The Arkansas Razorbacks are coming off a rare 4-game series sweep against the Gonzaga Bulldogs as they prepare to play away from Baum-Walker stadium for the first time this season at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas.
The 20th annual Shriners Hospitals for Childrens College Classic is an SEC vs Big 12 tournament where the three teams from each conference play one another from Friday-Sunday. The schools representing the SEC are Arkansas, LSU, and Missouri while the Big 12 will have Baylor, Oklahoma, and Texas.
The 7-0 Razorbacks are the 6th-ranked team in the country according to D1 Baseball. While they still have some questions at pitcher, particularly who will step up and be their day 3 starter, they have lived up to the hype in their batting rotation with a team average of .314, 75 hits, 11 home runs, and 52 RBIs. Though Gonzaga was a worthy opponent, we should really figure out where this team is at this point in the season by the end of the weekend.
FRIDAY 3PM: Arkansas vs Oklahoma
The Hogs will start the weekend against 22nd-ranked Oklahoma. Arkansas will face plenty of respectable pitching over the course of the weekend, but from top to bottom OU may have the best. The Sooners are 7-2 on the year after dropping their opener to Virginia and their most recent contest against Illinois State. Preseason All-American (per Baseball America) and Big 12 Pitcher of the Year Cade Cavalli along with Wyatt Olds have paced Oklahoma’s pitching rotation thus far, and the Hogs will likely see one of those two (Personally, my bet is Cavalli). Olds is 2-0 and boasts a 1.00 ERA striking out fifteen while giving up only three hits, and Cavalli also starting off strong with a 2.31 ERA and seventeen strikeouts. The Sooners also boast the nation’s 3rd-best fielding percentage (.994) with just two errors. As a team they are batting .277 with seven home runs. Leading the charge at the plate is Tanner Treadway. The junior outfielder is batting a stellar .405 in thirty seven at-bats, leading the team in hits (15), and tied for first on the team in home runs (2). He is the current Big 12 Player of the Week where he led the Sooners to a 5-1 record batting .500.
SATURDAY 7PM: Arkansas vs Texas
Arkansas will play their second game against former arch-rival Texas, who is 9-0 but are not in the top-25. The Hogs traveled to Austin last March for a two-game series in which the teams split one a piece. The Longhorns have started six different pitchers thus far led by Preseason All-Big 12 RHP Bryce Elder. The others include Ty Madden, Cole Quintanilla, Kolby Kubichek, Pete Hansen, and Coy Cobb so it is very likely if the Hogs were to get off to a fast start on offense we could see activity in their bullpen early. Texas has done well at the plate, but looking at their numbers no one has really separated themselves from the pack. Outfielders Duke Ellis (.357 avg, 10 hits) and Todd Austin (.342, 13 hits) are two who have played in every game batting over .300, but out of the seven combined home runs on the team no player has more than one. OF Eric Kennedy is another to watch, who was tabbed Preseason All-Big 12 along with Elder. There is quite a bit to be told between these two squads. Each one is undefeated with pitching seeming to be a slight advantage for the Longhorns and the Hogs taking the nod with their offensive game.
SUNDAY 7PM: Arkansas vs Baylor
The finale of the weekend will be against the 4-3 Baylor Bears (they have a game against UT-Rio Grande Valley before this weekend’s tournament). After winning their opening series against Nebraska and defeating Arkansas Pine-Bluff, they dropped their latest series to Oral Roberts 2-1. The Bears’ pitchers have gotten off to a rough start giving up an average of 6 runs per game, including 19 in their opening contest with Nebraska. Their most notable pitchers are seniors Paul Dickens and Hayden Kettler, along Junior Jacob Ashkinos. Dickens, who was tabbed Big 12 Honorable Mention, came into last season as a reliever, but eventually became their ace Friday night starter. The lefty currently leads the team in strikeouts (10), but is tied for the highest ERA at 6.75. As of now, Kettler has the most innings under his belt and possesses a 4.75 ERA. He has given up the most hits on the team (12) and has struck out four. Ashkinos has been the most consistent in 2020 with a 2-0 record, 2.84 ERA, and six strikeouts. The heart and soul of this roster is Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year (unanimous choice) INF Nick Loftin. He is currently second on the team with a .333 batting average, and leading the charge in slugging with .600.
With Connor Noland as the Friday starter and Patrick Wicklander getting the nod on Saturdays, it is a mystery who will step up and be the Sunday guy as previously mentioned. Freshman Blake Adams got the Sunday start in the Eastern Illinois series but was pulled after going 3 innings giving up two earned runs. Kole Ramage and Caleb Bolden are the other two who have gotten opportunities to start, but there has been no clear front runner. Bolden is back after sitting out in 2019 recovering from Tommy John surgery and was projected to compete for a weekend starting spot before he had gotten injured.