Top-Five Matchup To Open SEC Play
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The fifth-ranked Razorback baseball team will open up its 27th season of Southeastern Conference play with a big matchup on Friday as the fourth-ranked Kentucky Wildcats will visit Baum Stadium for a three-game series. First pitch on Friday is set for 6:30 p.m. and will be televised on SEC Network+.
This weekend’s series will mark the first top-five matchup between the two programs since Dave Van Horn became head coach and is the first top-five series Arkansas has had with any team since 2009, when top-ranked Arizona State visited Arkansas for a two-game midweek series. The Razorbacks, at the time, were also ranked No. 1 in a different poll and took both games from the Sun Devils, 7-3 and 8-7.
The Wildcats come to town this week as one of the hottest teams in the conference, winning 10 of their last 12 games, including a series win over then-third-ranked Texas Tech. Kentucky brings in the reigning SEC Pitcher of the Year in Sean Hjelle as their Friday night starter. His four victories are good for tops in the league and his 1.35 ERA is a top-10 total.
Opposing him for the Hogs will be junior Blaine Knight, who has been nothing but stellar for Arkansas on Friday nights. In his four starts, he’s notched three quality outings and only given up two earned runs over 23 innings. His 0.78 ERA is third lowest in the SEC, second among starters, and his 21 strikeouts are good for most on the Arkansas staff.
Arkansas will try to bring a potent lineup to face Hjelle tomorrow, led by freshman Casey Martin, who’s been hitting at a near unconscious pace. Over his last five games, the Lonoke, Arkansas native is hitting .421 with eight RBIs and three home runs. Overall, he’s leading the team with a .417 average with six home runs and 20 RBIs. His batting average is currently third-highest among all SEC players and best among freshmen.
All three games will be available on SEC Network+ and the WatchESPN app with Brett Dolan (PXP) and Troy Eklund (Analyst) calling the action. Phil Elson (PXP) and former Razorback Bubba Carpenter (Analyst) will have the radio call on the IMG Sports Network.
Friday night’s game will also be part of the SEC Network’s Bases Loaded coverage. All Friday night, the SEC Network will whip around to all seven live games as they happen. All games will be shown without interruption on WatchESPN.com and the Watch ESPN app.
Fri, March 16 – Arkansas vs. Kentucky (Game 1) – 6:30 p.m. – LIVE STATS | WATCH
Sat, March 17 – Arkansas vs. Kentucky (Game 2) – 2 p.m. – LIVE STATS | WATCH
Sun, March 18 – Arkansas vs. Kentucky (Game 3) – 1 p.m. – LIVE STATS | WATCH
Game 1: ARK RHP Blaine Knight (0.78 ERA, 3-0, 15 K, 4 BB) vs. UK RHP Sean Hjelle (1.35 ERA, 4-0, 24 K, 4 BB)
Game 2: ARK RHP Isaiah Campbell (2.00 ERA, 1-2, 19 K, 8 BB) vs. UK TBA
Game 3: ARK TBA vs. UK RHP Justin Lewis (4.07 ERA, 3-1, 37 K, 5 BB)
Top-Five Matchup At Baum – Coming off a strong showing in the midweek against Texas, Arkansas is riding a three-game winning streak when it welcomes fourth-ranked Kentucky to Baum Stadium to kick off the 2018 SEC season. Kentucky is in the midst of a 14-3 season under second-year head coach Nick Mingione and has won 10 of its last 12 games, including a series win over No. 3 Texas Tech. This weekend’s series between the Hogs and ‘Cats is the first top-five matchup at Baum Stadium since No. 1 Arizona State visited Arkansas for a two-game midweek series in 2009. This weekend will also mark the first top-15 matchup between the two programs since 2012.
Coming Up Big In a Pinch – When senior infielder Jared Gates went down with an injury midway through Arkansas’ series finale with Kent State, sophomore Jordan McFarland came up clutch with a 2-for-3 performance at the plate and five RBIs, including two home runs, which equaled his entire total from a year ago. His second home run of the game was a grand slam, becoming the first Razorback to hit a grand slam since Chad Spanberger did it in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals last year. McFarland started both games of the Texas series and since then has hit an even .600 with 10 RBIs and five runs scored, the most of any Razorback over that span.
Crushed It – Freshman infielder Casey Martin was named the SEC Freshman of the Week after his huge weekend at the plate against Dayton and USC. The Lonoke, Arkansas native led all Razorback hitters with a .444 average over the five-game span and slugged .474. The freshman has kept it going, starting each of the last 12 games and is leading the team with a .417 average and six home runs. He has hit a home run in each of the last three games and has the third-highest home run total in the conference.
Last Time We Met (Arkansas at Kentucky – 2016) – Arkansas won a huge series when it visited No. 12 Kentucky in 2016. Junior right-hander Dominic Taccolini threw one of the best games of his career in game one, going 10 complete innings and striking out 10 batters without giving up a walk. Chad Spanberger provided the lone home run in the 10th inning to break the scoreless tie and give Arkansas the 1-0 victory. With the series limited to just two days due to weather, the final two games were only seven innings long. The Razorbacks got, yet, another good pitching performance in game two, this time from Zach Jackson, who threw a complete seven innings, striking out a career-high eight in the 2-0 win.
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