Matt Jones has been the online sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette since 2010. He is also a feature writer for Hawgs Illustrated magazine and is currently pursuing a Masters degree in journalism.
Arkansas making another late push
Arkansas coach Dave Van horn heads to the bench during a game against LSU on May 25, 2013 at the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala.
FAYETTEVILLE There likely isn't a team more confident than Arkansas entering this week's SEC Tournament.
The Razorbacks have won six of their last seven games entering Tuesday's single-elimination game against Texas A&M. The Aggies were the only team to beat Arkansas during the last seven games when the Diamond Hogs blew a lead with two outs in the ninth inning in their series finale on May 11.
Arkansas looks to be a team able to compete with just about anyone right now. The Razorbacks have beaten four top 25 teams in series this season, had one win against four others in weekend series and avoided being swept in any three-game set.
Since falling to three games below .500 in SEC play a little more than two weeks ago, Arkansas has played with a sense of urgency. A struggling offense is averaging more than 6.5 runs per game and weekend starters Trey Killian and Chris Oliver have combined to allow six runs over their last five starts.
Arkansas has done much of its damage with a couple of key starters sidelined with injuries. The statuses of Jalen Beeks (elbow) and Blake Baxendale (hamstring) are unknown entering this week's SEC Tournament. Both have been among the team's best players this season and could provide a boost among their returns.
Other players have been forced to step up in their absences. The most notable has been Clark Eagan, who is 11-for-24 with several clutch hits in the leadoff spot since replacing Baxendale as the designated hitter May 4.
The series sweep of Missouri likely put to rest any doubt about the Razorbacks' NCAA fate. Arkansas considerably strengthened its RPI with three road wins and could stamp its postseason invitation with a third win over the Aggies.
The late-season surge resembles the one the Razorbacks had en route to the College World Series two years ago. Entering the final weekend of the regular season with a losing conference record both years, Arkansas swept the league's worst team on the road to finish the year with a 16-14 SEC record.
The three wins over Tennessee two years ago helped propel the Razorbacks to a regional win at Rice, a super regional win at Baylor and to within one win of playing for the national championship in Omaha.
There are some holdovers from that team, but it's difficult to compare the teams, particularly because of the amount of pro talent on the roster two years ago. Despite identical conference records, the 2012 team finished with four more regular season wins.
But there is one parallel that can be drawn between the two teams and several others coached by Dave Van Horn: their best baseball was played at the end of the year.