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.
NCAA BASEBALL TOURNAMENT:
UA gets Liberty, trip to Virginia
Arkansas second baseman Brian Anderson throws the ball during the seventh inning of a SEC Tournament game against LSU on Thursday, May 22, 2014 at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in Hoover, Ala.
FAYETTEVILLE -- A late surge earned the Arkansas baseball team a No. 2 seed for its 13th consecutive NCAA regional appearance, but a difficult draw.
Arkansas (38-23), which has won nine of its past 12 games, was sent to the Charlottesville Regional where it will face Big South Conference champion Liberty (41-16) in a first-round game Friday at 6 p.m.
The regional host is Virginia (44-13), the nation's No. 1 team in the RPI rankings and the No. 3 national seed, which will play Bucknell (30-19-1) at 1 p.m. on Friday.
The Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) is a scale used by the NCAA Selection Committee to rank Division I baseball teams by their performance in light of strength of schedule. Low RPI ranking numbers denote strong teams; and high numbers, weaker ones.
Arkansas is No. 33 in the most recent RPI, Liberty is No. 30 and Bucknell is No. 110.
The Razorbacks have battled injuries to starting left-handed pitcher Jalen Beeks, catcher Jake Wise and designated hitter Blake Baxendale the past several weeks, but it hasn't stopped them from getting hot at the right time with a restructured batting order headed by freshman Clark Eagan.
"It's a team that's confident and it feels like we have a chance to win it," said Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn, who has guided the Hogs to 12 consecutive regional appearances.
"I feel like we have a lot of momentum going into the postseason," said Arkansas right-hander Trey Killian, who is scheduled to start against Liberty. "We're a hot team, and we're a dangerous team right now."
The Razorbacks went 5-1 in their final two regular season series against Texas A&M and Missouri, then won three games at the SEC Tournament with a patchwork pitching plan behind Killian and right-hander Chris Oliver.
"We were playing pretty well in the tourney, other than that last game we kind of ran out of gas," second baseman Brian Anderson said, "but overall as a team we are feeling pretty confident going in.
"The draw that we got, there are going to be some tough teams in this regional, but I think overall ... we've got some momentum going."
Liberty went 2-2 in the Big South Tournament last week after having Jim Toman honored as coach of the year, second baseman Ryan Seiz (.362 average, 12 home runs, 42 RBI) as player of the year, right-hander Trey Lambert (11-2, 2.10 ERA) as pitcher of the year as well as having the league's top freshman in right-hander Parker Bean (7-2, 2.71).
The Flames' campus is in Lynchburg, Va., a 75-minute drive to Charlottesville.
Van Horn said Beeks might return to the bullpen if he's healthy enough to pitch this weekend, and he expected to have an update on Beeks' sore left elbow today.
"It would be huge for us, especially if he's pitching the way he can," Van Horn said. "That would be a major plus for us, whether we used him as a seventh-, eighth-, ninth-inning-type guy or to close a game. Or get to a situation where he could start, it would be tremendous for our staff, just having another arm in there with experience would be big."
Said Killian, "Beeks has been a huge part of our staff this year. Obviously that has kind of hurt us losing him late in the season. If he can contribute any at all, it's going to be a huge help to us."
Van Horn said senior catcher Jake Wise, who did not play in the SEC Tournament, is nursing a hairline fracture on a bone on the top of his right hand, and that Baxendale hasn't been in the batting cages since injuring him hamstring in the series at Ole Miss the first weekend in May.
"He's maybe done a little drill work, a little tee work, some bunting," Van Horn said. "It's been 22-23 days, so maybe he'll be ready by Friday to come in and pinch it.
"I'm not going to change our lineup now. If they're all healthy, I'm going to put Clark Eagan at the top of the lineup."
The Razorbacks were one of 10 SEC teams to receive regional bids, including two national seeds: No. 2 Florida and No. 8 LSU and three additional regional hosts: South Carolina, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt.
"It just seemed like this year, boy, the teams were really good," Van Horn said. "It doesn't surprise me a bit that we got 10. I hope that all 10 teams go out and play really well in their regionals, so when it's all said and done we can say that we deserved it."
Sports on 05/27/2014