Arkansas. Ole Miss.
The Hill. The Grove.
Two storied programs will go at it in Baum Stadium this weekend to determine a spot in the College World Series. These SEC West foes are all too familiar with each other. The Rebels first baseman Cole Zabowski even admitted, “I feel like we know their middle names by now.” He’s not wrong. The Fayetteville super regional has seen the same matchup already five times this season, with three games on Arkansas’ dirt and the other two in Hoover, Alabama for the SEC tournament.
Ole Miss has had the upper hand so far this year, winning three of the five matchups. Mike Bianco and his club took the regular season series by taking two of three from Arkansas, which made history. A visiting team had not won a series over the Hogs since 2017, which just so happened to also be the Rebels. Ole Miss has been a thorn in the side of the Razorbacks not only in 2019, but also dating back to 2016. Since that year, the Rebels have won 10 of 14 against Arkansas. The only other team that can say the same is LSU, who have also taken 10 of the last 14 versus the Hogs.
Having dug through the last 14 matchups between these ballclubs, it all goes down the drain if Arkansas can buck the trend and win the super regional. Those five games mean nothing to Ole Miss if they are not able to advance their season for another week. Overconfidence could play a factor for the visitors, and could benefit the Hogs.
Comparing the overall team stats of these two clubs, it is evident Arkansas DOMINATES. And, it’s not really close. The Omahogs have the edge in RPI, batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, home runs, runs/game, ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts/9 innings. Need I go on?
The last time Ole Miss made a super regional was back in 2014 where they traveled to Lafayette, Louisiana to take on the Ragin’ Cajuns. After dropping the first game in a best-of-three series, the Rebels stormed back to win two consecutive games and punch their ticket to Omaha for the first time since 1972.
Offensively, Ole Miss is led by leadoff man Thomas Dillard. The 5th round draft pick by the Milwaukee Brewers leads the team with a .541 slugging percentage. He also has a batting average of .312 to go along with 13 home runs and 60 RBI’s. He has also walked a remarkable 58 times, leading to 14 stolen bases in 17 attempts.
The scariest arm on the pitching staff is the day 2 starter. He leads the Rebels in wins and strikeouts. Doug Nikhazy, ladies and gentlemen, is a gamer. Oh, and did I mention he’s a freshman? Dave Van Horn even svoted for Nikhazy as his SEC freshman pitcher of the year selection. Even though he didn’t win the award, it tells you the amount of respect that arguably the best coach in college baseball has for the young lefty.
On Saturday, Isaiah Campbell will take on Will Ethridge. The junior righty started 15 games, compiling a 7-6 record with a 2.91 ERA to go along with 71 strikeouts and 22 walks in 89 2/3 innings pitched.
When the two teams met on March 29th earlier this year, Ethridge only lasted five innings, allowing seven hits, five runs, two walks, while striking out four.
Isaiah went seven innings, allowing only two runs on four hits and walking two batsmen.
It is unclear who Dave Van Horn will turn to in game 2 of the super regional. Connor Noland has been arguably the most dominant Razorback pitcher in the last month, only allowing three earned runs in 20 innings. Patrick Wicklander hasn’t been quite as sharp, but has still been efficient. In his last start against TCU in the regional victory, Wicklander went five innings, allowing no earned runs while striking out seven and walking one. The California native is used to pitching in the second game of the series, but Noland has had the hot hand and could sneak into the Sunday matchup. Don’t be surprised if DVH flips those two guys in the rotation.
Just like last years all SEC super regional in Fayetteville, I predict Arkansas to win game 1, drop game 2, but ultimately win the series in the third game. I am very confident Isaiah will carry Arkansas to a series lead, but I would give Ole Miss’ day 2 starter the upper hand. Game 3 could be a tossup, depending on who is on the mound for the Razorbacks.
Game 1: Hogs
Game 2: Rebs
Game 3: Hogs
I believe Arkansas will go to Omaha for the second straight year with revenge on their minds.
I will be SHOCKED if this series doesn’t last until Monday.
These are two dangerous and even ballclubs, but postseason experience and the coaching staff gives Arkansas the advantage for me in this one.
Who’s ready to play ball?