The Arkansas Razorbacks come into Rhoads Stadium for the opening weekend of SEC play having won 19 of 20 games.
That resume includes victories over Nebraska and Oklahoma State, but a lot more wins over the likes of IUPUI, UMKC, UMass-Lowell and other off-brand programs.
So this weekend will begin to sort out whether that record is a result of massive improvement over last year’s 17-39 campaign, which included just one conference win, or is more reflective of an easier-to-navigate schedule.
“They’re much better than last year obviously,” Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said. “They’ve already won (more than) 17 games, last year they won 17 the whole season. Their numbers are so much better. It’s just, I think, a totally different team.”
Murphy doesn’t have to worry as much about his team overlooking the Razorbacks based upon last year’s mark.
“It might be a good thing that we didn’t play them last year, because our sophomores and freshmen don’t have any idea of what they were like,” he said. “I think this could be the year that all 13 SEC teams get in the NCAA Tournament. Basically everybody right now has got a great win-loss record.”
Arkansas carries a .371 team batting average with 33 home runs and 144 RBIs, led by Nicole Schroeder with a .526 average that includes 12 homers and 40 RBIs. The Razorbacks have two top pitchers in Autumn Storms (8-1, 1.06 ERA) and Grace Moll (7-0, 1.67 ERA).
Alabama is batting .330 as a team with 21 home runs and 122 RBIs, led by outfielder Merris Schroder at .443 with three homers and 17 RBIs and freshman catcher Bailey Hemphill at .431 with five homers and 21 RBIs. Pitchers Sydney Littlejohn (8-0, 0.24 ERA) and Alexis Osorio (10-1, 0.86 ERA) have carried UA through the pre-conference portion of the schedule.
Arkansas comes in with the confidence of its successful start. Alabama has had sterling pitching but has struggled at times offensively.
“I think our pitchers need to continue to do what they’ve done, but we need to score early,” Murphy said. “Stay where we’re at pitching-wise and just keep swinging the bats.”
Littlejohn believes those bats will come around. “They’re working hard, we’re working hard,” she said. “It’s all going to come in due time. There’s going to be games where I’m going to be giving up seven or eight runs and they’re going to have my back. It’s just having each others’ backs.
“They’re going to be prepared for this weekend and for every weekend to come. I trust them and they trust me.”
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.
No. 24 Arkansas at No. 9 Alabama
Where: Rhoads Stadium
Schedule: Friday at 6:30 p.m., Saturday at 5 p.m., Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
Records: Alabama 21-2, Arkansas 19-1
TV: SEC Network (Saturday only)
Radio: 93.3 FM