To celebrate the Hogs’ ascension to the Sweet 16, buy a one month subscription to HawgBeat and get six months free! Use code HawgSweet16 (Promo lasts until tipoff!)
HawgBeat’s coverage of the Diamond Hogs’ Road to Omaha is brought to you by CJ’s Butcher Boy Burgers, which has locations in Fayetteville and Russellville.
Arkansas hits the road in SEC play for the first time this weekend, traveling to Starkville, Miss., to face Mississippi State. Here’s everything you need to know about the three-game series…
Friday, March 26 – 6:30 p.m. CT (SECN+)
Saturday, March 27 – 2 p.m. CT (SECN+)
Sunday, March 28 – 2 p.m. CT (SECN)
The first two games of the series will only be streamed on SEC Network-Plus, meaning they can be watched online on ESPN3.com or on the ESPN app with a cable provider’s log-in credentials.
Sunday’s matchup will be nationally televised on the SEC Network.
When Arkansas and Mississippi State hit the field Friday night, they’ll do so in beautiful conditions. Temperatures are expected to be in the 60s all game with only a slight breeze, according to The Weather Channel.
The weather could make more of an impact the next two days. A strong southerly wind will eventually bring scattered thunderstorms into Starkville, Miss., in the late afternoon or early evening. They’ll remain in the area through Sunday morning.
Arkansas’ Starting Rotation (2021 stats)
Friday – Jr. LHP Patrick Wicklander (5 games/1 start, 0-0, 2.51 ERA, 14 K/4 BB, 14 1/3 IP)
Saturday – Sr. RHP Zebulon Vermillion (5 games/4 starts, 2-0, 2.13 ERA, 12 K/11 BB, 25 1/3 IP)
Sunday – Sr. LHP Lael Lockhart (5 games/5 starts, 1-1, 2.38 ERA, 31 K/9 BB, 22 2/3 IP)
After a stellar outing in relief against Alabama last week, Wicklander will be the third different pitcher to get a crack at being Arkansas’ No. 1 starter this season.
In a game the Razorbacks gave up 16 runs, the left-hander managed to limit the Crimson Tide to only one run on three hits while striking out six in 5 1/3 innings. He had struggled in his previous two outings, including a midweek start against Oklahoma, but head coach Dave Van Horn liked what he saw from him enough to give him the Friday start at Mississippi State.
“He has experience,” Van Horn said. “It’s not like he hasn’t pitched in regionals, super regionals, conference games, on the road, at home. If he can give us four quality innings, that’d be great. Anything over that would be even better. … Just go out and compete hard and do what he did against Alabama and good things will happen.”
There were no surprises for Saturday and Sunday, as Vermillion has put together back-to-back 8-inning, 1-run starts and Lockhart has been steady in his Game 3 role.
As for the previous Friday starter, right-hander Peyton Pallette will shift into the bullpen. He had a disastrous day against Alabama, but Van Horn got him back on the mound against Memphis to get that performance fully out of his system.
He still figures into Arkansas’ plans this weekend, as he is holding opponents to a .181 batting average and averaging 14.9 strikeouts per nine innings.
“We have confidence in him, obviously,” Van Horn said. “If Wicklander gives us X amount of innings, then it might be Pallette. It depends on how many innings we go and what the score is, but he’ll be a big part of that bullpen this weekend.”
In the Polls
This is arguably the biggest series of the weekend in college baseball, as Arkansas and Mississippi State are considered two of the best teams in the sport.
Although Baseball America kept them at No. 1, the Razorbacks slipped to No. 2 in the Rivals Composite Poll after going 2-2 last week. The Bulldogs held steady at No. 3 in the Composite, but are No. 2 in three of the six individual major college baseball polls.
Scouting the Opponent
Record: 17-4 (2-1 SEC)
Head coach: Chris Lemonis (3rd season)
Series history: Bulldogs lead 56-46
Mississippi State’s starting rotation (2021 stats)
Friday – Jr. LHP Christian MacLeod (5 games/5 starts, 2-1, 1.74 ERA, 37 K/8 BB, 20 2/3 IP)
Saturday – So. RHP Will Bednar (4 games/2 starts, 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 21 K/1 BB, 12 IP)
Sunday – Fr. RHP Jackson Fristoe (5 games/4 starts, 2-1, 1.71 ERA, 28 K/8 BB, 21 IP)
The numbers put up so far in 2021 by the Bulldogs’ starters this weekend are pretty incredible. The trio of pitchers have a combined 1.34 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and average 14.4 strikeouts per nine innings while holding opponents to a minuscule .176 batting average.
MacLeod is the clear ace and a potential first-round pick in the upcoming MLB Draft, but Bednar isn’t too far behind him. In fact, they are No. 40 and No. 41 on MLB Pipeline’s list of the top 100 draft prospects.
Bednar doesn’t have as many innings as the others because he’s been slowly working his way back from a neck injury. He returned to the weekend rotation last weekend against LSU and threw five scoreless innings.
The third spot in Mississippi State’s rotation has changed since last week. Junior Eric Cerantola is a big, 6-foot-5 right-hander who checks in at No. 50 on MLB Pipeline’s top prospects list, but he has struggled his command so far this year.
After failing to get out of the second inning last week at LSU and seeing his ERA balloon to 7.71, the Bulldogs are giving Fristoe, their stud freshman, another opportunity. The No. 87 overall recruit in the Class of 2020, according to Perfect Game, he shined while filling in for Bednar.
It’s worth noting, though, that when teams have hit those three starters, it’s been hard. Of the 33 hits they’ve allowed, 13 of them have gone for extra bases – including seven home runs.
At the plate, only three of Mississippi State’s regulars are hitting .300 and all of them have a batting average north of .320, with right fielder Tanner Allen leading the way at .329.
The others are shortstop Lane Forsythe (.323) and third baseman Kamren James (.321). James also has four home runs, which is second on the team behind designated hitter Luke Hancock (.277, 5 HR). James, Hancock and Allen are tied for the team lead with 21 RBIs apiece.
Even though his batting average isn’t very high, Hancock finds his way on base at a .455 clip thanks to team-high 21 walks. He does that while also very rarely striking out, as he’s the third-toughest player to strike out in the SEC with only five in 65 at bats.
“Statistically their pitching staff is as good as anybody in the country,” Van Horn said. “Maybe the deepest in the country. Offensively, they’ve got a really good lineup (with) a lot of left-handed hitters.
“They just keep coming at you. If they get ahead of you, they’ve got a couple of guys in the bullpen who can come in and they usually get it done. We know what we’re headed into.”
Stat of the Week
Arkansas’ pitchers got smacked around pretty hard in last Friday’s 16-1 loss, as Alabama pounded out 15 hits and batted .366 as a team. However, the staff bounced back in a big way.
In two more games against the Crimson Tide and two midweek games against Memphis, the Razorbacks allowed only seven total runs on 13 hits in 118 at bats. That works out to an opponents batting average of just .110.
BONUS STAT: The last four times Arkansas and Mississippi State have played, the home team has swept the series. The Razorbacks swept the Bulldogs at Baum-Walker Stadium in 2016 and 2018, but the Bulldogs swept the Razorbacks at Dudy Noble Field in 2017 and 2019.