Pigs aim to see if bats are on the right track

FAYETTEVILLE – The Arkansas Razorbacks will begin to find out today whether a one-game assault by the bats can have any legs after their icy, offensive start to the season.

No. 6 University Arkansas (5-2) will face Southeast Louisiana (4-5) for the first time today at 3 p.m. after throwing three homers and scoring 12 runs in the two innings gap in a 15-3 rout of Nebraska-Omaha on Wednesday.

Arkansas right-hander Connor Noland (1-0, 2.45 ERA) will face Lions right-hander Will Kinzeler (1-0, 2.45) in the three-game opener at Baum-Walker Stadium.

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The Razorbacks increased their batting average by 29 percentage points to .242 with a 15-hit explosion against the outclassed Mavericks, with homers from Brady Slavens (.286, 2 RBI), Michael Turner (.381, 6 RBI) and Peyton Stovall (.154, 2 RBI) – the first of the year for each.

Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said he hoped the big offensive display jolted the Hogs from their slumber.

“As coaches we knew this was coming,” Van Horn said. “We knew we were in for a big hit. I don’t know if we scored more than one or two runs in an inning this year. Maybe we had once.

“We’ve had a few straight sets where we’ve scored five or six runs, and we feel like we’ve got that type of team. A single couple, a couple take a walk, then bang. And we didn’t have it, but tonight we got it.

The Slavens’ titanic solo home run in the fourth inning tied the game at 2-2 and sparked a five-run inning that seemed to unlock the tightness on the Arkansas bench.

“I think hitting like that is contagious and as soon as he did it you could tell it was a big relief in the dugout,” said Turner, who made it 3-for-3. helped a lot, that’s for sure.”

Both teams had to adjust their starting rotations after losing potential aces: right-hander Peyton Pallette for Arkansas and right-hander Brennan Stuprich, a freshman All-American last season for the Lions.

Stuprich (6-3, 2.31), who underwent Tommy John surgery for a partially torn ligament in October, is on track for an April comeback. Another potential star of the weekend, 6-3 right-hander Grant Upton broke his leg last season and tore an elbow ligament two weeks before the start of this season.

Ninth-year coach Matt Riser said the Lions, who have three NCAA Tournament berths and two Southland Conference titles since 2014, have set their schedule to get them through to the end of the season.

“Obviously we knew we were going to challenge ourselves early with the schedule,” Riser said. “Obviously it’s going to be, having a few tough opponents like Tulane and Louisiana Tech in the middle of the week and then having to come to Arkansas.

“We are always looking for a good, stimulating weekend at the start of the season. For us, we are trying to elevate the program. We have participated in a few regionals, but we would like to be able to win one and access the supers. Then you have a great weekend, win a super regional, and you’re off to Omaha.

Riser said he thinks Arkansas’ offensive approach will lead to more intensive production.

“A lot of discipline at home plate,” he said. “They can hurt you and hurt you in a hurry. They do a really good job with zone discipline, so we know we have to get them out in the zone. We are aware of this. If they hurt you, make sure they hurt you with no one on base, not with three or four steps, that sort of thing.

“Offense has strength and power in there. … I know they threw balls there yesterday. Still traditionally a very good attack. The batting average is sometimes a little misleading. We know they will have a good plan.

Noland had a shaky first inning of a no-decision against Illinois State in the season opener, but he tamed Indiana last Friday with 10 strikeouts and just 1 earned run on 5 hits and 2 walks in 6 innings.

Kinzeler allowed 2 hits in 6 innings in a 1-0 win over SIU-Edwardsville in Game 1 of the season, then allowed 3 runs on 8 and 2 walks in 5 innings without a decision at Alabama-Birmingham .

“He’s a physical right-hander,” Riser said. “A guy who got off to a really good start last year as a proper freshman and in all honesty just ran out of juice.

“He’s done a really good job this summer of getting his body more physical and gaining 15-20 pounds. His speed has increased a bit, but more importantly, his durability has increased for him.

Riser said Kinzeler has the potential to be the kind of Friday night starter who can dive deep into games and land the occasional full game.

“He’s going to be a fastball command guy,” Riser said. “Nothing crazy with velocity, 88 to 90 [mph], but can go where he wants with it and he has multiple throws for strikes. Anytime you get into college baseball and a guy throws his fastball into the zone and can throw multiple off-speed pitches for strikes, you have the chance to wreak havoc on some hitters.

Turner leads the Arkansas regulars at .381, followed by Robert Moore (.360, 1 HR, 8 RBI), Zack Gregory (.316, 1 HR, 8 runs) and Cayden Wallace (.310, 3 RBI). Jalen Battles (.269, 5 RBI) holds the team home run lead with two.

The Lions, who are hitting just .206, are coming off an odd midweek set in which they lost 23-1 at home to Tulane and then beat Louisiana Tech 4-3 at home behind 6 hits.

Southeast Louisiana has 4 regulars at .290 or better in second baseman Rhett Rosevear (.321, 1 HR, 3 RBI), designated hitter Bryce Grizzaffi (.296, 3 RBI), stop -short Evan Keller (.294, 5 RBI) and first baseman Preston Faulkner (.290, 5 RBI), and the others are .167 or less.

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