State of the Hogs: Van Horn approaches super regional with successful plan

By: Clay Henry
Published: Friday, June 8, 2018
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn, left, talks with TV broadcaster Dave Neal during practice Friday, June 8, 2018, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn, left, talks with TV broadcaster Dave Neal during practice Friday, June 8, 2018, in Fayetteville.

— When the baseball season gets hot, Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn tries to cool it.

That's his approach as the Razorbacks hit the third weekend of postseason play with hopes for a deep run all the way to the College World Series.

It would be wrong to classify Van Horn as anything but intense. The veteran coach has an attitude about him that is unmistakable.

Ask any relief pitcher who has gotten the hook. The fire is easy to read when Van Horn asks for the baseball after the walks have built up. Sometimes it's in the middle of an at bat when Van Horn has come with the hook, with a pitcher or a hitter.

But, there is little doubt that it's a less intense Van Horn leading the Razorbacks into the NCAA Fayetteville Super Regional against South Carolina on Saturday.

Van Horn's plan is to run less than full hot for this time of the baseball season. It's a successful plan. Van Horn has coached in eight Super Regionals as head coach at Nebraska and Arkansas. He's advanced to the College World Series in Omaha six times.

It was early on that Van Horn figured out to change gears as far as intensity in postseason play. By this part of the season, his players know what to do and what's expected. Long practices aren't needed.

“My first Nebraska team I was probably a little too intense at that first Super,” he said. “We lost our first game and were home quickly. That was at Stanford.

“I told myself after that it would take a different approach. We practice, but we don't stay out there long this time of year. The main thing we try to do is take things off our players. When we do practice, I want it to be at the time of day when we are going to play.

“What I tell our coaches is that we don't want to get them too worked up at practice. Don't try to reinvent the wheel. I want our players to enjoy this. I don't want them to be too loose, just ready.”

Pitching coach Wes Johnson loves everything about the Van Horn's approach to a super regional.

“It's huge,” Johnson said. “He's the man, a pro. Dave knows it's a tough, hard SEC season, a real grind both mentally and physically.

“The pressure in an SEC season is that you grind every at bat, every pitch. So when you get a chance for a bit of a break between these tournaments, you do it. Dave wants to make sure there is time to decompress between the SEC Tournament, the regional and the super regional.

“You get your mental freshness back. You get your legs back. I think you see why he's had such success getting to Omaha.”

The Hogs still have to win two of three from South Carolina to make it to the College World Series. They know beating the Gamecocks won't be easy.

They will play the opener at 5:30 p.m. Saturday. The teams will play again Sunday at 2 p.m. and, if necessary, Monday at 6 p.m.

“We have set our practice times all week with those starting times in mind,” said Clay Goodwin, Arkansas' director of baseball operations and an infielder at Arkansas from 2001-05.

“I've noticed that Dave keeps to that same plan as when I played and we were in postseason. You see him back off the players some. And he makes sure that the coaches are on the same page.”

Student assistant Colby Suggs played in the 2012 super regional at Baylor when the Hogs advanced to Omaha.

“I'm looking forward to this,” Suggs said. “This will be my first Super at Baum. We feel the pressure for tickets. There aren't enough.”

That's one of the things Van Horn cautioned players about Monday morning at a team meeting.

“I just told them to get that stuff out of the way early, that first night, if possible, then get to thinking about baseball,” Van Horn said.

Goodwin handles ticket requests during the season, but the NCAA has a streamlined process that's all web-based. Players get six tickets apiece to give family and friends.

“I think we all did it that first night,” said Jake Reindl, a junior relief pitcher. “It takes about 15 minutes, then you just text those you got tickets for. You have to make sure who is going to be in town and then take care of it. I think everyone was done with that quickly.”

Then it was on to baseball matters. Reindl finished his last physical workout Friday afternoon, what he calls a “touch pen.” That means working on his touch on pitches at less than full speed.

“The rest of the week is treatments,” Reindl said. “You just keep your body ready.”

Reindl threw 97 pitches over seven innings during the Sunday regional championship game against Dallas Baptist when the Hogs advanced with a 4-3 win.

“I was tired, but I felt great the next day,” he said. “It went great. You just make sure you get your treatments.”

Now, it's just about staying relaxed ahead of game time.

“That's all I want them to do now,” Van Horn said. “To get this far, you have good players and you have to be lucky. We just don't want the moment to get too big. Have fun.

“We are just trying to find ways to take the pressure off our guys at this point. I've learned a lot about how to do that and I think it's so important this time of year.”

Johnson said it's fun to watch Van Horn operate at tournament time.

“It's the way Dave does it and it's so vital,” Johnson said. “He handles all of the little things as far as preparation. Stuff like making sure our pitchers and infielders are practicing with the shadows sliding across the field, at the same time as when we are going to play.

“That's real important. Yes, we are at home, but the sun is different than when we've played here all year. Last week he wanted us to see that sun again from the angle it is now. It changes as the season goes along. It's different than it was, say, in March. So we checked all of that out.

“You deal with the sun different now. Just think, we played an afternoon game against ORU to start the tournament last week. We hadn't seen this sun angle much with these shadows. So we worked on it. Those are the details that Dave covers.”

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