Freshman Fisher excels in 1st start for Razorbacks

Arkansas starter Colin Fisher delivers to the plate Monday, Feb. 19, 2024, during the first inning of the Razorbacks' 4-0 win over James Madison at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)�
Arkansas starter Colin Fisher delivers to the plate Monday, Feb. 19, 2024, during the first inning of the Razorbacks' 4-0 win over James Madison at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)�

FAYETTEVILLE -- The best starting pitching line of the season-opening series for the No. 4 University of Arkansas baseball team belonged to freshman Colin Fisher.

The left-hander handcuffed James Madison University on 3 hits with no walks over 5 innings to guide the Razorbacks to a 4-0 win on a sunny Monday afternoon on President's Day before an announced crowd of 8,648 at Baum-Walker Stadium.

The Razorbacks (3-1) clinched the series over the Dukes of the Sun Belt Conference by rebounding from a 7-3 loss on Sunday.

Ben McLaughlin drove in two runs with a first-inning single off right-hander Casey Smith (0-1) to give Fisher (1-0) and three relievers all the support they needed.

Koty Frank, Will McEntire and Stone Hewlett worked the final four innings for Arkansas, combining for 1 hit, 1 walk and 4 strikeouts.

"What a great time to have our pitching staff really step it up and give us a great outing," Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. "Four guys came in and did a tremendous job. Obviously Colin Fisher, starter, first time out, five innings, no walks. He made them swing the bat, which we loved. Not a lot of super-hard contact and played pretty solid defense behind him."

Fisher held the Dukes down better than veterans Hagen Smith, Brady Tygart and Mason Molina did before him. Fisher and Tygart both threw five innings, with Fisher making it through on 63 pitches, 38 of them strikes.

"I probably wouldn't believe you," Fisher replied when asked what he would have thought if someone told him he'd handle the Dukes better than the veterans.

"Those pitchers, Hagen, top 20 pick, top 10 maybe. Then Brady and Molina are great too in the careers they've had. Yeah, I probably wouldn't believe you if you told me that a couple of days ago."

Van Horn said Fisher could have gone out for a sixth inning, but the Razorbacks had several pitchers in shape to close things out, including Frank and McEntire, who both worked for the second time in the series.

"He looked like he was in pretty good control out there," Van Horn said. "He's always thrown strikes and he's always had an off-speed pitch. I remember when we first saw him, we loved his curve ball and thought he had a good change-up and obviously his fastball was going to be really good. Couple of years later when we get him here, his change-up is really good and it's gotten better and better."

The 6-3, 225-pound left-hander from Noble, Okla., impressed James Madison Coach Marlin Ikenberry.

"I thought he was pretty talented," Ikenberry said. "He kept us off balance. Coming in, we thought he would be more of a change-up guy and he really kept the ball away from us. It was interesting because I thought he was throwing pitches up in the zone that our guys were chasing and creating some fly balls. We just couldn't get solid contact on him.

"You have a guy like that, a freshman and there is some deception in there. And that's what I thought, he was very deceptive for what he is, and all of sudden he does a good job locating pitches when he needed to."

Sophomore Jayson Jones drove in a run to make it 3-0 in the third inning with a single off Smith, who was making his first career start, and had a pair of standout catches on line drives in left field.

Shortstop Wehiwa Aloy had a pair of hits for the second consecutive day, including an RBI single in the seventh inning, and continued a string of quality defensive plays the Razorbacks turned in throughout the series.

Aloy robbed Brendan O'Donnell of a double to open the second inning when the transfer from Sacramento State made a nearly full-speed catch well down the left field line with his back to home plate. He made the catch around waist high while avoiding a collision with the left fielder Jones, who was charging in full speed from deep left center.

"Straight when the ball was hit, I just started breaking," Aloy said. "And then I saw out of the corner of my eye Jayson still back on the warning track, and I was like, this is my ball for sure. And yeah, just ended up with it somehow."

Said Van Horn, "Unbelievable play. ... I thought nobody was going to catch it and it was really an amazing play. I bet he ran 60 yards to get it."

If Van Horn had a complaint, it was the lack of a knockout blow when the Razorbacks had several opportunities, much like in their loss Sunday.

"Offensively, just enough," Van Horn said. "Had some good at-bats. Swung the bat pretty good early in a couple of innings but didn't drive in some runs. That's kind of a thing. We've got to start picking up some runs when we have an opportunity, and a lot of times it's with two outs. That's how you build up a lead or catch up."

Catcher Hudson White hit his third double in two days and wrapped up the weekend with team highs of four doubles and five extra-base hits.

Arkansas returns to action at 7 p.m. Central on Friday against Oregon State in the opening round of the College Baseball Series at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. James Madison (1-3) returns to Harrisonburg, Va., for its home opener on Wednesday against Virginia Tech.

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