FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas pitcher Trey Killian’s first experience against Ole Miss didn’t go as planned last season.
Then a freshman, Killian was tabbed as the Razorbacks’ starting pitcher for the Southeastern Conference opener. But he didn’t last long. Killian was shelled for seven runs in three innings during Arkansas’ 7-1 loss in Baum Stadium.
“I’m sure he remembers it,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said Wednesday. “It was a major setback for him. You know he struggled a little bit after that, but he has come so far. What he does is he competes so hard and he’s confident.”
Arkansas (29-18, 10-11 in SEC) will need every ounce of that confidence from the much-improved Killian when he steps on the mound at Oxford-University Stadium Friday night at 6:35. The right-hander will be the first Arkansas pitcher, once again, to face an Ole Miss lineup that has become one of the SEC’s best.
The Rebels (33-13, 13-8 in SEC) rank second in the SEC in hitting with a team batting average of .308. Ole Miss also is second in runs (285), third in home runs (33) and is coming off a three-game sweep of Kentucky in which it scored 39 runs.
Killian (2-7) said he’ll be prepared for his second start against the Rebels.
“They can really hit,” Killian said. “I got a couple of buddies on Mississippi State and obviously they are known for their hitting this year. So I guess it’s going to be fun for us and our starters and our guys coming out of the pen trying to pick us up.”
Van Horn chalked up last year’s struggles to “one bad inning.” But the poor start eventually led to Killian’s departure from the starting rotation. He struggled in the outings that followed the opening-night performance and finished the season 3-3 with a 3.19 earned run average. It was the highest ERA on Arkansas’ staff.
But Killian, who was suspended for the first two weeks of the 2014 season, became a mainstay in the weekend rotation this fall. And he has pitched well. It just hasn’t shown in his record because of Arkansas’ head-scratching issues at the plate.
The Razorbacks have scored 18 runs in Killian’s nine starts.
“It’s baseball,” Killian said Wednesday. “Sometimes it doesn’t happen for certain people. Unfortunately that has been me most of the time, but I’m not worried about it. I just go out there and do my job and cheer on those hitters.”
Arkansas second baseman Brian Anderson said the Razorbacks know they haven’t offered much help for Killian this season outside of a 6-2 win against Vanderbilt two weeks ago. But they’re hoping to come through once again against Ole Miss.
“He just wants us to win no matter how we do it,” Anderson said. “We haven’t been able to get it for him as of late. … But he’s going to go out on Friday and battle for us and we’re going to do everything we can to put up runs for him.”
Arkansas, which has shown more life at the plate lately, will need the run support and solid pitching to win an SEC road series at Ole Miss.
The Razorbacks also enter the series with some urgency as well after putting the finishing touches on its midweek schedule with a 4-1 win against Missouri State in Springfield, Mo., on Tuesday night. Arkansas has nine conference games left before the SEC Tournament and still hasn’t solidified a spot in the NCAA Tournament field despite home series wins against Alabama, South Carolina and Vanderbilt.
So winning at Ole Miss — which has pushed itself into contention as a potential national seed — would give Arkansas its first road series win in conference play. It also would go a long way to wrapping up a spot in the NCAA Tournament field, considering the Rebels are No. 4 in the NCAA’s latest Rating Percentage Index.
“I think all the games are huge,” Van Horn said. “But where they are at in the RPI in the Top 10, if we go down there and win some ballgames that would be big for us.”
Killian can get the Razorbacks off to a good start — as long as Arkansas helps him at the plate — with a strong performance in the series opener Friday night.
Killian will see several familiar faces in Ole Miss’ lineup tonight. Preston Overby hit a grand slam during last season’s game. Sikes Orvis also homered. Auston Bousfield, Austin Anderson, Will Allen and Will Jamison also were in the lineup last season.
But Killian said he’s not seeking revenge after last season’s struggles against Ole Miss when he takes the mound again. Instead, his goal is to pitch well enough to make sure Arkansas takes the first step in a series he described as a “must.”
“I don’t think about it,” Killian said about last year’s start against Ole Miss. “It’s in the past. It’s a new year so we are just going over there and do our best.”