Arkansas welcomes familiar foe for midweek game
FAYETTEVILLE — Annual nearby baseball rivals Arkansas and Missouri State will renew their rivalry tonight at Baum Stadium.
Arkansas topped Missouri State in a
2015 Super Regional that was supposed to be held in Springfield, Mo. The Bears were unable to host the series because of a Double-A baseball game taking place at their stadium.
Missouri State was matched up with Arkansas again in 2017 in the Razorbacks’ first Fayetteville Regional since
2010. The Bears eliminated Arkansas before losing to TCU in Fort Worth in the Super Regional.
Coach Dave Van Horn’s Razorbacks
(27-10, 10-5 Southeastern Conference) are ranked third in the latest Division1. com poll released on Monday. They will face the Bears (22-10, 5-1 Missouri Valley Conference) at 6:30 p.m. on the Razorbacks’ radio network and over internet video on SEC Network+ or ESPN3.
“There’s been some really good games over the years,” Van Horn said before the Razorbacks practiced Monday. “And once you get to postseason, we’ve had some great games. It just seems like every time we play them, it’s a battle.”
A battle with one defector. Nate Thompson, Missouri State coach Keith Guttin’s hitting coach the past three seasons, became Van Horn’s hitting coach and third base coach last summer. Thompson replaced Tony Vitello, who left to become the head coach at Tennessee. He was asked if he would find it strange working against Guttin instead of for him.
“Yeah, a little different, sure,” Thompson said. “But other than that, no. I still have a lot of friends over there, but it’s just another quality baseball game against a quality opponent. Just two really quality programs getting after it and loving to play in front of a passionate fan base.”
Van Horn said it is difficult to play a previous team. He was Nebraska’s coach for the Cornhuskers’ only two trips to the College World Series before returning to coach his alma mater in Fayetteville.
“Especially when you know guys on the team, it makes it a little more difficult,” Van Horn said. “And, obviously, he knows probably just about every player on the team. I think his emotions will be up and down a little bit.
“A lot of times, you feel a little guilty when you leave a team and there’s guys you recruited playing for another team. I think they understand. It was a move for him that was really good for his family. I think he’ll just be professional and go out and do his job and shake a lot of hands and hug a few kids after the game.”
Thompson can provide some input to Arkansas about the Bears he coached and observed. But as Van Horn noted, the two teams already are quite familiar with each other.
Both teams still have to prepare for upcoming conference contests. Arkansas will visit SEC rival Mississippi State (19-18, 5-10) for a weekend series beginning on Friday. The Bears will host MVC rival Illinois State (14-17, 4-5) Friday through Sunday.
Arkansas is scheduled to start fresh-
man right-hander Caleb Bold- en (3-0), who has become the Razorbacks’ regular midweek starter with a 2.81 ERA. Lefty Matt Cronin moved to nine saves with a pair of closings on Saturday as Arkansas shut out South Carolina (20-16, 6-9) in two seven-inning games, but the Hogs should have a totally fresh bullpen available otherwise.
Missouri State is anticipated to start one of two righthanders. Senior Austin Knight (1-0) has a 4.97 ERA and pitched against Arkansas in last year’s Fayetteville Regional. Freshman Logan Wiley (4-3) has an ERA of 5.12.
Three Bears familiar to Arkansas from last year’s regional, sophomore catcher Drew Millas, junior shortstop Jeremy Eierman and junior center fielder Hunter Steinmetz, lead them in hitting at .316, .311 and .302, respectively..
Redshirt senior second baseman Carson Shaddy leads the Razorbacks, batting .368. He also leads the team with nine home runs after hitting two more on Saturday against South Carolina.
Fourth-year junior pitcher Keaton McKinney missed last season with hip and arm injuries and could be done for the season again after pitching just two innings during the Razorbacks’ season-opening series against Bucknell in February.
“Keaton may be not available for a long time,” Van Horn said. “It’s nothing major, but it’s enough to keep him out maybe the rest of the season and get ready for next year.”