Arkansas baseball hosts Murray State for 3 games

Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn is shown during a game against James Madison on Sunday, Feb. 18, 2024, in Fayetteville. (Charlie Kaijo/NWA Democrat-Gazette)

FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas Razorbacks hope to see another trio of quality starts from their pitchers and a lot more oomph at the plate when they entertain Murray State for a three-game set starting Friday at 3 p.m. at Baum-Walker Stadium.

Starting pitchers Hagen Smith, Brady Tygart, Mason Molina and Colin Fisher have thrown a string of 23 consecutive scoreless innings over five games for the No. 5 Razorbacks (6-2) entering the weekend.

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Smith (0-0, 3.86 ERA) topped the list of pitching feats with 17 strikeouts over six innings in the Hogs’ 5-4 win over Oregon State last Friday. 

The 6-3 junior left-hander from Bullard, Texas, is scheduled to make his third start today against Murray State right-hander Cade Vernon (1-0, 6.52).

Smith has 19 strikeouts in seven innings, which is reflective of the Hogs’ pitching staff as a whole. The Razorbacks have 113 strikeouts in 73 1/3 innings for an average of nearly 14 per nine innings.

“Multiple pitches they can throw for a strike and I don’t really think they’re setting a true pattern,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said to explain the high strikeout total. “If a guy’s got a good slider, maybe gets ahead of you 1-2 and you’re thinking he’s going to drop a slider on you, [and he] busts a fastball by you. 

“Got some good changeups, just a good arsenal. Not just one-pitch strikeout pitch, got a couple there. We’ve got guys that have good arms, mid-90s guys, and they’ve got something to go with it. It’s hard on a hitter and we just kept running them out there, really all week.”

Tygart (1-0, 0.82), a junior right-hander is slated to work Saturday’s 2 p.m. game, and the junior lefty Molina (1-0, 2.08) is set for Sunday’s 1 p.m. finale. 

The weather is expected to be exceedingly better than Opening Weekend, with highs Saturday and Sunday expected to top out in the 70s. Friday's high is projected at about 59 degrees with mostly sunny skies in the afternoon.

Murray State (6-2) is off to a hot start with a .319 team batting average, 11 home runs and 6 regulars hitting .310 or better. Two players already with double-figure RBI in Carson Garner (.440, 5 HR, 13 RBI) and Taylor Howell (.310, 1 HR, 11 RBI).

The Racers made the move from the Ohio Valley Conference to the Missouri Valley Conference last year, where they posted a 31-28 overall record and 14-13 mark in league play. The Bears were picked to finish fourth in preseason voting, behind Indiana State, Missouri State and Evansville.

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Vernon has been drastically up and down in his two starts. The senior picked up a win in his season debut with 1 hit and 1 run allowed in 5 2/3 innings against Purdue-Fort Wayne, then took a beating last weekend at Louisiana-Monroe with 12 hits and 6 earned runs allowed in 4 innings.

The Arkansas offense was sluggish with a .174 batting average while going 2-1 at the College Baseball Series in Arlington, Texas, last weekend. The Hogs' batters were anything but sluggish in Tuesday’s 21-1 rout of Grambling, with 20 hits with 2 grand slams (Hudson Polk and Jayson Jones) among their 3 homers, and 6 doubles.

Peyton Holt and Ross Lovich had three hits apiece to pace the attack. Will Edmundson, Kendall Diggs, Jared Sprague-Lott and Jones, who added 6 RBI, had two hits each.