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Likely Top 10 MLB draft choices highlight Arkansas-Florida diamond clash

BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON

FAYETTEVILLE – There may be a little baseball action Friday night at Baum-Walker Stadium, a lot Saturday and none on Sunday between the two reigning SEC regular season co-champs.

That’s the forecast from Arkansas head coach and amateur meteorologist Dave Van Horn, who is monitoring the weather for this weekend’s SEC home series between the No. 2 Razorbacks (35-6, 14-4) and Florida (21-19, 8-10).

The series is currently set from single games Friday at 6 p.m. on SEC Network + – moved up an hour –  Saturday at noon on ESPN2 and Sunday at 2 p.m on SEC Network +, but the latter is subject to change.

“Yeah, so I’m thinking tomorrow on Friday as of now we have a window to play: 7 to 10 (p.m.) or 5 to 10 or whatever it looks like where it’s not quite such a big percentage,” Van Horn said. “Now that could change obviously tomorrow and then closer to game time.

“You know if the percentages go up and storms are going to roll in we won’t start that game.

“…And then Sunday does not look good at all. It looks like it’s anywhere from 80 to 90% all day. So it looks like there’s a window on Saturday most of the day where we could probably play two.

“So basically looking to try to play tomorrow and then we will try to figure this out today if we’re going to move the Sunday game to Saturday. Because I know there’s a lot of fans coming.”

The SEC has a rule governing weather-related situations.

“I think the SEC rule states that if you’re going to make a decision to move a game, say a day and a half out, you’ve got to have at least 80%,” Van Horn said.

“And we’re definitely at 80 and 90 and just listening to the local people speak about the weather on Sunday, they said it probably is not going to go away all day.”

The goal is to play all three, but make sure to at least get a pair of contests in at a place Arkansas is riding a Baum Walker-record 25-game winning streak.

“We’ll do what we can to get three in, so I think for us to do that, it sounds like we definitely gotta get a game in tomorrow if we’re going to get three in,” Van Horn said. “Then kind of go from there.

“…But right now I would say decisions will be made later on today about what we’re going to try to do on Sunday.”

It is a highly anticipated series featuring a pair of junior headliners in Arkansas pitcher Hagen Smith and Florida two-way star Jac Caglianone (6-5, 250).

Caglianone is ranked as the third-best prospect by MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 for this summer’s Major League Baseball Draft with Smith sixth and Georgia slugger Charlie Condon listed as No. 1.

Arkansas second baseman Peyton Stovall is ranked 63rd by MLB Pipeline and Florida shortstop Cody Shelton 115th.

“Well, I know it’s a highly-anticipated series,” Van Horn said. “Ticket demand and people calling me, texting me wanting to get tickets. Friends. Former teammates just coming around, wanting to watch a game. This seems to be the one they want to see.

“It’s kind of a bummer on the weather, but if you’re a baseball fan and we play two on Saturday, you can have a long day at the park.”

Smith (8-0, 1.53 ERA)  is slated take the mound for the first game for Arkansas and Brady Tygart (4-1, 2.64) the second, but Mason Molina’s injured landing ankle will keep him from pitching this weekend.

“He twisted his ankle doing some drill work, (Pitching) Coach (Matt) Hobbs and him and a few other pitchers,” Van Horn said. “We’re going to give him this week off to let that heal.

“We could probably put him on the roster. We could probably pitch him. He’s probably 90 percent. But we want to make sure that next week and going forward he’s at 100 percent.”

The decision is made easier because the Arkansas bullpen has been a strength for the team this season.

“Well, at least we know that we’ve got some guys that have pitched in some big games and big situations, leverage situations and that they throw strikes,” Van Horn said. “We’ve done so well in midweek games this year, honestly, because our midweek guys throw it over the plate. Teams have hit it, but we haven’t been giving them runs as far as walks, and hit by pitches and stuff like that.

“So at least we have some guys with experience that we know they’re going to come in there and make them earn it.”

They will face left-handed swinging Caglianone, who is hitting .410 with 25 home runs and 49 RBIs and is the headliner of an offense that is hitting .276 and has hit 90 home runs.

“Yeah, we were just in there talking about it,” Van Horn said. “I think how you handle him is you get the guys out in front of him. Don’t let them get on base.

“You know, he’s going to get his. He’s going to take his swings and he’s going to make contact. The ball explodes off his bat.

“How do we pitch him? I don’t know. I’m sure everybody’s tried everything. You pitch him out of the zone a little bit, he still seems to find a way to get the barrel on it.”

Caglianone has showed a good eye at the plate this season.

“It’s pretty amazing, he’s walked 24 times but only struck out 14,” Van Horn said. “A lot of times, a big guy like that, he might have walked 50 times this year. But obviously he makes contact, and it’s pretty good contact. When you hit 25 homers and you’re still hitting over .400, that’s a pretty good stat. Yeah, I don’t know how we’re going to pitch him. Hopefully, very cautiously.”

Florida has announced 6-8, 225-pound redshirt sophomore lefty Pierce Coppola (0-2. 18.00 ERA) and southpaw Caglianone (5-0, 3.86) as its starting pitchers for games one and three, but has not disclosed one for game two.

“I don’t know, they’ve struggled a little bit, but it’s talented stuff,” Van Horn said. “It’s stuff, it’s not like they’re throwing guys up there that are throwing 87-88 miles per hour from the right side just trying to trick you a little bit for a few innings. These guys have really good arms, they throw hard.

“Like I said, they’re one of those teams that whenever they start winning, they might not stop. So, we’ve got to play well.”

Photo by John D. James

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