Razorbacks Look for Fourth Straight SEC Series Win
The Arkansas Razorbacks are playing their best baseball of the season and welcome an equally talented Alabama Crimson Tide squad to town for a crucial three-game set that could set the tone for the Southeastern Conference Western Division down the stretch.
Arkansas (27-18, 9-11 SEC) has won three straight and five of its last six games, not to mention three consecutive SEC series. Arkansas’ current streak of conference series wins began on April 11 when it won at #25 Florida. Taking two of three from the Gators, the Hogs then upset #30 Tennessee at Baum Stadium two times before sweeping #21 Ole Miss on a Saturday doubleheader in Oxford. Alabama (26-21, 10-11 SEC) has won its last two series with victories against Auburn last weekend and Mississippi State prior to that.
While Arkansas has been the beneficiary of solid starting pitching, its the Razorback bats that have come through over the past three games. The Hogs have put up double-digit scores in each of their last three games including both games of its doubleheader at Ole Miss. This kind of offensive output has not been seen by Arkansas fans since early March when the Razorbacks beat up South Dakota State and Siena.
For his part in the series win at Ole Miss, Logan Forsythe was named the SEC Hitter of the Week. Forsythe as well as the rest of the Razorback order must continue to swing the bats effectively against a solid pitching staff if the Hogs are to remain in the hunt for the SEC Western Division Title. Currently, Arkansas is 1.5 games behind Ole Miss for the Western Division lead, and just .5 behind Alabama for second in the division.
The Alabama series can be heard on the Razorback Baseball Radio Network with Chuck Barrett handling the play-by-play duties on Friday night. The audio can also be heard over the internet inside the RazorZone at Hogwired.com. Live stats are also available on Hogwired.com.
Leading Off …
• Logan Forsythe was nearly unstoppable in the Ole Miss series going 7-11 (.636) with a double, three home runs and a sacrifice fly. He scored five runs and drive in eight over the three games. His home run total for the weekend tripled his season output and his RBI nearly doubled.
• Forsythe’s smashing weekend earned him SEC Hitter of the Week honors.
• Tim Smalling’s Ole Miss series was nearly as good as Forsythe’s as the utility infielder had five hits in 15 at-bats including four home runs. Three of the blasts came in game two of the series (Arkansas’ first win) and he drove in six of the Razorbacks 13 runs in the game.
• Cliff Springston pitched Arkansas’ first nine-inning complete game of the year in the Ole Miss finale allowing four runs on 11 hits. The Hogs dropped 12 runs on the Rebels giving Springston run support he hasn’t had in some time.
• Chase Leavitt is currently on a season best nine-game hitting streak. During the nine games Leavitt is 16-30 with 14 runs scored and six RBI.
• Catcher Ryan Cisterna put together his first three-game hitting streak in the Florida series and extended that to nine games. Cisterna was outstanding in the Tennessee series, hitting .455 over the three games with five hits in 11 at bats, three home runs and five RBI. Cisterna’s hitting streak is active.
• Arkansas’ starting pitching continued to look solid in the Ole Miss Series. Springston threw his first complete game late Saturday and overall the three Razorback starters ate up 21.1 of 28 innings played, gave up 18 runs and struck out 19.
• Shortstop Scott Lyons has been up and down at the plate this season, but knocked out four hits in Arkansas’ latest win over Missouri State. Lyons was on base all five times he came to the plate with a double and three singles. He is the first Hog since Casey Coon (March 21) to have four hits in a game.
• Stephen Richards was a workhorse out of the bullpen in the Tennessee series, throwing 5.1 innings over two days. He picked up the win in Friday’s game by throwing 2.2 innings of relief for Dallas Keuchel and was saddled with the loss in the 10th inning on Sunday afternoon.
• Richards picked up a career best six strikeouts in his 2.2 innings of work against Tennessee on Friday night and even worked out of a tough jam in the final inning.
• The combination of Travis Hill and Evan Cox combined for Arkansas’ first shut out of the season on Tuesday, March 25, against Centenary. The tandem threw nine innings of two-hit baseball and became the first pair to throw a two-hitter since the 2006 season.
• Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn was named to the College Baseball Foundation’s National All-Star Lineup on March 25 for coaching the Razorbacks to his 800th win as a head coach.
• Arkansas came back from a nine-run deficit at LSU exactly one week from giving up a nine-run lead. In the game, Arkansas allowed nine runs in the first three innings, but persevered to score 14 of its own to out-slug LSU 14-13 in 10 innings. Sophomore Tim Smalling ended the game on a solo home run in the 10th inning.
• Justin Wells was the key to Arkansas’ come-from-behind win at LSU as he pitched 7.1 innings of relief. Struggling at first, Wells allowed five runs in his first two innings of work but settled in after the fifth inning and conceded just two base runners giving the Razorbacks a chance to score six unanswered runs and win the game.
• Aaron Murphree was on a home run tear never seen at the University of Arkansas. The senior from Brock, Texas, hit 12 home runs in the first 14 games of the season, including 10 in the final eight of that stretch. He has three multiple home run games after blasting three vs. Siena on March 7.
• Murphree was named the Collegiate Baseball National Hitter of the Week on Monday, March 10 as well as the SEC Player of the Week and the Pro-Line Athletic National Hitter of the Week.
• Arkansas’ 12 runs in the seventh inning vs. Siena on Saturday, March 8, tied the school record set in the sixth inning vs. Oral Roberts on April 20, 1993.
• Logan Forsythe and Casey Coon are on the Brooks Wallace Award watch list, which goes to the top player in college baseball.
• Shaun Seibert, who injured his right elbow against Kansas last season returned to the mound for the Hogs on Saturday, Feb. 23. The junior right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery on March 22, 2007, and returned to the hill on Feb. 23, 2008, just 11 months off surgery.
• Forsythe is on the Golden Spikes Award watch list.
• Forsythe is ranked as the No. 43 pro prospect by Baseball America in their top 100 college prospects list.
• Forsythe was also selected first-team pre-season All-SEC by SEBaseball.com. Coon garnered second-team honors in the outfield. SEBaseball.com also tabbed Forsythe and Coon as the third-best 1-2 offensive punch in the SEC.
• Arkansas was picked to finish third in the SEC’s Western Division league coaches and fifth by Baseball America.
• Baseball America also tabbed Forsythe as the best defensive third baseman in the Southeastern Conference.
• Freshman Brett Eibner was the seventh-highest drafted player to come to school after being taken in the fourth round by the Houston Astros (No. 141 overall).
• Arkansas boasts seven players on the 2008 roster who have previously been drafted. Six of those players are new to the Arkansas lineup.
Scouting the Crimson Tide Looking at the numbers, one might give the offensive lead to Alabama while the pitching advantage would go to Arkansas. Those factors make Arkansas and Alabama evenly matched as they face off this weekend at Baum Stadium.
Alabama has an above average offensive attack with a .305 team batting average and more than seven runs scored per game. The Crimson TIde have hit 56 home runs on the year and driven in 297 runs.
Individually, Josh Rutledge is the bigger bat with a .391 average in 45 games this season. Mainly a singles hitter, Rutledge has only eight extra base hits. Brandon May is one of the Crimson Tide’s best all-around hitters as he is second on the team in average (.350) and has decent power with six home runs and 12 doubles.
Alabama could be vulnerable on the pitchers mound as their staff ERA is 4.70. The Crimson Tide has been victimized by the big inning this season and if the Razorbacks can get into the Alabama bullpen, they could score a lot of runs as only two pitchers on the Crimson Tide staff have and ERA below 2.00.
The All-Time Series
Alabama has been the aggressor in the all-time series with the Razorbacks, holding a 33-20 advantage. The two schools have traded wins over the past year, but the last time Alabama came to Fayetteville, Arkansas broke the Crimson Tide with a series sweep in 2006. The two squads have met four times since then with Alabama winning the first and third meetings and Arkansas taking the second and fourth.
A Look at the Razorbacks’ Rotation
Friday – Dallas Keuchel, LHP (3-2, 4.17 ERA) – One of few veterans on the Razorback staff, Dallas Keuchel makes his eighth start of the season against Alabama. Keuchel has been a workhorse for the Razorbacks and made all his starts in the past month. He has looked very good since SEC play started despite hitting a rough patch at Mississippi in his last start. Keuchel threw Arkansas’ first complete game of the season when he went eight innings at LSU, allowing four runs on seven hits.
Saturday – Justin Wells, RHP (3-0, 4.97 ERA) – Junior Justin Wells is in his first year with the Razorbacks and the righty has shown considerable improvement since the fall. An Arkansas product, Wells hails from Bryant and went to Texarkana College for two seasons before transferring to UA. Since giving up five runs to LSU on March 22, Wells found his groove and gave up just five earned run over the next 18 innings. His last outing was Saturday against Mississippi where he threw six innings and gave up five runs on five hits.
Sunday – Cliff Springston, LHP (5-2, 3.74 ERA) – Cliff Springston, a transfer from Baylor, gets the start for the Hogs on Sunday afternoon. Springston is 5-2 on the year with a 3.74 ERA and 51 strikeouts against just 20 walks. He has held opponents to a .274 batting average over 65.0 innings. The southpaw features a low-90s fastball, a quality change up and a curveball. He pitched a compete game in his last start against Mississippi, allowing four runs on 11 hits.
Van Horn Gets 800
Arkansas’ comeback against LSU on Saturday, March 22 was an amazing accomplishment and anyone in attendance could attest to that. What made the win even more special for the Razorbacks head man was that it was his 800th career victory as a head coach. Van Horn made the milestone win in his 21st season and for the effort was recently named to the College Baseball Foundation’s National All-Start Lineup for the week that was March 25.
Lets Play Extras
With its 10-inning game against Ole Miss over the weekend, Arkansas played in its eighth extra-inning game of the season. While none of the contests have exceeded 12 innings, the extra baseball is the equivalent to at least one more game on the Razorback schedule. The last time Arkansas played in that many extra-inning contests was 2003 and no team has exceeded that many games dating back to the 1980 season.
Injury Bug Bites Diamond Hogs
The Diamond Hogs have been bit by the injury bug throughout the spring. Arkansas has seen numerous position players ailing and have lost one promising freshman left-handed pitcher for the season.
All told, Arkansas players have missed more than 100 games this season to injuries ranging from hamstring pulls to broken hands.
Logan Forsythe missed several games to a hamstring injury and upon his return has hit the ball very well.
Andy Wilkins tweaked an oblique muscle in the Auburn series and is day-to-day.
Wayne Hrozek suffered the most serious injury in College Station when he was hit in the left hand by Ohio State reliever Alex Wimmers. The pitch broke his hand and will have him on the bench for 6-8 weeks. Hrozek has recently had his cast removed and his status for the rest of the season will be determined by how he can recover over the next week.
Ryan Cisterna was leveled on a play at the plate at Vanderbilt and came away with his arm in a sling. Cisterna took several days off from competition, but returned to the lineup one week later when he started the Saturday game with Auburn.
True freshman left-hander Drew Smyly was lost for the season with fractured left elbow. The Little Rock Central product will have screws inserted in the coming weeks and will be ready for 2009.
Sean Jones, who was penciled in to start in center field for the Razorbacks, was hit by a pitch in the left hand in early February and made his first return to the lineup against Vanderbilt and not a moment too soon.
Forsythe Named SEC Hitter of the Week
Forsythe went 7-11 on the weekend for a stunning .636 average with three home runs, five runs scored and eight RBI to lead the Hogs to a doubleheader sweep and series victory in Oxford, its first series win against the Rebels since 2002. His three home runs and double gave the Memphis, Tenn., native a 1.545 slugging percentage for the three games and three walks contributed to a .688 on-base percentage. All totaled, Forsythe was on base in 10 of 15 at bats over three games.
While each of Forsythe’s plate appearances was important, none were more clutch than his sixth-inning three-run home run in the Saturday nightcap which proved to be the game-winning hit. The shot over the left-center field wall gave Arkansas a 6-0 lead, one that Arkansas pitcher Cliff Springston would not surrender and clinched the series.
Larry Shank to be Honored on Sunday
Arkansas will honor the late Larry Shank, long time public address announcer at Baum Stadium, before the Arkansas-Alabama baseball game on Sunday, May 4. Festivities for the game include a pre-game ceremony with the Shank family as well as a giveaway item at the gates for the first 1,000 fans.
The pre-game ceremony with the Shank family will feature the naming of the PA Booth on the press box level of Baum Stadium in honor of Shank. UA will also unveil a commemorative display featuring pictures and items of Shank from his 18 seasons as the “Voice of Razorback Baseball.”
In addition to the pre-game ceremonies, the first 1,000 fans through the gates will receive a free mini-bat commemorating the day and featuring Shank’s image and his famous phrase he always used at the end of the 7th Inning Stretch, “This is Baseball!”
In addition to Sunday’s festivities for Larry Shank, it will also be Buffalo Wild Wings Glass Day at Baum Stadium. The first 1,500 fans through the gates will receive a free 16 oz. glass.
Friday and Saturday’s games also feature some great promotions at Baum Stadium. On Friday night, Pagnozzi Charities will hand out 1,000 t-shirts to fans coming through the gates. The t-shirts are co-sponsored by adidas and Coca-Cola. During the game, a ticket stub drawing will take place for one lucky fan to win a trip for two to Seaside, Calif., in the American Airlines/Holiday Inn Pack Your Bags and Go promotion. Game time is set for 6:35 p.m.
On Saturday, the first 1,500 fans will receive a Razorback baseball lapel pin courtesy of the Arkansas Alumni Association. Game time is set for 2:05 p.m. Following the game, Pagnozzi Charities will have the annual Razorback Baseball and Diamond Doll Alumni Softball Game.
Forsythe Named to Golden Spikes Watch List
Arkansas junior third baseman Logan Forsythe was named to USA Baseball’s pre-season Golden Spikes Award Watch. The release of the watch list marks USA Baseball’s first step toward identifying the top player in college baseball.
The Golden Spikes Watch List features 75 of the nation’s top collegiate players that were nominated by baseball sports information directors across the country.
Wilkins Earns SEC Freshman of the Week Honors
It didn’t take freshman Andy Wilkins long to make a name for himself in the SEC. The Broken Arrow, Okla., product garnered SEC Freshman of the Week honors following the season-opening weekend.
Wilkins hit .455 in three starts (one at first base and two at DH) against Wright State with a home run and six RBI. He also delivered two game-winning hits with a three-run home run that propelled the Hogs to victory in the opener on Friday and a two-RBI single to give UA the win on Sunday.
Wilkins is currently hitting .371 on the season with six home runs and 23 RBI in 16 games. He is hitting .370 with runners in scoring position with four doubles and 15 runs scored. He is reaching base at a .474 clip with a .742 slugging percentage.
Arkansas has had a key player on the USA National Team in each of the past two summers. Nick Schmidt was one of the American’s top starting pitchers with a 3-1 record and a 1.31 ERA in 2006 and Logan Forsythe was one of the top hitters last year with a .309 average in 28 starts.
Coming through with the game-winning base hit is not an easy thing to do. Here we track the Razorback players that come through in the clutch this season. In 2008, senior Aaron Murphree leads the way with six game-winning hits, freshmen Andy Wilkins picked up his third against Centenary and Brett Eibner joined him with three with the Saturday winner against Tennessee. Ben Tschepikow, Ryan Cisterna and Jeff Nutt have two. Tim Smalling Logan Forsythe, Chase Leavitt, Casey Coon and Andrew Darr have one each.
Date Opponent Player Result (Inning)
2/22 Wright St. Wilkins HR, 3 RBI (4th)
2/23 Wright St. Murphree HR, 2 RBI (6th)
2/24 Wright St. Wilkins 1B, 2 RBI (7th)
2/27 Kansas Eibner 1B, 2 RBI (6th)
2/29 vs. La. Tech *Murphree HR, 2 RBI (9th)
3/2 vs. Ohio State Murphree HR, 2 RBI (5th)
3/5 S. Dakota St. (1) Tschepikow 1B, 2 RBI (2nd)
3/5 S. Dakota St. (2) Murphree HR, 3 RBI (1st)
3/7 Siena Murphree HR, 2 RBI (1st)
3/9 Siena Murphree HR, 3 RBI (1st)
3/14 Georgia Eibner HR (5th)
3/19 #22 Nebraska Cisterna HR, 2 RBI (8th)
3/21 LSU Smalling HR (10th)
Date Opponent Player Result (Inning)
3/25 Centenary Wilkins HR, 2 RBI (1st)
4/5 Auburn Forsythe 1B, 1 RBI (8th)
4/11 #25 Florida Nutt HR, 1 RBI (8th)
4/16 Alcorn State Darr HR, 2 RBI (2nd)
4/18 #30 Tennessee Cisterna HR, 2 RBI (7th)
4/19 #30 Tennessee Eibner 1B, RBI (10th)
4/22 N. Colorado Leavitt 1B, RBI (4th)
4/23 N. Colorado Coon 1B 2 RBI (3rd)
4/26 #21 Mississippi Tschepikow 1B, RBI (10th)
4/26 #21 Mississippi Forsythe HR, 3 RBI (6th)
4/30 Missouri St. Coon HR, 2 RBI (4th)
* indicates walk-off
Hogs Lead Country in Actual Attendance – Again
The NCAA and Southeastern Conference recognize paid attendance as their method of ranking attendance, but Arkansas keeps both an actual attendance and paid attendance. After 29 games at Baum Stadium in 2007 (not including the NCAA Regional) the Hogs led the way once again. The Razorbacks sold 233,350 tickets for an average of 8,047 per game. UA is averaging 5,700 fans per game in actual attendance with a school record 165,298 fans passing through the gates this season.
In 2006, Arkansas set school records in both tickets sold and attendance over 29 games at Baum Stadium, including the NCAA Regional. The Razorbacks sold 206,352 tickets for a 7,116 average (the average is second all time). A record 164,608 fans passed through the gates in actual attendance for an average of 5,676.
In 2005, the Hogs also set a then-school record in actual attendance with 146,902 fans showing up at Baum Stadium. That averages out to 5,247 fans per game and is believed to have led the country.
Baum Stadium is underwent its third expansion since prior to the 2003 season with the addition of 20 luxury suites, over 1,500 chair back seats and an expanded Hog Pen in 2007. Baum Stadium will now features 34 luxury suites, 8,237 chair back seats and a capacity of 10,737 with additional standing room only available.
In an informal survey by the Baton Rouge (La.) Advocate, Arkansas led all SEC schools in actual attendance in 2005 and 2006. Below is a breakdown of both paid and actual attendance at Baum Stadium over the past four seasons.
Year Tickets Sold Actual Attendance
2007 266,270 (8,069) 198,218 (6,007)
2006 206,352 (7,116) 164,608 (5,676)
2005 200,378 (7,156) 146,902 (5,247)
2004 188,753 (4,840) 146,007 (3,743)
2003 100,372 (3,585) 60,510 (2,161)