Arkansas baseball head coach Dave Van Horn met the media for the first time in 2023 on Friday and announced his team’s three captains for the upcoming season.
Senior left-handed pitcher Zack Morris, junior outfielder Jace Bohrofen and sophomore Peyton Stovall were chosen by their teammates as team captains.
“What’s crazy about that vote is that there were three or four other guys that were there,” Van Horn said. “A few of them were transfers, so they kinda like each other, and they already respect each other, so it’s really good to see.”
Morris is entering his fourth season as the Hog after a career-best campaign in 2022. He recorded 26 strikeouts, 19 walks, allowed nine earned runs on 29 hits and had a 2.31 ERA for 35, 0 innings pitched.
“Zack is a guy who was definitely interested in him professionally, like some of the other guys here,” Van Horn said. “But chose to come back. I think he’s going to be a bit of everything for us. He can be a guy who can start. He can be a guy who can come in the fifth and finish the game. He can come in and bring out a batter. So a lot of maturity there.
Of all of Morris’s outings in 2022, his latest was the most polarizing, when he entered the bottom of the ninth inning with no outs, bases loaded and a 3-1 lead at Arkansas in a playoff game against Ole Miss in the academic world. Series. The southpaw struck out his first batter and then forced a pair of fly balls to the left to keep the Hogs alive for one more day.
“He was in about as bad a situation as he could possibly get in that penultimate game in Omaha,” Van Horn said. “Bases loaded, win or go home. That’s after he had a bad start earlier and we gave him the ball because we had faith in him.”
Stovall has had his ups and downs as a highly touted rookie in 2022, but he looks set to be a leader for Arkansas this season. He cut .295/.373/.425 last year and had 59 hits, eight doubles, six home runs and 31 RBIs. He came strong late in the playoffs, even having a five-hit performance in the CWS against Auburn to become the first player since 2009 and the first Razorback with five hits in a College World Series game.
“You see a kid who, really, the first three quarters of the season, he was just tight, nervous,” Van Horn said. “Trying to impress everyone, just trying to live up to the hype, and eventually we spoke with him, he just said, ‘Damn with that’, then he gave up, and then you got seeing how good he was. He was probably our best hitter down the stretch.”
At one point, Stovall sat out for two weeks, missing both the Auburn and Vanderbilt playoffs, as he went through a drought. During this time, he had a chat with Van Horn about the pressure he was putting on himself.
“We sat down and he talked to me,” Stovall said. “I told him that I was going to keep working as hard as I could…He said he was still believing in me and was still going to give me lots of opportunities. Luckily for me, I was able to have some success on the road I think a lot of that played into that meeting I had with coach Van Horn.”
Stovall played first base for the Razorbacks last year, but is expected to move to second this season, which is his natural position.
Bohrofen’s 2022 campaign probably didn’t go as he had planned in his head. An unfortunate collision with a wall before the March 10 game against Illinois-Chicago held him up until April 1, and by then it was hard for Bohrofen to really find his groove.
Oklahoma’s transfer averaged .228 for 92 at bats last year, and he had 21 hits, eight doubles, one triple, 17 RBIs and three home runs. Van Horn says Bohrofen is ready to prove his worth after last season’s struggles.
“I think he’s fed up with what’s happened in terms of how much he’s played and how he’s played, the injuries,” Van Horn said. “I think he’s ready to have a great year for us. The team elected him one of our captains. He couldn’t even play last year, barely, once he got injured when he hit that wall during a pre-match drill, which was unbelievable when you were talking about it.”
Bohrofen, who will likely start in right field, looks set to put last year in the rearview mirror.
“Last year it was a weird deal that happened,” Bohrofen said. “Sometimes it’s just baseball. Everyone has their own journey. I’m really excited to start this season and play and win games and go to Omaha and hopefully win the last game of the season.”
Respect in the clubhouse seems to be growing rapidly, as Bohrofen and Stovall are each in only their second year as Razorbacks – Bohrofen as a transfer from Oklahoma before last season, and Stovall as true second year. As Van Horn mentioned, some new transfers are widely respected, including Kansas transfer Tavian Josenberger.
“He’s been a real leader in the clubhouse and on the pitch and I think the guys gravitate around him,” Van Horn said.
While the Diamond Hogs may have a bunch of unfamiliar faces coming in this season, the team has grown closer and seems to be bonding well ahead of the start of preseason practice on Friday. Mutual respect is there, but soon it will be time to compete.
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