FAYETTEVILLE - After a week-long road trip through Louisiana, the No. 16 University of Arkansas baseball team returns to Fayetteville for the beginning of a nine-game home stand which begins Friday with a 6:35 p.m. matchup with Alabama. The Razorbacks and Crimson Tide are scheduled to play a three-game series at Baum Stadium this weekend which will mark the Southeastern Conference home opener for the Hogs.
Games one and three will be broadcast by Cox Sports Television (CST), channel 119 in Northwest Arkansas. Sunday's series finale is set for a 1:05 p.m. first pitch. Mike Nabors will be in the booth to handle play-by-play duties and he will be joined by color announcer Ron Swoboda. Game two of the series will get underway at 2:05 p.m.
Alabama leads the all-time series between the two SEC Western Division foes, 38-21. All of the meetings have taken place since the Razorbacks joined the conference in 1992. Last season, the Crimson Tide swept a three-game series played in Tuscaloosa. In games played in Fayetteville, Alabama holds the slight advantage, 14-13.
Offensively, the Hogs (15-5, 1-2 SEC) are led by Zack Cox who is riding the wave of a 20-game hit streak. The sophomore infielder leads Arkansas and is second in the SEC with his .420 batting average. Cox also has a team-best 23 runs scored and .505 on-base percentage. During his current streak, the Louisville, Ky., native has 10 multi-hit games, including four contests with a season-high three hits.
Brett Eibner is coming off a successful five-game trip on the road in which he hit .412 (7-for-17) which bumped his season batting average to .321, the third-best mark on the team. Andy Wilkins continues to lead the team in power numbers with six doubles, seven home runs and 24 RBI. He is tied for fourth in the conference in home runs and 10th in RBI. At the top of the lineup, Collin Kuhn is hitting .324 and is 11-for-11 in stolen bases.
On the mound, the Razorbacks' weekend rotation will feature the likely trio of Mike Bolsinger (3-0, 3.18 ERA), Drew Smyly (2-0, 1.73 ERA) and Eibner (2-2, 2.18 ERA). Heading into its weekend series against the Crimson Tide, Arkansas carries a 3.24 team ERA, the second-best mark in the SEC. Individually, Smyly is tied for third in the league with 36 strikeouts. Smyly and Eibner are sixth and eighth, respectively, in SEC in ERA. The Razorbacks have walked just 53 hitters, the second-lowest total in the league, and are holding opponents to a .250 batting average.
In their last outing, a 7-6 win at McNeese State, the Razorback pitchers matched their season high with 14 total strikeouts, including a stretch of nine consecutive outs recorded by strikeout. Overall, Arkansas has fanned 189 opposing hitters this season. Out of the bullpen, DJ Baxendale is solidifying his role as the club's closer with five saves, the second most in the conference.
Alabama (16-3, 2-1) is coming off an 8-6 loss to Auburn in the Capital City Classic in Montgomery, Ala. In their conference opener, the Crimson Tide took two of three from Vanderbilt. In this week's release of national polls, Alabama is ranked as high as No. 16-by Collegiate Baseball and the USA Today/ESPN Coaches' Poll.
Taylor Dugas paces Alabama with a .484 batting average, the best average in the league. Clay Jones leads the club with five home runs and shares the team lead of 25 RBI with Josh Rutledge. This season, Clay and Rutledge are hitting .362 and .375, respectively. The Crimson Tide staff is led by Jimmy Nelson who is 4-0 in five starts with a 1.26 ERA. Adam Morgan (3-0, 2.83 ERA) and Taylor Wolfe (2-0, 3.00 ERA) are penciled in to round out the visitor's starting rotation for the weekend. Nelson's ERA is the third best in the SEC.
Fans can listen to this weekend's action on the Razorback Sports Network from ISP. Chuck Barrett will be in the booth as the network's play-by-play announcer. There will also be an audio stream available at the online home of Razorback athletics, ArkansasRazorbacks.com.