No. 1 Arkansas baseball team faces first road test at No. 24 Auburn

Arkansas pitcher Hagen Smith throws during a game against Missouri on Friday, March 15, 2024, in Fayetteville. (Charlie Kaijo/NWA Democrat-Gazette)

FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas’ No. 1-ranked baseball team will play its first road games of the season at No. 24 Auburn.

Arkansas (17-2, 3-0 SEC) and Auburn (14-6, 0-3) open a three-game series Thursday at 6 p.m. at Plainsman Park.

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The Razorbacks’ only three games away from Baum-Walker Stadium this season were four weeks ago at Arlington, Texas, when they beat No. 2 Oregon State 5-4, lost to Oklahoma State 2-1 in 14 innings and beat Michigan 4-3.

“I like playing on the road,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. “I think it kind of bonds the team a little bit.

“The routine, it’s just easy. Not as many outside distractions, honestly. We work out on Wednesday evening and we feed them, get up and feed them again and go over things during the next day, and then you go to the field and play.

“Same thing on Friday, then obviously, with Saturday being a day game, it’s a quick turnaround.

“It’s just a lot of thinking about baseball for 70 hours or whatever it is. I’m looking forward to it. I really feel like the team’s looking forward to it.”

Arkansas extended its winning streak to 13 games with a three-game sweep of Missouri to open SEC play last weekend when the Razorbacks beat the Tigers 8-0, 6-0 and 9-1.

Auburn lost three games at No. 3 Vanderbilt in its SEC-opening series by scores of 11-1, 13-5 and 9-6.

“It’s hard to judge anything, really, this early in SEC play,” Van Horn said. “You have a bad weekend, a bad day or two, and your numbers don’t look right. They’ll even up.

“Vanderbilt is tough at home, playing on that [artificial] turf, no foul territory, it’s a totally different environment. It’s just a different game.

“Auburn’s really good at home. You look at their home record.”

The Tigers, who beat South Alabama 2-1 on Tuesday night at Montgomery, Ala., are 10-2 this season at Plainsman Park.

“It can be loud there,” Van Horn said. “They get after you pretty good. So we’re going to have to pitch and field again so we don’t give up big innings, because those guys can score.”

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Auburn has a team batting average of .281 with 37 home runs — 12 more in 20 games than the Razorbacks have hit in 19.

Tigers junior first baseman Cooper McMurray is batting .362 with 8 home runs and 28 RBI.

Senior shortstop Cooper Weiss, a transfer from Miami (Ohio), is batting .328 with 19 RBI and has 16 stolen bases in 17 attempts. Sophomore catcher Ike Irish is batting .325 with 6 home runs and 28 RBI.

“They’ve a very offensive team,” Van Horn said. “They hit home runs. They can score. Their lineup is deep.”

Arkansas will start junior left-hander Hagen Smith (3-0, 1.57 ERA) on Thursday against Auburn junior right-hander Conner McBride (3-0, 2.41).

McBride, a transfer from St. John’s River (Fla.) State Junior College, will make his SEC debut. His previous four games, all starts, were against Alabama-Birmingham, Samford, Air Force and Troy. He has pitched 18 2/3 innings with 15 strikeouts and 4 walks.

Smith has 50 strikeouts and 8 walks in 23 innings.

Van Horn said he plans to keep the weekend starting rotation the same as it’s been all season with junior right-hander Brady Tygart (3-0, 0.73 ERA) and junior left-hander Mason Molina (3-0, 2.74 ERA) following Smith.

The Arkansas-Auburn series is starting a day earlier than the Razorbacks’ previous weekend series because the first game is being televised by SEC Network, but Van Horn said doesn’t expect the pitchers to be affected by the scheduling change.

“That’s one reason we let the guys go a little longer last weekend pitch-count wise, just continually building it up so they can go 90 to 100 if they need to,” Van Horn said. “Just because it’s one day shorter, we don’t feel like it’s going to be an issue unless they tell us they’re tired or they’re not feeling right.”