Arkansas baseball to begin 2024 with four-game series against JMU

After suffering through dismal football and basketball seasons, Arkansas fans are hopeful that Razorback baseball team can finally shake the doldrums and return some joy to the faithful fanbase.

Ranked in the top four of all five major polls, the Diamond Hogs begin their journey on Friday, as James Madison comes to Baum Walker Stadium for the first of a four-game series to open the season.

The opener has been moved up an hour, due to inclement weather, and will begin at 2 p.m.

Head Coach Dave Van Horn has tabbed ace left-hander and consensus All-American Hagen Smith to take the hill in Game 1, making him the first Arkansas hurler to start consecutive Opening Days since Blaine Knight did it in 2017 and 2018.

Smith tossed five scoreless innings in a 3-2 win over Texas in last season’s opener in Arlington, striking out eight Longhorns. The 6-foot-3 junior Texas native is one of the top returning pitcher in the country, following a stellar 8-2 sophomore campaign, in which he had a team-best 3.64 ERA and 109 strikeouts in 71.2 innings.

After holding opposing batters to a .217 batting average and being named a semifinalist for both, the Golden Spikes and College Baseball Foundation’s National Pitcher of the Year Awards, Smith has been flooded with numerous preseason accolades.

Junior right-hander Brady Tygart, who finished 3-1 in an injury-plagued 2023, will take the ball for the Razorbacks on Saturday at 2 p.m. Junior lefty Mason Molina, a Texas Tech transfer, will make his Arkansas debut on Sunday at 1 p.m., while freshman left-hander Colin Fisher will start Monday’s finale at noon.

The Razorbacks return a solid core of veterans, while welcoming in the nation’s top freshman class, as well as some key additions from the transfer portal. The Hogs had a disappointing ending in the Fayetteville Regional after posting a 43-18 overall record a year ago and claiming their fourth SEC title. They are the only conference program, and one of just two teams in the country, to win at least 40 games in each of the last six full seasons.

Arkansas enters the season ranked No. 2 by Perfect Game, No. 3 by Baseball America and D1Baseball, and No. 4 by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers and the USA TODAY Coaches polls.

Now entering his 22nd season in Fayetteville, Van Horn has never lost a season-opening home series, and has led the Razorbacks to 12 series sweeps on Opening Weekend. Van Horn’s 1,424 overall collegiate wins are the most among all active Division I head coaches. He was won 839 at Arkansas, including 333 SEC wins.

This will mark the first time that Arkansas has met James Madison on the diamond. The Dukes went 31-25 overall last season and finished 15-13 in their first season competing in the Sun Belt Conference.

All four games will be aired on the SEC Network+, and on the radio, along the Razorback Sports Network.

Story originally appeared on Razorbacks Wire