Noland and Turner Time

Graduate catcher Michael Turner congratulates senior pitcher Connor Noland after he sends the Illinois State Redbirds back to the dugout Feb. 18. Noland has stepped into the shoes of projected ace Peyton Pallette after he suffered a season-ending injury.

When projected ace Peyton Pallette was sidelined for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Razorback senior pitcher Connor Noland was thrust into the spotlight. Through three games, he has looked the part.

Noland came to Arkansas as a two-sport athlete in 2018. His freshman season, he started a game as quarterback for the football team and was a starting pitcher on the baseball team. After deciding to pursue only baseball in 2019, Noland became a fixture in the pitching rotation.

The ace role was left wide open for Noland after Pallette suffered a UCL injury in January, ending his junior season before it could start. Arkansas has leaned on Noland’s experience as a weekend starter to lead the pitching staff.

“I needed to do something big for Peyton,” Noland said in a Feb. 25 press conference. “Somebody has to pitch.”

The Greenwood native has been the Razorbacks’ leading man before, but persistent injuries have held him back. Noland never fully recovered from his forearm injury last year and ended the season with a 6.91 ERA, the highest of his collegiate career, in 14 1/3 innings pitched.

Noland focused his energy on regaining his health in the offseason and stayed in Fayetteville throughout the summer. The result was an impressive performance in the fall, head coach Dave Van Horn said.

“He’s throwing the ball harder, he’s throwing just as many strikes (as before his injury),” Van Horn said in a Jan. 27 press conference. “To me, he’s just better all around.”

The Hogs entered the season ranked No. 2 in the nation, building off the success of last season’s team. Noland continued to improve his arsenal of pitches leading up to the season’s start.

“Connor has pitched well since day one of the fall,” Van Horn said in a Feb. 17 press conference. “He’s got more experience and we’re going to let him go game one.”

Opening Day did not go the Razorbacks’ way, beginning with a difficult first inning for Noland. The right-handed pitcher allowed Illinois State to score two runs and it appeared he was not settled on the mound. Over the next four innings, the calm and collected veteran got his footing and only allowed five hits.

“I was amped up (in the first inning),” Noland said. “I was ready to throw and I was throwing too hard.”

Noland started on the mound for the Hogs again versus Indiana, in their first contest of the Round Rock Classic. In frigid conditions, Noland put up a stellar performance through six innings, only allowing five hits and one run.

Noland’s extensive experience played a role in his success, he said. Being ahead in the count against most of the batters he faced was key for him.

“That’s the biggest thing as a pitcher, just getting ahead,” Noland said. “You want to put them at a disadvantage.”

Noland struck out 10 Hoosier batters, pushing him past 100 career strikeouts. Noland said it was his trust in Arkansas’ defense that gave him the ability to pitch aggressively and achieve that feat.

Noland’s third Friday start of the season came March 4 against Southeastern Louisiana. He pitched five impressive innings before hitting a wall in the sixth. He hit a batter and allowed two singles before being pulled from the game.

Arkansas dropped the contest to the Lions, earning Noland his first loss of the season. He surrendered a season-high seven hits and three earned runs.

“I thought (the start) was pretty good,” Van Horn said after the game. “I felt like he gave some quality innings…But they got him. He gave up some hits, he didn’t walk anybody.”

Noland will get his next chance to cement himself as the Arkansas ace when the Razorbacks take on Illinois-Chicago in a four-game series beginning at 3 p.m. March 10. The games will stream live on the SEC Network+.

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