Arkansas softball notebook: Bri Ellis' big numbers, freshman phenom and more

Arkansas first baseman Bri Ellis hits an RBI double during a game against Illinois State on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in the Razorback Invitational at Bogle Park in Fayetteville. (Hank Layton/NWA Democrat-Gazette)

FAYETTEVILLE — After playing three consecutive weekends and 15 games at home, No. 17 Arkansas softball went back on the road last weekend to open its SEC schedule at Auburn.

The road trip was a success as the Razorbacks (23-6, 2-1 SEC) went 2-1 at Auburn, then added a nonconference win at Texas A&M-Commerce on Monday. 

“I loved how our players competed and trusted our plan and executed," Arkansas coach Courtney Deifel said. "I do feel like we gave away too much in the Sunday game [2-1 loss]. We made adjustments, but it was just a little too late.”

No. 20 Mississippi State, one of the top teams in the SEC offensively, comes into Bogle Park for a three-game series starting at 6 p.m. Friday. The teams will play again at 2 p.m. Saturday and noon Sunday. All three games can be streamed on SEC Network+.

Here are some things to watch this weekend:

Bri Ellis crushing it

Arkansas first baseman Bri Ellis was able to play within herself in her return to Auburn, where she spent two seasons. Not only did Ellis not let the emotions of returning to The Plains affect her, she flourished.

Ellis became the first player in program history to be named SEC player of the week in back-to-back weeks after she torched her old team.

Over the 4-game road trip, including the game at Texas A&M Commerce, Ellis batted .667 with 6 hits, 2 home runs and 6 RBIs. She also walked 3 times and extended her hitting streak to 9 straight games with a double against the Lions on Monday.

Defensively, Ellis was involved in three double plays and did not commit an error in 27 chances.

“Bri handled it beautifully,” Deifel said of Ellis' return to Auburn. “I'm not sure anyone could handle it much better than how she did going into it. I think for Bri to go into Auburn and do what she did was great. She controlled her emotions really well. Sometimes you can get outside of yourself, you can try and do more than who you are. I thought that she was elite last weekend.” 

Trip Deifel's scouting report is spot-on

Ellis was not the only Razorback to earn SEC honors this week. Freshman catcher Kennedy Miller was recognized as the Freshman of the Week.

Over the weekend, the Georgetown, Texas, native batted .545 with 6 hits and a pair of home runs against Auburn in the second game of a doubleheader. 

Behind the dish, Miller played flawlessly with 18 putouts and 3 assists in addition to handling the Arkansas pitching staff.

The honor for Miller is considered long-overdue by at least one member of the Deifel family. Courtney Deifel's 8-year-old son Trip has been campaigning for Miller all season and he apparently knows a rising star when he sees one.

“He keeps up with it and he's like 'What does she need to do! What more can Kennedy do to get this?'” Courtney said. “So for her to get that this week, it's been a long time coming. I know she's happy to get it, but I know the happiest person to see her get it is Trip Deifel.”

Miller leads the Razorbacks in hitting, batting at a .448 clip. 

Robyn Herron "day-to-day"

When Robyn Herron had to leave Sunday's game against Auburn in the first inning with an injury, it didn't look good for Arkansas.

The sophomore left-hander is 7-6 with a 1.72 ERA and 82 strikeouts over a team-high 69 innings. She has been steady in the circle for the Razorbacks all season and threw the second perfect game in program history ealier this season.

Fortunately for the Razorbacks, the injury was not as serious as initially thought, and Herron's status is day-to-day going into the weekend, Deifel said.

“She's doing well,” Deifel said. “When it happened, you're like, 'Oh crap, what is it, what's it going to be?' But she's in a good spot. She's getting really good care from our trainers and doctors. She's day-to-day, but we were thinking she might be out for a stretch, so this is great news.”