Baum-Walker Stadium has a well-deserved reputation as one of the toughest places to play in the country for visiting teams. Over the past three seasons the Razorbacks have gone 30-8, 35-5 and 31-6 on their home field. Pretty impressive but perhaps not so much for Arkansas’ super regional opponent this weekend.
Ole Miss is, in fact, 4-2 against the Hogs in six previous games at Baum-Walker. That would include back-to-back 4-3 and 10-5 wins over the home team this season.
“Typically we play well in Fayetteville,” Rebels senior outfielder Thomas Dillard acknowledged following Ole Miss’ indoor practice on the eve of the super regional. “We like to rise to the occasion. It’s always a series that you hype yourself up for because, you know, there’s going to be ten thousand plus people at every game and you gotta play your best baseball against ’em.”
Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco downplayed his team’s recent success in Fayetteville as it applies to the upcoming series, telling reporters, “I don’t think it plays much into it. The biggest thing is that we’ve played them a lot. Going in it’s not like you’re searching for scouting reports or video. I think both teams have a good idea of what the other team has.”
“They’ve had our number, as you know,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn admitted. “We’ve had a hard time against them. We’re just trying to find a way to get through this weekend. This will be game number six against them in the same year. You get a little worried about tendencies and signs.”
Van Horn is also likely worried about the red hot bats the Rebels displayed in the Oxford Super Regional. Equally concerning is the pitching Ole Miss enjoyed in three straight wins last weekend, giving up a total of just seven runs while scoring 41.
“As hitters we have an advantage because we’ve seen their arms but they’ve seen our arms too,” Arkansas senior first baseman Trevor Ezell stressed. “I think it will come down to who adjusts the best.”
Teammate Casey Opitz, the Hogs sophomore catcher and field general, says it will be his job to make sure Arkansas’ pitchers adjust to the visitor’s lineup which is a threat one through nine in the batting order.
“They got power guys. They got guys hitting for average. They got guys who can run. Hit and run,” Opitz warned. “But it’s fun to call a game against them. Our pitchers, especially the freshmen starters just need to stay hooked up with me. When something goes crazy I just want them looking at me. I will keep them calm because they’ve got the stuff to get past these guys. As long as they stay under control and stay in the moment they’ll be fine.”
Patrick Wicklander will avoid having to face the Rebels’ fearsome battery of hitters if Arkansas wins on Saturday and Sunday. But if a Monday win is needed for the Hogs to advance to the College World Series the freshman left-hander from San Jose, California has a simple game plan to follow: “Limit runs as much as possible. Just stay away from the big inning. Isaiah (Campbell) and Connor, (Noland) we’ve done a good job of that this year for the most part. You got to be locked in each and every pitch, each and every batter. There’s no soft spot in their lineup.”
Arkansas’ Friday afternoon practice was low key with the head coach continuing to stress a theme he’s used since the team returned home from the SEC Tournament.
“I’ve been jabbing them a little bit everyday,” Van Horn explained. “We’ve been practicing midday so, ‘What are you guys doing from 1 pm to whenever you go to bed?’ Some of our guys are out playing putt-putt golf and fishing. Just being kids. It’s a good thing.”
“We’ve been trying to preserve energy this week because it is going to be hopping at Baum no matter what time we play, but personally I’ve just rested all day. Watching movies. Laying around after practice really resting,” sophomore shortstop Casey Martin revealed.
Ezell echoed Van Horn and Martin, telling reporters, “A lot of guys have been playing mini golf. I’ve been fishing whenever I get the chance. I wanted to go fly fishing at War Eagle Creek but now the water is up so high after the rain so that’s out.”
Will Van Horn’s laid back approach produce the same results as last week’s Fayetteville regional? Will Ole Miss’ run of success in Baum-Walker finally come to an end?
‘Well, I look at it like this,”Van Horn answered. “We’re gonna play three games if needed. We just need to play good baseball. It doesn’t matter if it’s Ole Miss or LSU or anybody else in our division. It’s just about playing well.”
Both teams will be up early Saturday morning. First pitch for game one of the Fayetteville Super Regional is set for 11:05 a.m..