Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
Arkansas eager to move forward
Arkansas outfielder Matt Vinson stands in during the eighth inning of a game against Gonzaga on March 1, 2013 in Surprise, Ariz.
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas and San Diego State will bring matching 7-5 records into their four-game baseball series that begins today at Baum Stadium, but they have taken different paths to get to this point.
The Razorbacks, ranked 16th by Baseball America, are coming off an 0-4 trip to the Coca-Cola Classic last weekend in Surprise, Ariz., and a free-fall in the national polls. The Aztecs have won four in a row, including a three-game sweep of Seton Hall last weekend, after losing five in a row.
San Diego State will travel east without Coach Tony Gwynn, an 2007 inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame, who is remaining in California because of his ongoing health issues, school officials said. Gwynn, 52, has had a couple of procedures in recent years to deal with a tumor in his cheek.
“I’m disappointed for him,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. “I talked to him [previously] about coming out here, and he said he was looking forward to seeing the ball park. I hope he’s OK.”
No. 16 Arkansas (7-5) vs. San Diego State (7-5)
WHEN: 6:05 p.m.
WHERE: Baum Stadium in Fayetteville
PITCHING MATCHUP: San Diego State: RHP Michael Cederoth (1-1, 2.60 ERA); Arkansas: LHP Colin Poche’ (1-0, 0.00)
Assistant coach Mark Martinez will direct the Aztecs against Arkansas.
Van Horn opened his news conference Wednesday at Baum Stadium by saying how nice it was to be back home.
“We knew what we were in for as far as the talent we were playing against, but we just didn’t get it done when it needed to get done,” Van Horn said of the Arizona swing. “I think the team’s confident and feels like we can turn it around. When you face a team like San Diego State, you’ve got to continue to elevate your game.”
The lesson learned in Arizona was a rough one for the Razorbacks.
“We can’t just walk on the field and beat anybody,” junior infielder Dominic Ficociello said. “We still have to show up and play the way we know how to play and not let up on any team.”
Arkansas will turn to left-handed freshman Colin Poche (1-0, 0.00 ERA) to open the series at 6:05 tonight against San Diego State right hander Michael Cederoth (1-1, 2.60). Poche, who has allowed just two hits in 71/ 3 innings against New Orleans and Evansville, will likely start one of the midweek games against Alabama State next week, which moved him up to today’s start.
Right-handers Ryne Stanek (1-1, 2.84) and Trey Killian (1-1, 1.29) are scheduled for the Friday and Saturday games, with left-hander Randall Fant (0-0, 2.25) set to wrap up the series for Arkansas. Barrett Astin (1-1, 1.65), who made starts the first three weekends, will transition to the bullpen to provide greater flexibility and another veteran arm.
Van Horn is impressed by the Aztecs’ starting pitchers, particularly Cederoth and Friday starter Philip Walby, a right-hander with a 1-1 record and 1.12 ERA.
“We’re going to see two to three SEC weekend starters, as far as talent,” he said. “[Cederoth] is going to go anywhere from 94 to 97[mph] pretty much every pitch. Friday’s starter is going to go 92 to 94 and can really pitch.”
The switch-hitter Ficociello, whose strained oblique muscle has made it difficult to swing left-handed, might get a shot at hitting right-handed against right-handers in the series.
“As of right now, I’m good for playing the field, running the bases, hitting right-handed,” he said. “Those are the for-sure things. We’ll find out about left-handed as the weekend progresses.”
San Diego State is returning a four-game series from the 2011 season, which the Razorbacks won 3-1, outscoring the Aztecs 30-15. TheRazorbacks pounded out 23 runs on 30 hits in the first two games. San Diego State rallied for two runs in the ninth to take the third game 3-2, and Arkansas left-hander Cade Lynch worked six scoreless innings in a 5-2 victory in the series finale. Ficociello went 9 for 18 in the series.
Van Horn said he’s still learning about the mentality of this club, which carried the No. 2 ranking and a 7-1 record into its Arizona swoon.
“We’re still trying to pull together as a team,” he said. “I mean, it takes time. You almost have to be a part of a baseball team to understand it. It doesn’t just happen overnight.”
Sports, Pages 15 on 03/07/2013