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.
Van Horn makes Oliver No. 1 man
Arkansas pitcher Chris Oliver delivers a pitch during the fourth inning of a SEC Tournament game against Ole Miss on Wednesday, May 21, 2014 at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in Hoover, Ala.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn threw the first curveball of the Charlottesville Regional on Thursday when he announced that right-hander Chris Oliver would start tonight's opener against Liberty.
Van Horn said he and his coaches struggled to find detailed reports on Liberty's hitters and that he was going on a hunch to move Oliver up and Trey Killian back a day.
"I just felt like maybe it was a little better matchup for us," Van Horn said during Arkansas' news conference at Davenport Field. "That's what it's about this time of year. Some matchups are bad, and we just felt like Chris was the guy we needed to throw.
"We feel like we have three No. 1s when [Jalen] Beeks is healthy. Our rotation has shifted around all year. I would say Oliver and Killian, to me, it's flip a coin. They've been really good for us, especially down the stretch."
Arkansas has won each of the past seven starts by Oliver (8-4, 2.45 ERA) and the right-hander Killian (4-8, 2.18).
Oliver, who is 3-1 in the second spot in the pitching rotation, is ready to take the ball.
"My mind-set didn't change," he said. "I've just got to be ready to go and do my job tomorrow."
Van Horn brushed off the idea that he was holding Killian back for a potential start against regional host Virginia.
"There's no saving a guy, I'll tell you that right now," Van Horn said. "All you've got to do is look at the numbers, and we're actually going with a guy who is older. His stuff is very good, and that's why you're seeing his name mentioned high in the draft in about a week."
The Razorbacks know how critical it is to win against Liberty. Arkansas is still smarting after it was upset 4-1 by Bryant in its regional opener last year at the Manhattan (Kan.) Regional and had to throw ace Ryne Stanek to beat Wichita State on the second day instead of against regional host Kansas State.
Arkansas eventually eliminated the Shockers and then Bryant, but the Razorbacks had played one more game than Kansas State, had fewer pitching options and was eliminated in a 4-3 loss to the Wildcats.
"It's really a big deal for us to win the first two games, because if you win the first two then you have to get beat twice," Arkansas catcher Alex Gosser said. "If you win out, you only have to play three games. If you lose that first game you have to dig deep in your bullpen, so that's really where we'll be tested."
Beeks, a junior, is questionable as he recovers from a sprained elbow but is eager to get back on the field. Beeks was on the mound when Bryant broke a 1-1 tie in the eighth inning of the regional opener.
"I've been thinking about it since last year," said Beeks, who was 6-2 last season. "I've been wanting to redeem myself. I'm not nervous about it or anything. I'm just ready to prove myself worthy for the University of Arkansas.
"That's all I've ever wanted to do. Last year didn't go how I wanted, but I can't dwell on that. I'm just excited to play in this regional."
Sports on 05/30/2014