Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
SEC Baseball Report:
Gosser ready to start again
Arkansas catcher Alex Gosser heads to first after hitting the ball against Texas A&M during the fourth inning Friday, May 9, 2014, at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
HOOVER, Ala. -- Arkansas catcher Alex Gosser should be getting used to starting against Texas A&M.
Gosser, a freshman from North Little Rock, is expected to start today's SEC Tournament first-round game against the Aggies because senior catcher Jake Wise injured his right hand at Missouri on Saturday.
Wise suffered a concussion earlier this season and hadn't been cleared to play when Arkansas opened a series against Texas A&M on May 9.
With backup catch Blake Baxendale sidelined by a hamstring injury, Gosser made his first -- and so far only -- start in the Razorbacks' 3-2 victory over the Aggies at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
Arkansas fans gave Gosser a standing ovation during his first at-bat because they knew he had been ticketed to redshirt, but gave that up late in the season because the team needed him to play.
"I was looking for a sign from the coaches, and I saw everybody standing up," Gosser said. "I couldn't believe it.
"It really got to me a little bit."
Gosser was applauded by his teammates, too.
"Playing in that game was a completely unselfish move by him," Arkansas pitcher Trey Killian said. "You can't really say enough about how huge that was for the team."
Wise played the final two games against Texas A&M and started all three games at Missouri, but came out after four innings in the finale because of a hand injury. Gosser caught the final seven innings of the Razorbacks' 7-5 victory in 11 innings and batted 2 of 3 with 1 run scored and 1 run batted in.
"I feel great about him," Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said of starting Gosser. "He came in and caught the critical part of that game at Missouri and blocked some really nice pitches, made some good throws, and he competes at the plate. I think he's fresh."
Gosser said he feels comfortable starting in the SEC Tournament with the support of Wise and his other teammates and coaches.
"Jake's taught me everything I know," Gosser said. "He's really encouraged me and given me a lot of confidence to go out and play well."
Gosser didn't know he was starting against Texas A&M two weeks ago until shortly before the game.
"I didn't really have time to be nervous," he said. "They just threw me in there and I had to get my mind right."
Killian, the starting pitcher in Gosser's Arkansas debut, is starting today.
"I'm very confident in Alex," Killian said. "He's good back there."
Van Horn said he's not sure of the extent of Wise's injury or if he'll be able to play at the SEC Tournament if the Razorbacks win today and advance.
Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said starting pitcher Jalen Beeks (elbow soreness) won't pitch in the SEC Tournament and catcher/designated hitter Blake Baxendale (hamstring) is doubtful. Both missed the Texas A&M and Missouri series.
Van Horn said he expects Beeks and Baxendale to be able to play in an NCAA regional.
Playing to win
Arkansas (35-21, 16-14 SEC) and Texas A&M (33-23, 14-16) appear to have done enough to be selected for NCAA regionals, but not enough to host a regional, even if they win the SEC Tournament.
So what's the motivation for the Razorbacks and Aggies playing each other today?
"Any time you come to a tournament, you want to win it," Razorbacks Coach Dave Van Horn said. "Everybody would like to bring that nice trophy back to put in their trophy case, to get to have a chance to say they won a championship.
"Nobody wants to go home right now."
Some web sites are projecting as many as 11 SEC teams will be selected for the 64-team NCAA Tournament field, which will be revealed next Monday.
SEC coaches are not surprised at the anticipated depth of teams in the tournament.
"It's the ultimate challenge in our sport," Texas A&M Coach Rob Childress said of the 30-game SEC schedule. "It's easy to sell to recruits. If you want the ultimate challenge, then you make it through a 30-game schedule and the SEC Tournament, and you've accomplished something."
Tennessee Coach Dave Serrano, the former Volunteers pitching coach who led UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton to the College World Series, said he returned to the SEC because of the league's strength.
"I asked the coaches ... when we played them each week, have you ever seen it like this and every one of their responses is about the same," Serrano said. "It's such a grind. You have to have amnesia in this league. You can't have down times because it'll wear you down.
"People ask me about this league ... and I say you don't understand this conference until you get in it, how tough it is."
SEC coaches suggest Kentucky junior A.J. Reed could be the runaway winner of college baseball's national player of the year award.
Reed led the SEC with 23 home runs and 70 RBI, and his .359 batting average ranked second to Ole Miss' Will Allen by .0002 percentage points, denying him the SEC triple crown. Reed, a 6-4 left-hander, also led the conference with 10 pitching victories, posting a 10-2 record and 2.11 earned run average for the Wildcats.
"I've been in this league now around 15 years ... and he's had as impressive a year as we've seen in a very long time," Alabama Coach Mitch Gaspard said.
"I don't mean to be brash, but he should be in the conversation for national player of the year, and it should be a short conversation," Kentucky Coach Gary Henderson said.
"He's a Golden Spikes finalist for sure and for me he's the player of the year," Tennessee Coach Dave Serrano said. "I think he should walk away with all the awards except for the pure pitching awards."
Sports on 05/20/2014