By Otis Kirk
Freshman right-handed pitcher Connor Noland had a big outing against Mississippi State on Saturday allowing the Hogs to complete the sweep of the then No. 2 Bulldogs.
Noland, who had struggled the previous week in SEC play not even recording an out against Vanderbilt, worked a career-long 7.2 innings against the Bulldogs allowing four hits, striking out five and walking none. He also picked up the win on Tuesday against UAPB when he went two innings.
For his week on the mound, Noland was named the SEC Co-Freshman of the Week. Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn was asked on Monday if the start on Saturday can get Noland back on track.
“Well, it was big for him, No. 1, to go out there and do that,” Van Horn said. “He had a really good slider going and he was spotting his fastball up. I just thought he did a tremendous job.”
Noland, as one would expect, took the honor in stride in his own humble way.
In 12 appearances this season, Noland has a record of 2-2 with an earned run average of 4.60. In 43 innings, Noland has allowed 45 hits, 25 runs (22 earned), 10 walks, 29 strikeouts and allowed five home runs.
This followed up a football season that saw Noland play in four games with the lone start against Tulsa. By only playing in the four games Noland preserved his freshman season using 2018 as a redshirt.
In the four games, Noland completed 21 of 42 passes for 255 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He also rushed 26 times. In the Tulsa game which the Razorbacks won 23-0, Noland completed 10 of 16 passes for 124 yards, a touchdown and interception. He also carried five times for 20 yards with a long run of 10 yards.
Noland was extremely limited during spring football devoting the majority of his time to baseball. Some have speculated him splitting the two sports this spring has hampered his growth in baseball. Van Horn feels the mental aspect of Noland’s game is one of his strengths.
“I’ve said all along that he’s mature for being a freshman college,” Van Horn said. “His mental makeup is advanced over some kids his age — maybe a lot — that we coach. It’s one reason why liked him right when he got in here and started working with us. We felt like he’d have a chance to pitch on the weekend, because of the mental part of it. Physically, he’s already there. Now he just needs experience. But you did see the mature part of him come out this whole week leading up today, and he got rewarded for it.”
Noland just takes it all in stride and is enjoying the baseball season particularly after this past week.
“It’s been a good week,” Noland said. “I got my first win on Tuesday. That was just a feel-good moment and then to come out today and get another win, it’s a big deal for me and my confidence. It was a great win against a great team and shoutout to my infield and outfield that played well.”
But the question still hangs in the air what should Noland do in the future? The general consensus from many observers seems to be he should stop playing football and concentrate on baseball. One argument used by many is it will be hard to reach his maximum ability in football or baseball by splitting the two sports.
There’s probably truth to that, but also remember Noland led the Bulldogs to state championships in both football and baseball as a senior at Greenwood. He not only played both sports, but he thrived in each of them. Granted high school sports isn’t the same as SEC, but the truth is Noland is used to doubling up the two.
Noland was asked after his first spring practice how he was handling the dual-sport stuff?
“I’m doing good,” Noland said. “I mean, I’ve been doing this since I was a freshman in high school, so I’ve had the experience and I’m just kind of feeling it out right now.”
That leads back to the same question. What should Noland do in the future? The answer is simple. He should do what he wants to do. He has earned the right to play both sports if that is what he chooses to do as long as Van Horn and Chad Morris are fine with it.
Noland helped hold Morris’ first recruiting class together when Bret Bielema was fired. Noland and linebacker Bumper Pool worked the recruits to try and keep them committed to Arkansas.
Noland is living his dream now wearing a Razorback uniform…football and baseball. As long as he wants to put in the time to do both that is exactly what he should do. Once again, he has earned that right.