There’s no easing into things when it comes to Southeastern Conference play, and this weekend will be no different.
Riding a five-game win streak, Missouri baseball (11-5) heads to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to take on the No. 14 Razorbacks (14-2) in its opening SEC series.
The Tigers certainly have their work cut out for them.
The Razorbacks sit at No. 10 in the Division I Coaches Poll and No. 15 in the Division I Baseball Poll. Their only losses have come to USC (5-10) on Feb. 23 and Louisiana Tech (11-5) on Sunday, though Arkansas captured the series win in both matchups.
Keys to success
It’s no secret that pitching will be huge for Missouri this weekend. The pitching staff will rely on three lefty starters to shut down the Hogs’ big hitters.
“We have to throw the ball well,” Missouri head coach Steve Bieser said after the Tigers’ win over Arkansas State on Wednesday. “They’ve got a very good offense, and I think we do match up on the mound pretty good. (Sikkema) is going to match up on the mound against anybody, and then I think our left-handed arms will help some of their top guys, left-handed hitters. We need to be able to get their lefties out and just kind of pick our way through that lineup.”
If the Tigers can’t shut down the Razorbacks’ powerful offense, they’re going to have to really make things happen at the plate to have a shot.
“We have to have timely hitting,” Bieser said. “It goes back to plate discipline. We’ve got to swing at strikes because their pitches have plus stuff. It’s put-away stuff. Whenever we take the bat off our shoulder and swing, we need to be making contact.”
Kameron Misner will need to carry his standout play into conference season if the Tigers are to make some waves. The junior is batting .393 with 22 hits, 14 RBI and 5 homers on the year. He’s notched 20 walks, as many teams have avoided throwing to him, so it’ll be interesting to see whether the Arkansas pitchers really go after him.
WarrenNolan series prediction
Arkansas sweeps series (8-7, 7-6, 4-0)
These are subjective predictions, of course, based on stats throughout the season thus far. Missouri will, however, need quite the showing on Friday to notch up to seven runs against the Razorbacks’ projected starter, Isaiah Campbell.
Friday: LHP Jacob Cantleberry (2-0, 2.91 ERA, 33 K, 9 BB) vs. RHP Isaiah Campbell (3-0, 3.09 ERA, 33 K, 3 BB)
Saturday: LHP TJ Sikkema (2-0, 0.46 ERA, 25 K, 4 BB) vs. RHP Connor Noland (0-0, 4.32 ERA, 13 K, 5 BB)
Sunday: LHP Tyler LaPlante (1-1, 3.43 ERA, 15 K, 3 BB) vs. RHP Cody Scroggins (1-0, 4.50 ERA, 26 K, 5 BB)
Razorbacks to watch for
Trevor Ezell, 3B, redshirt senior
Ezell joined the Hogs this year from Southeast Missouri State, where he earned All-Ohio Valley Conference First Team honors as a redshirt junior. By the end of the 2018 season, he led the Redhawks in batting average (.377), on-base percentage (.442), runs scored (52), hits (87), triples (4) and stolen bases (11).
The switch-hitter has had similar success at Arkansas, where he’s started in all 16 games and currently holds a team-best .362 average with 21 hits, 16 runs scored, 13 RBI and three homers in 58 at-bats. The Missouri pitching staff will need to find a way around Ezell’s power to make it out of this series.
Heston Kjerstad, OF, sophomore
Kjerstad was a force to be reckoned with in his first season as a Razorback, earning SEC Freshman of the Year, SEC All-Freshman Team and All-SEC Second Team honors. He started in all 69 games of the 2018 campaign and hit .332 with 87 hits, 14 homers and 58 RBI.
Despite starting off the year 8-for-36, Kjerstad has come alive in the second eight games of the season, batting an even .500 with five multi-hit games and slugging .767 with six RBI. His average is now up to .353 with 24 hits and 13 runs on the year. Putting an end to this sophomore’s hot streak will be key for the Tigers.
Isaiah Campbell, RHP, redshirt junior
In 2018, Campbell recorded a 4.26 ERA and tallied five wins, giving up 33 earned runs and striking out 75 hitters in 69.2 innings. He notched a career-high eight strikeouts in last season’s SEC opening series against Kentucky, and he earned the victory over Florida that sent Arkansas to the College World Series final.
So far this season, Campbell holds a 3.09 ERA and has notched four wins. The redshirt junior has racked up and 33 Ks and given up 21 hits, 11 runs and three walks in 23.1 innings pitched. Missouri is expected to face Campbell in the opening game of the series.
First pitch is slated for 6:30 p.m. Friday at Baum-Walker Stadium.
Supervising editor is Theo DeRosa.