310, 1 HR, 14 RBI) and former Razorback and team RBI leader Cason Tollett (.278, 6 HR, 24 RBI) are among the Red Wolves’ top hitters with second baseman Wil French (.293, 4 HR, 22 RBI) sidelined recently by injury.

Raffo’s squad will face the Razorbacks for the first time since losses by scores of 10-1 and 10-3 in 2022. Last year’s game was rained out.

“Gosh, they’re so balanced at a high level,” Raffo said of the Razorbacks. “And what I mean by that is their rights and lefts pitching and their right and lefts offensively, they’re just balanced.

“There’s so many ways they can approach you or beat you. Again, when I say that, it’s at a high level with the type of talent they have.”

Fisher has not worked since allowing 2 runs on 4 hits, including a pair of home runs, in 2 2/3 innings in the loss at Auburn on March 23.

Ben Bybee, who looked sharp in his season debut with 3 scoreless innings on 1 hit allowed and 5 strikeouts in last Tuesday’s 11-0 win over Arkansas-Little Rock, was also under consideration to start for the Hogs.

“Yeah, Bybee will pitch,” Van Horn said. “Since we didn’t use Colin over the weekend we’ll start him.”

Right-hander Dylan Carter, who has thrown 3 1/3 innings after coming off an ulnar collateral ligament repair, is another pitcher Van Horn would like to throw.

“I’d like to get a bunch of them work,” Van Horn said. “I know we probably won’t get to pitch them all. First we’ve got to try to win the game, but we also want to get some guys in if we can.”

Arkansas will be playing Game 5 of a 10-game homestand at a venue where it is 19-1 this season with a 17-game winning streak since falling 7-3 to James Madison on the opening weekend.

Second baseman Peyton Stovall (.364, 4 HR, 17 RBI), who has reached base safely in all 14 games since his return from a broken foot, has sparked the Hogs with his return. The junior will carry a six-game hitting streak into the action. That is second longest on the team behind shortstop Wehiwa Aloy (.273, 6 HR, 25 RBI), who has hit safety in nine consecutive games and reached base in 16 in a row.

Other top hitters are Peyton Holt (.327, 6 RBI), Jared Sprague-Lott (.296, 2 HR, 10 RBI), Ben McLaughlin (.295, 3 HR, 20 RBI), Kendall Diggs (.289, 6 HR, 21 RBI), Ross Lovich (.289, 2 HR, 14 RBI) and Will Edmunson (.283, 1 HR, 8 RBI), who is coming off a hot series in a sweep of LSU.