Wallace quietly enjoying great freshman season
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FAYETTEVILLE — As Arkansas heads to Hoover, a freshman sits atop its stat sheet.
Among the Razorbacks’ 11 regulars, none are hitting better than Cayden Wallace’s .308 batting average through the end of the regular season.
The Greenbrier product also has 12 home runs and 36 RBIs while hitting near the top of what many consider the deepest lineup in the country, earning him a spot on the SEC All-Freshman Team.
“It’s been a dream come true,” Wallace said. “This team’s been special and the older players have really taken me under their wing and just showed me how to play the game the right way as a Razorback.”
Although he’s been consistent throughout his first year of college baseball, Wallace had perhaps his biggest performance of the season in Arkansas’ final series.
With the Razorbacks trying to clinch at least a share of the SEC West and get closer to securing their first outright overall title since 1999, the freshman went 3 for 4 with two home runs and four RBIs.
The first of those long balls snuck inside the right field foul pole to break a 1-1 tie in the fifth inning, while the second was a three-run shot pulled down the left field line that blew the game open in the eighth.
The two swings played a vital role in Arkansas getting a series-opening win over Florida and showcased Wallace’s power to all fields. It’s something that seems to be emerging down the stretch, as his tie-breaking grand slam against Arkansas State was also to the opposite field.
“I’ve always been line to line,” Wallace said. “I feel that’s something that’s part of my game. I haven’t really used it early but I’m starting to use it now.”
If he hits two more home runs during the postseason, Wallace would tie the UA freshman record of 14 set by Heston Kjerstad in 2018. As it stands now, he’s tied with Dominic Fletcher’s 2017 total and trails Casey Martin (2018) and Zack Cox (2009).
That power has been impressive, but arguably the most remarkable aspect of his season is how well he’s done in SEC play.
Facing a slew of top prospects on the mound, Wallace hit safely in 25 of 30 conference games - including 15 straight at one point - and finished the 30-game slate with a .331 batting average. None of Arkansas’ other regulars hit better than .298.
Despite the solid numbers, he’s somewhat flown under the radar because of the other freshmen who’ve enjoyed incredible seasons in 2021.
Vanderbilt’s Enrique Bradfield Jr. hit .366 and had more stolen bases (42) than seven SEC teams had all together, which helped him earn SEC Freshman of the Year honors. His biggest competition was probably a pair of LSU standouts, as Tre’ Morgan hit .370 with an SEC-high 80 hits and Dylan Crews hit .347 with 13 home runs.
Even though their overall numbers have been better, Wallace has certainly lived up to the hype that came with being the No. 25 overall recruit in the Class of 2020, according to Perfect Game, and head coach Dave Van Horn said he’s among the best freshmen he’s ever had.
In fact, as much praise as Kjerstad and Martin received a few years ago, Wallace put up very similar numbers in SEC play…
~Wallace: .331/.388/.488, 5 2B, 5 HR, 20 RBI, 22 R, 10 BB/30 K
~Kjerstad: .322/.375/.521, 9 2B, 5 HR, 21 RBI, 28 R, 7 BB/30 K
~Martin: .333/.406/.444, 4 2B, 3 HR, 11 RBI, 14 R, 15 BB/29 K
“He’s right up there with any of them,” Van Horn said. “I mean, he’s been consistent. … He’s going to be a factor the rest of this year, next year, and he’s going to be a really good professional.”
Wallace will get his first taste of the SEC Tournament when Arkansas opens play as the 1 seed at 4:30 p.m. CT Wednesday. The Razorbacks will face the winner of Tuesday’s Georgia-LSU matchup and the game will be televised on the SEC Network.