With both teams tied for first in the SEC Western Division with records of 7-2, Arkansas and Ole Miss are sure to not disappoint this weekend in a three-game series at Swayze Field in Oxford. Both teams are ranked—Ole Miss at No. 3 and Arkansas at No. 2. Both teams possess a solid pitching staff complete with closers and mid-relievers. Both head coaches are veterans at their position, with Mike Bianco in his 21st year and Dave Van Horn in his 19th at Fayetteville.
Razorbacks to Watch
Arkansas carries a freshman closer in Jaxon Wiggins, who boasts an ERA of 1.86 in nine appearances and is credited with four saves. The Oklahoma native brings a fastball that clocks in around 98 miles per hour while striking out 14 batters and walking six.
Aiding Wiggins from behind the plate is Casey Optiz, who is on the Buster Posey Catcher of the Year watch list. Optiz calls his own pitches, which is very rare at the collegiate level and returned to Fayetteville after his name was not called in the MLB five round draft in 2020. At the plate, Optiz is hitting .311 with one homerun and eight RBI. His 30 hits on the year is tied for a team best.
First Team All-SEC Second Baseman Robert Moore gives the Razorbacks an offensive jolt with a batting average of .267, five homeruns, and drawing 15 walks. Moore is an excellent fielder at .981 and two errors on the year.
Lost and Found Rebels
Ole Miss lost its most productive offensive power on Monday night when senior first baseman Tim Elko went down with an ACL tear. It is not clear how long Elko will be out, but it will most likely be a season-ending injury. Bianco did allude to the possibility of Elko as a designated hitter later this year, but nothing is official.
Returning from injuries include first baseman and dinger champ Cael Baker. The six-foot 250 pound Kenny Powers look-alike returned to the lineup recently. Baker made a name for himself in the shortened 2020 season with four homers and 15 RBI in 14 games. He has the ability to make up for the power lost with Elko’s injury.
Another bat returning from the injury bug is Pensacola native Trey Lafleur. The sophomore had two homeruns in just 11 at bats in early 2021. Don’t be fooled by his .167 average.
Down the Stretch
Ole Miss will be tested early and often over the next month in SEC play. The Rebels face No. 2 Arkansas, No.5 Mississippi State, No. 11 South Carolina, and No. 1 Vanderbilt in what is shaping up to be top 10 matchups every weekend.