UA hitting coach familiar with foe

By: Bob Holt
Published: Tuesday, April 17, 2018
Arkansas assistant coach Nate Thompson watches from the third base coaches box against South Carolina Saturday, April 14, 2018, during the second inning at Baum Stadium.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas assistant coach Nate Thompson watches from the third base coaches box against South Carolina Saturday, April 14, 2018, during the second inning at Baum Stadium.

FAYETTEVILLE -- The last time Missouri State played the Arkansas Razorbacks, Nate Thompson was celebrating the Bears' 3-2 victory.

That was June 5, when Missouri State beat the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville to win an NCAA regional title at Baum Stadium and end the Razorbacks' season.

Thompson will be back in uniform as an assistant coach when the No. 3 Razorbacks (27-10) host the Bears (22-10) at 6:30 tonight, but he'll be with the home team instead of the visitors.

Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn hired Thompson as his hitting coach and recruiting coordinator -- the same position he held at Missouri State from 2015-2017 -- 10 days after the Bears won the regional and five days after TCU defeated them in a super regional.

"It'll be a little weird for me," Thompson said. "But once the game starts, man, it's just another quality opponent we're facing and we've got to go take care of business. I look forward to seeing those guys, but I'm glad to be here at Arkansas."

Thompson said the feeling he has now reminds him of when he played at Dallas Baptist and faced Baylor -- where his brother Mitch was the pitching coach.

"Everybody was like, 'Oh, I'm sure you really want to beat your brother,' " said Thompson, who went 1-1 in those Dallas Baptist-Baylor matchups. "Well, yeah, we want to win."

Van Horn can relate to the emotions Thompson will be feeling because he's faced Nebraska -- where he coached prior to taking the Arkansas job in 2003 -- nine times.

"Especially when you know guys on the team, it makes it a little more difficult, and obviously he knows probably just about every player on the team," Van Horn said. "I think his emotions will be up and down a little bit.

"A lot of times you feel a little guilty when you leave a team and [then play] guys you recruited. I think they get it and they understand.

"It was a move for him that was really good for his family. I think he'll just be professional and go out and do his job and shake a lot of hands and hug a few kids after the game."

Thompson said he owes a lot to Missouri State Coach Keith Guttin, who hired him from Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College. Guttin has a 1,241-769 record in his 36th season.

"Coach Guttin is Mr. Missouri State," Thompson said. "He was a huge mentor for me and I learned a lot from him about how to treat people and how to communicate.

"I loved working with him. I think sometimes people who aren't as close to him as I was maybe think he's a little gruff or tough. But he was awesome to me.

"His trust in me and giving me the opportunity to work at Missouri State is something I'll be forever grateful for. I'm very, very blessed because of Coach Guttin."

Guttin and Thompson were at a draft party for Missouri State third baseman Jake Burger -- who was selected at No. 11 overall by the Chicago White Sox -- on June 13 when Guttin told Thompson he'd gotten a call from Van Horn.

Arkansas had an opening on its staff after Tony Vitello was hired as Tennessee's head coach, and Van Horn asked Guttin for permission to talk to Thompson.

"Coach Guttin said, 'You've earned these kinds of opportunities,' " Thompson said. "He told me, 'Just don't make a decision without talking to me first and see what I can do for you.'

"When I decided to take the job at Arkansas, he said he understood and wished me nothing but the best and that we'd always be friends forever.

"At the end of the day I had to do what was best for my career and my family, but I have great relationships at Missouri State. We were very proud of what we built there and accomplished."

Thompson said Van Horn has given him the same trust and freedom as Guttin.

"I couldn't be happier," Thompson said. "Working with the coaching staff, everybody pulling in the same direction. We all communicate. The players have been outstanding."

Arkansas has a .308 batting average to rank second in the SEC behind Kentucky's .312, and the Razorbacks are tied with the Wildcats for the SEC lead with 58 home runs.

"I think Nate deserves a lot of credit for what we're doing on offense, because he heads it up every day," Van Horn said. "That's his No. 1 duty -- to get this offense geared up and ready to go and make adjustments with hitters and figure things out -- and he's done a great job."

Second baseman Carson Shaddy, a fifth-year senior who leads the Razorbacks with a .368 batting average and nine home runs, said he likes working with Thompson.

"He knows what he's talking about," said Shaddy, who has 29 RBI. "Having a guy like that watching your swing and making sure it's in the right spot and your hand is in the right position is great."

Thompson is working with a lineup that features several veterans such as Shaddy, junior outfielder Eric Cole (.342, 7 HRs, 26 RBI) and senior designated hitter Luke Bonfield (.291, 5, 22) as well as freshman left fielder Heston Kjerstad (.362, 8, 33) and freshman third baseman Casey Martin (.322, 7, 28).

"I've been very, very happy with our work and our approach," Thompson said. "Early on I felt like we had some things we could iron out and get a little better at, and we've been making those adjustments.

"Before the season we talked about how we felt like this could be the most dangerous lineup in the country. I want it to be the most explosive, but also the toughest, and I think we continue to march toward that."

Thompson said he was excited when Missouri State played at Arkansas for last season's NCAA regional -- and where the Razorbacks beat the Bears in a super regional in 2015.

"I wanted to play in Fayetteville again because the atmosphere at the super regional was unlike anything I'd ever seen," Thompson said. "I wanted to feel that again, because that's just going to bring out the best in you -- win or lose.

"You want to play in that kind of atmosphere."

Shaddy said he believes tonight's game will be "huge" for Thompson because of his emotional ties to Missouri State.

"You can't help but want to show out against your last school that you're with," Shaddy said. "We're going to come out and play hard and try to get this win for Coach Thompson."

Tonight will mark the 11th time Thompson has coached in an Arkansas-Missouri State game the last four seasons.

"Personally, I try to treat each game the same from a preparation standpoint," Thompson said. "But before the season, yeah, I knew when we were playing Missouri State."

Sports on 04/17/2018

Up Next

NO. 3 ARKANSAS VS. MISSOURI STATE

WHEN 6:30 p.m. today

WHERE Baum Stadium, Fayetteville.

RECORDS Arkansas 27-10; Missouri State 22-10

SERIES Arkansas leads 53-26

STARTING PITCHERS Missouri State TBA; Arkansas: RHP Caleb Bolden (3-0, 2.81 ERA)

RADIO Razorback Sports Network

TELEVISION None

INTERNET SEC Network-Plus

SHORT HOPS Missouri State has not named a starter, but the mostly likely candidates are normal mid-week starter Austin Knight (1-0, 4.97 ERA) and Sunday starter Logan Wiley (4-3, 4.12), whose start last weekend was lost due to bad weather. … Missouri State has gone 6-4 in the last 10 games vs. Arkansas since snapping the Razorbacks’ 10-game winning streak in the series with a 2-0 victory on March 31, 2015. … Arkansas LHP Matt Cronin became the first Razorback to save two games on the same day under Coach Dave Van Horn when he finished up 2-0 and 3-0 victories over South Carolina on Saturday.

THE WEEK AHEAD

TODAY vs. Missouri State 6:30 p.m.

WEDNESDAY Off

THURSDAY Off

FRIDAY at Mississippi State*, 6:30 p.m.

SATURDAY at Mississippi State*, 6:30 p.m.

SUNDAY at Mississippi State*, 1 p.m.

MONDAY Off

  • SEC game

Nate Thompson at a glance

POSITION Arkansas hitting coach and recruiting coordinator

COACHING CAREER Dallas Baptist student assistant 2006; Fort Hays (Kan.) State graduate assistant 2007; Nebraska volunteer assistant 2008-10; Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College assistant coach 2011-14; Missouri State assistant coach 2015-17; Arkansas assistant coach 2018-present.

COLLEGE PLAYING CAREER Dallas Baptist 2003-05

FAMILY Wife, Anna; children Nevaeh, Natalie

AGE 35 (born Nov. 11, 1982)

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