BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
A former high school competitor of Arkansas freshman pitcher Hagen Smith will be one of his college teammates next season in Fayetteville.
San Jacinto (Texas) Junior College left-hander pitcher Hunter Hollan (6-5, 195) announced last week that he had flipped his commitment from TCU to Arkansas.
Hollan, coached the last two seasons by former 15-year Major League Baseball pitcher Woody Williams, will be watching Arkansas (43-19) face Stanford (47-16) in the College World Series Saturday at 1 p.m. on ESPN.
“It’s awesome to know that I will be there next year after a run to the World Series and that all the guys returning will have that World Series experience,” Hollan said.
“Can’t wait to get down there and have another run next year. Going to be fun.”
Hollan is coming off a 2022 season at San Jacinto (Texas) Junior College in where he went 9-3 with a 3.59 ERA, 96 strikeouts and 28 walks in 80 1/3 innings on the mound .
He was 10-3 as a freshman in 2021, sporting a 3.08 ERA while fanning 104 strikeouts and walking just 17 in 73 innings of work.
A former Spring Hill, Texas standout where he played Smith’s Bullard squad, Hollan has learned a lot about pitching from Williams, who played for St. Louis, San Diego, Toronto and Houston.
“I can’t say enough about Woody Williams and how much he has helped me from my freshman year to this year,” Hollan said. “My stats from last year and this year were pretty similar, but the way that I learned to pitch and slow the game down was great, my velo, off course, increased a lot and I just grew a lot as a pitcher this past year.
“I’ve become a much better pitcher while getting in some 36 starts under him.”
He expects Arkansas pitching coach Matt Hobbs to continue his development after joining the Razorbacks, who clinched the program’s 11th CWS berth with a 4-3 Super Regional over North Carolina on Monday.
“I would say that the pitching coach at Arkansas (Matt Hobbs) had a lot to do with my decision,” Hollan said. “They not only showed interest in me, but they showed how much they really wanted me and I liked that.
Hollan was taken by Milwaukee Brewers in the 15th round of the 2021 MLB draft and is eligible to be taken again.
He throws a fastball, a sinker, a slider, a change up and occasionally a split and is looking to add another pitch that Arkansas pitchers have developed.
“I can’t wait to get down to Arkansas and learn,” Hollan said. “I mean everybody from Arkansas throws a really good curve ball and I am ready to get down there and throw one of those. I just have an okay slider right now and I can’t wait to spin the ball like they all do.”
While Texas A&M may have been his dream school growing up, Arkansas is his obvious new favorite.
“I think a lot of people decide on where they want to go as like their dream school instead of going somewhere they they are wanted,” Hollan said. “I think that is a big thing. And, it’s Arkansas, a great program, and that’s awesome, too.”
Hollan originally committed to Texas A&M as a sophomore in high and signed with the Aggies, but ended up at San Jacinto when college rosters swelled after the coronavirus-shortened season.
He switched to TCU while at San Jac and admits telling Horned Frogs first-year head coach Kirk Saaloos he wasn’t coming was difficult.
“It was tough because Kirk Saaloos is an awesome guy and I have never but great things to say about him about the things he has done for me in the two years that I was committed to them,” Hollan said.
“But when it came down to it, private school is a little bit more expensive and its was better for me and my family for me to go out and see what I could get to help us out financially.
‘That worked out for me at Arkansas.”
He’ll be joined as a Razorback next season by San Jacinto shortstop Harold Coll, who hit .357 with 10 home runs, 65 RBIs and 15 stolen bases this past season.
The pair helped lead San Jac to a 96-33 record and back-to-back trips to the National Junior College World Series.
“He is a phenomenal baseball player and someone who is great on both offense and defense,” Hollan said. “I’m happy we are going to continue to be teammates.”
Holland watched the telecast of Arkansas’ 7-4 win over Oklahoma State on June 6 that clinched the Stillwater Regional championship.
Smith got the Razorbacks out of an eighth-inning, bases-loaded situation and then finished off his first collegiate save with a clean ninth inning.
“That was absolutely awesome,” Hollan said. “Every single teammate was pulling for him and knew that he could do it even though he had a little rough patch the last couple of weeks. But they still knew Hagen was the guy that could go in there get it down for them.
“Again that was just awesome, watching every single guy wearing an Arkansas Razorback uniform cheering him on as much as they were.”