The BYU baseball team heads to Fayetteville, Ark., on Tuesday for a two-game series against the No. 4 ranked Arkansas Razorbacks.
This is the second time BYU has faced Arkansas, with the last matchup being in 1990 at the Pepsi/Me-N-Ed’s Tournament in Fresno, Calif. The Cougars have an all-time record of 1-0 against the Razorbacks, beating them in an upset, 6-5.
BYU faced two ranked teams last year, playing No. 7 TCU and No. 6 Arizona State. BYU took one game against Arizona State in Arizona, with then freshman Desmond Poulson earning the first save of his BYU career to beat the Sun Devils 6-4. Sophomore Jaycob Brugman also came up big in the upset with a two-run single, while senior co-captain Austin Hall punched out two doubles to drive in two runs.
Senior and co-captain Alex Wolfe said he can still remember the upset win against ASU last year, and hopes those experiences will give the team an edge against Arkansas.
“It was one of the highlights of not only last season, but of my college career,” Wolfe said. “We know we’re facing a top 10 team [in Arkansas] and so we will have to have good pitching and timely hitting.”
At 4-2 this season, BYU is hitting .256 while holding its opponents to .242. The BYU pitching staff has a combined ERA of 2.72 with 48 strike outs while only giving up 10 extra base hits to opponents.
Arkansas is a perennial powerhouse in college baseball, rounding up 21 NCAA postseason appearances along with producing multiple All-Americans and Major League baseball players.
So far this season, the Razorbacks are 7-1 with a team batting average of .336 while holding opponents to .234. Along with holding their opponents to a low hitting percentage, the Razorback pitchers have a combined ERA of 3.50 while also striking out 71 players in eight games.
Head coach Vance Law said he expects nothing but the best from his team, and believes this will be a real growing experience for the players.
“When you’re playing a highly ranked team, sometimes guys will go in and be a little bit intimidated but I don’t anticipate that with this group,” Law said. “I think we’ll go down there and have a consistent performance like we did the first two series.”
Sophomore Tyler Westensee will start Tuesday for his first appearance of the season, while Poulson will be on the mound for the Cougars on Wednesday. Westensee started five games for BYU his freshman year before serving a mission in Lima, Peru from 2009-2011. He will face Razorback sophomore Brandon Moore who has an ERA of 3.60. Westensee said he is excited to finally be back on the mound and plans on a competitive game against the No. 4 ranked Razorbacks.
“I expect us to just play competitive baseball and to compete like the coaches have been preaching throughout practice,” Westensee said. “I plan on locating pitches and getting them to to hit my pitch, not their pitch.”
Law has seen multiple players step up this season and he expects those players to contribute heavily this series and throughout the rest of the season.
“Our pitching staff has been very solid,” Law said. “Mark Anderson, Adam Miller, Mason Marshall and Chris Howard have all pitched very well in their opportunities. As far as position players, Stephen Wells, defensively, is one of the best outfielders I’ve every coached and Wes Guenther has done a good job behind the plate. I am very pleased with the overall performance of the team.”
The Cougars hope to take this momentum into the two-game series against Arkansas. BYU will play next in a three-game series against UC Irvine on March 8-10.