Weekend Baseball Preview: No. 4 Ole Miss vs. No. 5 Arkansas
OXFORD, Miss. – The Ole Miss Rebels (23-3, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) continue their home stand as they face the visiting Arkansas Razorbacks in a Thursday-Saturday series.
This matchup will be between two of the best teams in NCAA baseball. Ole Miss ranks No. 4 in the D1Baseball, USA Today Coaches, NCBWA, and Baseball America polls, as well as No. 7 in the Collegiate Baseball poll. Arkansas is ranked No. 5 by D1Baseball, No. 6 by Baseball America, USA Today Coaches, and NCBWA, and No. 14 by Collegiate Baseball.
How the Hogs have fared
The Razorbacks (18-7, 4-2 SEC) dropped last weekend’s series, 2-1, to Florida in Gainesville. In week one of SEC play, Arkansas swept Kentucky in Fayetteville.
Last season, the Hogs compiled a 45-19, 18-11 SEC record and were a regional host. However, they lost in the Regional Final to nationally ranked Missouri State.
Last We Met
Ole Miss traveled to Fayetteville last April, taking the series 2-1 after winning the first two games. An oddity of this series last year was that there were no Saturday or Sunday games, as the Rebels and Hogs played one game Thursday night and a double header Friday to avoid impending weather.
Tate Blackman, Colby Bortles and Tim Rowe all hit home runs in game one, and James McArthur recorded the win for the Rebels. In game two, Ryan Rolison earned a 4-1 victory with Dallas Woolfolk recording the save. In game three, the two teams were tied going into the eighth inning; however, Ole Miss gave up runs in the Arkansas eighth and the Rebels went on to lose the game.
Ole Miss Batting Leaders
Batting Average – Chase Cockrell, .410
At Bats – Will Golsan, 104
Runs Scored – Thomas Dillard, 28 (tied for 6th in SEC)
Hits – Grae Kessinger, 33 (Tied for 8th in SEC)
Doubles – Will Golsan, Grae Kessinger, Ryan Olenek, 9 doubles each
Triples – Will Golsan and Thomas Dillard, 1
Home Runs – Thomas Dillard, 7 (8th in SEC)
RBIs – Thomas Dillard, 28 (tied for 6th in SEC)
Thomas Dillard currently has a 15-game hitting streak.
Arkansas Batting Leaders
Batting Average – Heston Kjerstad, .395 (4th best in SEC)
At Bats – Eric Cole, 100
Runs Scored – Eric Cole, 28 (tied for 6th in SEC)
Hits – Heston Kjerstad, 34 (tied for 8th in SEC)
Doubles – Heston Kjerstad, 8
Triples – Eric Cole and Carson Shaddy, 1
Home Runs – Casey Martin, 7 (tied for 8th in SEC)
RBIs – Heston Kjerstad, 27 (tied for 7th in SEC)
Defensively for the Hogs
The catching gear will probably be donned by Grant Koch. From first to third, expect the Hogs to go Jordan McFarland/Jared Gates, Carson Shady, Jax Biggers and Casey Martin. In the outfield, left to right, expect Heston Kjerstad, Dominic Fletcher, and Eric Cole.
Anticipated Line-up for the Razorbacks
1) SS Jax Biggers
2) RF Eric Cole
3) 3B Casey Martin or LF Heston Kjerstad
4) DH Luke Bonfeld or CF Dominic Fletcher
5) Fletcher or 1B Jared Gates
6) 1B Jordan McFarland or DH Evan Lee
7) Kjerstad or C Grant Koch
8) Koch or 3B Hunter Wilson
9) 2B Carson Shaddy
Projected Pitching Match-ups
Ole Miss: Ryan Rolison – 3-2, 2.88 ERA | 30.1 IP
Arkansas: Blaine Knight – 4-0, 1.83 ERA | 34.1 IP Knight’s ERA is 6th best in the SEC.
Ole Miss: Brady Fiegl – 5-1, 2.08 ERA | 39.0 IP Feigl is tied for SEC lead in wins and his ERA is 10th best in the conference.
Arkansas: Evan Lee – 1-1, 5.19 ERA | 8.2 IP
Ole Miss: James McArthur – 3-0, 1.93 ERA | 26.2 IP (8th Best in SEC)
Arkansas: Kacey Murphy – 3-1, 2.28 ERA | 27.2 IP
Team Comparison (stats as of 3/25/18 via the SEC website)
Batting: In overall batting average, Ole Miss sits 5th in the SEC at .299, while Arkansas is 2nd at .314. In runs scored, the Rebels have notched 177 and the Hogs have tallied 201. Ole Miss has hit 30 home runs this season, while Arkansas has hit 46. The Rebels lead the Razorbacks in doubles hit,61 to 49.
Pitching: Not surprisingly, the Rebels sit atop or are close to the top in most statistical pitching categories. The Ole Miss pitching staff leads the conference in ERA (2.54), strikeouts (253), saves (11), earned runs allowed (63)—and the most important category, wins (23).
Comparatively, the Hogs sport a 3.24 ERA, 215 strike-outs, eight saves, 76 earned runs allowed, and 17 wins.
Fielding: Ole Miss is fifth in the SEC, fielding at a .982 clip and having committed 17 errors. Arkansas is number eleven in the league with 26 errors and a .970 fielding percentage.
Arkansas brings the lumber as evidenced by the 39 runs they put up against Kentucky in week one of SEC play. On the flip side, they only scored 12 runs against Florida this past weekend.
According to wholehogsports.com, Saturday starting pitcher Isaiah Campbell is not traveling this weekend to Oxford. Given the uncertainty of the Arkansas pitching, the lack of offensive production last weekend at Florida, and the home field advantage Swayze fans always provide, I expect Ole Miss to win the series two games to one, making the Rebels a perfect seven for seven in weekend series.