The Arkansas baseball team wrapped up its annual Fall World Series on Thursday in Baum-Walker Stadium. The Cardinal squad, led by student assistant Cullen Smith, took the fourth and final game 10-2, ending the series tied at two games apiece.
The series marked the end of a successful fall camp for the Hogs and head coach Dave Van Horn, who signed a five-year $6.25 million contract extension during the off-season.
“Well, fall’s gone really well,” Van Horn said in an October 7 press conference. “I think you start with pitching, it always starts with pitching, (and) it’s been really good.”
Notable returners on the pitching staff include sophomore right-hander Jaxon Wiggins, who has added a breaking ball to his repertoire to complement his fastball and changeup, Van Horn said. Senior starting candidates Connor Noland, a righty, and Evan Taylor, a lefty, looked good this fall, but Taylor will need his skills to translate to games.
“Sometimes it just takes time,” Van Horn said, “and we’re hoping that’s the case with Evan, that he’s ready to really contribute this year for us.”
The Razorbacks will likely rely heavily on the arm of junior Peyton Pallette, who had his sophomore season cut short due to injury, whose recovery is coming along and whose talent is undeniable.
“Actually, I feel really good,” Pallette said following his performance Thursday. “It felt good to get back out there.”
Van Horn said he expects some newcomers to play key roles in the starting rotation and the bullpen.
The head Hog would not name names, but freshman Hagen Smith was as impressive as any high school pitcher in the country last year and looked the part when he took the mound in game three of the series.
“I feel like it went good, I had all three pitches working that I could throw for strikes,” Smith said following his outing. “Knowing that I have a really good defense behind me helps a lot.”
Smith, a 6-foot-3-inch, 200 pound lefty out of Bullard, Texas, was a force during his senior season. The southpaw went 11-0 with a 0.19 ERA and 168 strikeouts in 73 innings, while also compiling eight no-hitters on the year.
Offensively, the Hogs return a strong core that was part of an extremely potent Razorback offense last season. Dynamic junior second baseman Robert Moore is back to build off an impressive sophomore season, while sophomore Cayden Wallace was a freshman All-Southeastern Conference selection last year, batting .279 with 14 home runs and 44 runs batted in.
Senior infielders Brady Slavens and Jalen Battles announcing their return over the summer was a big boost to an already loaded lineup, but another veteran that impressed Van Horn this fall was redshirt senior outfielder Braydon Webb.
“I guess the one that’s really stood out to me is Braydon Webb,” Van Horn said. “Braydon has seven home runs this fall, seven or eight, he’s batting .350. (He’s) an incredibly gifted outfielder.”
The Razorbacks went to the transfer portal to track down the last remaining pieces needed to round out the offense and shore up the defense. One of those was catcher Michael Turner from Kent State, who was an all-conference catcher in 2019 for the Golden Flashes, before missing all of 2021 with a hamstring injury.
“(Turner) had a really good fall behind the plate and at the plate,” Van Horn said. “He brings a lot of experience. He’s very physical.”
One newcomer Van Horn mentioned was left-handed infielder Peyton Stovall. Stovall, listed as MLB.com’s No. 29 overall prospect heading into last summer’s draft, turned down millions to honor his commitment to the Razorbacks.
“Peyton’s gonna get in the lineup with that bat,” Van Horn said. “He’s a very good hitter.”
Fans got a preview when Stovall took a Wiggins fastball deep to center field for a home run in game three of the Fall World Series.
The 2022 Razorbacks will have speed and power up and down the lineup. Van Horn said it always starts with pitching, and if the Hogs see year-to-year jumps from the likes of Pallette, Noland and Wiggins, they should be back in the mix for another SEC title.
The Razorbacks will kick off the 2022 campaign at 3 p.m. February 18 inside Baum-Walker Stadium against the Illinois State Redbirds.
2021 Fall World Series Results
Game 1 — Friday, Oct. 8 — White 9, Cardinal 3
Game 2 — Sunday, Oct. 10 — Cardinal 9, White 5
Game 3 — Monday, Oct. 11 — White 4, Cardinal 0
Game 4 — Thursday, Oct. 14 — Cardinal 10, White 2