FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas doesn’t play again until Friday night, but they won another key SEC series this week at South Carolina.
The Razorbacks are 32-7 overall and 13-5 in the SEC, but maybe more impressive than the record is they are the only team in the conference to have not lost a series this season. It’s not like the Hogs have played cupcakes on the road either traveling to Louisiana Tech outside the SEC, then Mississippi State, Ole Miss and South Carolina in the league. After losing the first game of Friday’s doubleheader at South Carolina, the Hogs bounced back to win 6-1 in the nightcap. Patrick Wicklander pitched seven innings allowing only two hits and then Kevin Kopps worked the final two striking out all six batters he faced.
“First off just a really good job by our pitchers all weekend,” Van Horn said. “For the most part all three games they gave us an opportunity to win. In the first game today Peyton Pallette pitched really well five plus. You take away maybe one walk, two walks, I think the outcome might have been a little bit different. They put together the big inning. We put (Caden) Monke back in and he walked a batter on four pitches and you know we were in trouble a little bit.
“Game two just another great job on the mound. Patrick Wicklander, I mean he goes seven full innings, doesn’t walk a batter, strikes out five and just pitched ahead in the count all night and gave us a chance to kind of chip away and beat a good team and a good pitcher in the most important game of the series. It was a long day. We had a 2-hour break between games. We didn’t have anywhere to go. We just sat in the dugout and the bullpen and South Carolina, they disappeared. And we just toughed it out, man. Just proud of them.”
Wicklander also had a good start against Texas A&M the previous weekend. Van Horn feels his normal Friday night starter has momentum now.
“I mean two great outings in a row,” Van Horn said. “Really three good outings in a row. What was working for him was just that he threw everything for a strike. He didn’t throw a lot of change-ups. He threw a lot of fastballs, worked them in and out, got ahead in the count, elevated some pitches 0-2, 1-2 and got some strikeouts there. Got some fly balls. Got some first-pitch outs and it allowed him to stay in the game and kept Kevin’s pitch count down. I thought Casey (Opitz) called a great game. We didn’t mess with Casey too much. Him and Pat were working great together and we let them roll.”
As impressive as Kopps was in the series opener Thursday night, Friday’s performance might have even topped that.
“Well for all weekend he was amazing but tonight, we had a 4-run lead when we brought him in the eighth,” Van Horn said. “And I even said something to Coach (Matt) Hobbs that maybe we get somebody out there that gets us three outs and then we’ll bring Kevin in in the ninth. Coach Hobbs just looked at me and said, ‘Kevin’s fine.’ And I said, ‘Okay.’ Good call by Coach Hobbs.”
One thing that has helped Wicklander is he’s lowered his walk totals. Van Horn talked about what brought that on.
“I just think he’s repeating his delivery,” Van Horn said. “I mean, his mechanics just seem really good. He’s in control of his body. And he’s throwing strikes. Mechanics and having a good delivery, that’s the key to repeating everything and throwing the ball over that plate. That’s what he’s been doing.”
While Wicklander has looked good in recent starts Friday night’s performance was one of his best in an Arkansas uniform considering all the circumstances. He seemed to keep the South Carolina hitters off-balance all night.
“His fastball was running a lot,” Van Horn said. “It was sinking, as well. And then he would elevate it. And they were swinging. They swing and they swing hard. They don’t get cheated. I don’t know. A lot of movement. We’re off to the side, so we can really only see the up and down for the most part, but it had to be movement for them to swing and miss that many times.”
When the Hogs go to LSU they will have another pitcher available as well. Connor Noland is back though he didn’t pitch in Columbia.
“He hadn’t pitched in a while,” Van Horn said. “He was ready to go, and we were ready to use him. Really, Wicklander just gave us more innings than we thought. We were hoping we’d get seven, six out of him anyway. When he got us seven and we had six outs to go, we thought let’s just go to Kevin. Connor’s time is coming. We’ll throw him against some hitters this week, and he’ll be ready next weekend if we need him.”
Casey Bolden on Thursday then Pallette and Wicklander all gave Van Horn some quality innings as starters thus not having to deplete a tired bullpen coming off short week of rest.
“I feel a lot better about it,” Van Horn said. “I know our whole team feels good about it. I commented to our pitching staff right after the game that we won two out of three because they gave us the opportunity to do that. They came here with a little bit of an edge, and they did a nice job.”
Bolden started Thursday night’s game due to the short week and pitched well while also getting some good relief help from Monke and Kopp as well as Ryan Costeiu.
“What a great job by our pitching staff tonight,” Van Horn said Thursday. “Bolden went out and gave us some quality innings. When he left the game, I thought (Ryan) Costeiu came in and gave us four or five outs. He got into some trouble in his third inning with a walk and then a hit by pitch. Then obviously when Monke came in and got the popup on the sac bunt, at the time the game was tied 1-1, then he got the double play ball a couple pitches later. He only threw five pitches and got three outs.
“We just did a great job on the mound. Especially when you’re starting a guy in Bolden that hadn’t started an SEC game this year. The team was kind of coming in here with a short rest for some of our pitchers and we had to change it up a little bit. The other guys, they responded. The bullpen came through like they’ve been doing most of the season.”
Arkansas will be at LSU this next weekend and the two will play Friday at 6 p.m. and televised on the SEC Network.