Auburn’s Thompson sees another strong Arkansas squad as SEC action begins

By Dudley E. Dawson
on 2023-03-17 13:26 PM


Auburn head baseball coach Butch Thompson knows there are easier places to open SEC action Friday afternoon than Arkansas, but also notes he enjoys coming to Fayetteville.

It will be a match up of the No. 6 Razorbacks (15-2) and unranked Tigers (13-3-1), who were both participants in last season’s College World Series.

“It will be great,” Thompson said. “Great fans and just getting back in our league. This is what we all love to do. Especially when more than half of your team is new.

“It will be the first true road series where we are staying in a hotel with this team.

“…Getting off to a good start, playing in a competitive environment, cold temperatures – all of it that you try to prepare a team for.”

Arkansas ended Auburn’s 2022 season in a 11-1 decision at the CWS in which the Razorbacks had 16 hits.

“It will good to see how we hold up against a team that finished our season last year in Omaha,” Thompson said. “ So it will be good to hook back up with them and compete.”

Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn, whose team is on a 10-game winning streak, was asked about the perception of Auburn being an overachieving program.

“Well, I don’t know if it’s overachieving at all,” Van Horn said. “They have really good players. They have an outstanding coaching staff. They do things the right way. Can’t say enough good things about Butch Thompson.

“They kept some kids that they thought might sign last summer, they came back. Their center fielder (Kason Howell) jumps out at me. He’s probably the best defensive center fielder in the league, and he’s hitting. 

“They’re hitting for average (.318) as a team. They’ve got some power (21 homers), but they’ve got a couple or three guys in the lineup that are just having great years so far.”

Thompson likes what he sees from this year’s Arkansas team and made note of right fielder Jace Bohrofen, who is hitting a team-leading .436 with 5 home runs and 17 RBIs.

Arkansas is hitting .310 as a team with 34 homers.

“That looks like another good club  – 15-2 or something like that,” Thompson said. “The video that I have watched looks like the same competitive group. Great arms, lot of left-handed bats. Bohrofen, I am trying to figure our strategy on how to get that joker out.”

In addition to Bohrofen, Arkansas has Jared Wegner (.387, 8 HRs, 29 RBIs), Peyton Stovall ( .387, 3 HRs, 15 RBIs), Tavian Josenbeger (.333, 2 HRs, 10 RBIs), Kendall Diggs (.333, 6 HRs, 20 RBIs) and Brady Slavens (1 HR, 13 RBIs) are all hitting over .300 for Arkansas.

“Just up and down the line up, you continue to see athleticism, left-handers and a couple of switch hitters,” Thompson said. “It looks like another typical Dave Van Horn and Arkansas ball club.”

It will the first SEC series for several Razorbacks.

“Well, I think that they’re used to it,” Van Horn said,  We played in the (College Baseball Showdown) tournament in Texas, and that can simulate it about as good as you can get, playing some top team from another league, Omaha-type teams. 

“So, I don’t think it’s too much different. The games mean a little bit more, but as far as the approach or the mental part of it, I think they’re both going to be fine. 

“And even the other guys, I think they get what we’re getting into. We’ve been talking about it since last fall. You’ve got to step it up. It’s a 10-week grind, and we try to prepare them for that.”

Auburn comes into this series off a thrilling 12-11 comeback win over Georgia Tech in 11 innings on Tuesday night.

The Tigers’ Friday starter will be left hander Tommy Vail (2-0, 0.63), who opened against Georgia Tech and threw 10 pitches and allowed a run in his lone inning.

“Tommy Vail will be our starter on Friday and we have been working on that for over a week,” Thompson said. “I didn’t want him to go a week-and-a half without throwing in the opening part of the season. 

“I think our players and our team is excited for that.”

Arkansas will open with normal Sunday starter Hunter Hollan (3-0, 2.18) on Friday as it moves previous Friday starter Hagen Smith (3-0, 1.40) into a hybrid role as a reliever.

Will McEntire, fresh off complete-game, three-hit masterpiece last weekend,  gets the start for the Razorbacks on Saturday at 2 p.m.  with several options – including Smith, available to open the game Sunday at 2.

“Friday’s (Auburn) pitcher, his fastball stays up and has got carry, in baseball lingo, so you’re got to try to get on top of it a little bit,” Van Horn said. “I mean, they’re just good pitchers.”

Freshman left handed pitcher Zach Crotchfelt (0-0, 4.31) is slated to start for Auburn on Saturday. 

“I am trying to be very consistent and routine oriented with a freshman that we are committed to the long haul with,” Thompson said.

“We will continue with TBA now that we are in conference play.”

Photo by John D. James

(Last updated: 2023-03-17 13:26 PM)