Arkansas’ baseball team will try to keep its best stretch of the season going this weekend when it welcomes Kentucky to Baum Stadium.
The Razorbacks (18-15, 5-7) – winners of four of their last five games and seven of 10 - will host the Wildcats (18-13, 4-7) Friday night at 6:35 p.m., Saturday at 6:05 p.m. and Sunday at 12:05 p.m.
“Big series for us, “Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn. “We need to keep our winning ways and take care of our home games.”
The Razorbacks have moved themselves back on the national radar and were tabbed as a No. 3 seed in D1Baseball.com’s mock projections for the NCAA Tournament earlier this week.
Arkansas pitcher Trey Killian said his teammates took notice of that.
“That's a good feeling,” Killian said. “We try not to pay too much attention to that stuff because we are going to try to take it game by game, but for people to have us in those projections sort of puts us in good spirits. We are confident. We are just trying to go out there and win games and be there at the end of the season."
Kentucky’s biggest opponent lately has been the rain with two of its last four scheduled games being wiped out due to the weather.
After taking a series at LSU two weekends ago, the Wildcats only got two seven-inning games in last weekend and then had a Wednesday game against No. 5 Louisville rained out.
“…They won a road series at LSU two weeks ago and went home this past weekend and only got two ball games in,” Van Horn said. “Actually two seven-inning games and they got beat twice by Texas A&M in two low-scoring games.
“…. They're in need of a series victory as well. It'll be two teams that are trying to finish the first half with wins.”
Kentucky is hitting .303 as a team and has stolen 40 stolen bases with a 4.59 ERA.
The Wildcats are led by junior leftfielder Ka’ai Tom (.394, 2 HRs, 30 RBIs), who has stolen 11 bases, and junior centerfielder Kyle Barrett (.382, 1 homer, 16 RBIs), who leads the SEC with 52 hits.
“Kentucky's a good team,” Van Horn said. “In the past, they've had some sock, a lot of power. This year's team is a little more athletic, they can run. Three solid right-handed starters.”
The Wildcats will send Zack Brown (2-3, 3.06), Dustin Beggs (3-2, 3.33 ERA) and junior Kyle Cody (2-3, 5.87) to the mound this weekend.
Cody (6-7, 245) was a preseason All-American and someone who is ranked as the 19th-best prospect in the 2015 Major League Baseball Draft by Baseball America.
He pitched will Killian in the Cape Cod Summer League earlier in his college career.
“Kyle Cody, is one of their big right-handed pitchers and he is having a good year,” Killian said. He was in the Cape with me my freshman year. I feel like me and him were sort of the one-two up there. I know a little bit about him. He is a good dude and he is pitching his butt off right now. So if me and him match up it's going to be a fun game.”
The Razorbacks will counter with Dominic Taccolini (5-2, 3.11), Killian (0-2, 4.23) and likely Keaton McKinney (1-1, 4.25), unless he needs to be used in relief in the first two games.
“I think everybody is figuring it out now and our coaches have learned where to pitch guys in certain situations,” Killian said. “We are starting to form a pretty good bullpen and that’s the biggest things for us is just having a solid bullpen.
“I feel like our starters are going to give us a chance every time out so we just need those guys to come in and keep us in the ballgame. We are a lot better off than we were at the start of the season.”
Arkansas has a couple of players sizzling at the plate in outfielders Andrew Benintendi (.350, 11 HRs, 36 RBIs) and Tyler Spoon (.342, 3 HRs, 29 RBIs).
Benintendi hit a pair of homers – one that stayed in the park and one that left it - in Wednesday’s 14-0 win over Mississippi Valley State.
He now has 11 round-trippers, tying him for the national lead.
“Obviously it's hard to foresee that,” Van Horn said. “ We knew he was going to hit some home runs. He's very confident. He's got a lot of leverage in his swing. When he gets that barrel to the ball it jumps. It's been good to see.
“There's a lot of guys in the country that are bigger and stronger, but he's a really good baseball player and he's a tough out. I don't expect him to hit another 11 home runs the second half of the season, but I do believe he's going to continue to swing the ball well throughout the year.”
Beninteni has added some 20 pounds to his frame since he arrived on campus and is now up to 180.
He has never been viewed as the big power hitting type, but is making great contact this season.
“It has been like that growing up, I kind of surprise some people with some kind of pop, but it is what it is,” Benintendi said. “I think if I keep hitting the balls like that, it will be good.”
Spoon had four hits on Tuesday and a couple more on Wednesday.
“I just have been feeling good and going on of those tears,” Spoon said. “Just one of those things. I know I am not going to go 4 for 5 or get three hits every game but I feel good and am just going to take the confidence of the last week or two and just keep going."
He has impressed his teammate Joe Serrano.
“Spoon has been on a tear,” Serrano said. "The ball looks like a beach ball to him. Honestly it's been an honor just being in his presence."
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