Short memory serves Arkansas well
Arkansas second baseman Carson Shaddy throws during a game against Memphis on Wednesday, April 19, 2017, at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock.
NORTH LITTLE ROCK Arkansas is red-hot entering its key weekend series at No. 12 Auburn.
After the No. 14 Razorbacks dropped a home showdown to LSU earlier this month, they have won six straight games by a combined score of 58-22. That included a 2-0 win over Memphis on Wednesday at Dickey-Stephens Park.
“The LSU series, especially Saturday, was a fluke,” Arkansas first baseman Chad Spanberger said, referencing a game in which the Razorbacks blew a seven-run lead with several late blunders.
Arkansas (31-8, 11-4 SEC) rebounded well from the LSU losses with a series sweep of Georgia last weekend at Baum Stadium. Those wins gave the Razorbacks the lead in the SEC standings midway through the conference season.
“That was a big series," Spanberger said. "Winning these two games against Memphis was big, too.
"I think that has prepared for the series with Auburn.”
Auburn (25-11, 10-5) offers another stiff test. This series is even more important with the Hogs holding a one-game margin over the Tigers in the SEC West standings. Auburn is tied with Mississippi State, which was swept by Arkansas last month.
“It’s a big weekend,” Spanberger said. “If we take two, we keep the lead [in the SEC West]. Our goal is to win the West.”
This season is a stark contrast from last year when the Hogs finished 26-29 and on a 13-game losing streak. Van Horn beams when he talks about this team after enduring an uncharacteristic off year.
“I don’t know if you are No. 1 in the country, you expect to have 31 wins right now,” Van Horn said. “We play a tough schedule. Sometimes you just win games, and that is how it rolls. We have 15 more conference games and one more nonconference game, and we will do what we have to do after that.”
The difference between this year and last is that Arkansas is getting consistent pitching from its No. 1 and No. 2 starters, Blaine Knight and Trevor Stephan, respectively, and is banging out timely hits like the right-field blast that Spanberger hit Wednesday to provide the game's only runs.
“This is one of the better lineups we have had at the university since I have been here because it is so balanced,” Van Horn said. “It doesn’t matter if it is the first inning or the ninth inning. It doesn’t matter the inning. We feel like we have a chance to score. Sometimes when you get past the first five guys, you don’t feel that way. We don’t feel that way with this lineup.”
Similar to Arkansas, Auburn has two of the SEC's better pitchers, although one won't be available this week. Casey Mize, who owns a 1.23 ERA, will miss his start Friday with arm soreness. Keegan Thompson, who has a sparkling 1.29 ERA, will start instead.
Those ERAs are the two lowest in the conference.
Van Horn was complimentary of Auburn and knows its pitching and raucous home crowd will be hard to overcome.
No matter what happens this weekend, you can see Van Horn’s excitement in this team. The normally reserved veteran coach heaped a great deal of praise on his team Wednesday. He is happy to have last year out of the way and optimistic that this can be a team that makes a deep run in the postseason.
“They say baseball players are supposed to have a short memory, right?” Van Horn said. “Last year was a learning experience with everyone involved in the program, especially myself. It is great that the players are playing so well, and the team is focused.
"We are a good team. We just don’t make a lot of mistakes. We give ourselves a chance in almost every game. So far this year, we have found a way to win a lot of them.”
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