Dave Van Horn no stranger to Omaha

By: Matt Jones
Published: Tuesday, June 12, 2018
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn walks off the field after arguing a call during an NCAA super regional game against South Carolina on Monday, June 11, 2018, in Fayetteville.
Photo by J.T. Wampler
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn walks off the field after arguing a call during an NCAA super regional game against South Carolina on Monday, June 11, 2018, in Fayetteville.

— Dave Van Horn's 1,000th game as head coach at Arkansas turned out to be just another number.

It was the 1,001st that he will remember more.

The Razorbacks defeated South Carolina 14-4 Monday in Game 3 of the Fayetteville Super Regional to earn another trip to the College World Series. Arkansas will play its old nemesis Texas on Sunday at 1 p.m. in Omaha, Neb.

Van Horn's 639th win at Arkansas sent him to his seventh College World Series, which is tied with Florida's Kevin O'Sullivan and North Carolina's Mike Fox - both also in this year's field - as the second-most among active college coaches. Florida State's Mike Martin, who broke college baseball's career wins record earlier this season, has 16 appearances in Omaha.

Outgoing head coaches Jim Morris at Miami and Wayne Graham at Rice have been 13 and seven times, respectively.

Since his hire prior to the 2003 season, Van Horn has enjoyed unprecedented levels of sustained success at Arkansas, including NCAA postseason berths in 15 of 16 seasons, five seasons with a division or conference championship and three national seeds in the NCAA Tournament. But none of those accolades are as impactful as the five times he has taken his alma mater to the College World Series, breaking a tie with his former head coach, Norm DeBriyn, who went to four between 1979-89.

"I've told people for years (Van Horn and DeBriyn) have a lot of similarities," said Clay Goodwin, Arkansas' director of baseball operations who played for both head coaches between 2001-05. "One picked up where the other one left off and it's just kind of blown up from there. It's kind of unreal."

It had been 15 years without a College World Series when Van Horn took the Razorbacks there in 2004, his second season after he was hired away from Nebraska. It was another five years before Van Horn went back again, but Arkansas' trips to Omaha have been predictable for much of the past decade.

The Razorbacks' last four appearances in college baseball's pinnacle event have come in three-season intervals - in 2009, 2012, 2015 and 2018.

"We just tell every class that comes in here, 'Hopefully before the time you leave here, you'll play in Omaha,'" Van Horn said. "It is so hard to get to Omaha. I mean, did anybody stay up and watch those games (Vanderbilt vs. Mississippi State and Cal State Fullerton vs. Washington) last night? Those teams were fighting their guts out. It was unbelievable.

"I know what it's like to be on both sides - the misery to be on one side and how great it is to be on the other."

That Arkansas makes it to Omaha so often takes some good fortune, but it also is a byproduct of a cycle that produces large numbers of older, more mature players every few years. This year's team has 17 members in their third, fourth or fifth year of college baseball.

"Maybe there's no rhyme or reason to it, maybe there is, but the more experienced players you have, it helps," said junior catcher Grant Koch, who had just graduated from Fayetteville High School the last time the Razorbacks went to Omaha. "To do what we've done is incredible."

It was that veteran leadership that gave Van Horn the confidence to put together one of the toughest schedules in program history in 2018. In addition to its always-challenging slate of SEC games, the Razorbacks picked up non-conference games against five teams that made the NCAA postseason.

Arkansas is 26-15 against NCAA Tournament teams.

"The first meeting I had with Coach Van Horn, he told me this was a special group of young men he had assembled for this year and he thought they could get to Omaha," said Hunter Yurachek, who was hired six months ago as the Razorbacks' athletics director. "There is still some unfinished business. He thinks they've got the opportunity to win the national championship.

"Most coaches undersell and overdeliver, but he was really confident in this team from the moment I got here."

The Razorbacks have played games against half the field in Omaha, including all three teams - Florida, Texas and Texas Tech - that are in Arkansas' double-elimination quadrant. The Razorbacks are 2-2 against Florida, 2-0 against Texas and 1-0 against Texas Tech this season.

"There won't be any surprises," Van Horn said. "Texas Tech is an SEC-looking team, and so is Texas. Our bracket is about as tough as it gets."

The Razorbacks will go to Omaha on a tear, winners of seven of their last nine games, including a 4-1 record against teams that were in the super regionals.

"They just have no weakness," South Carolina coach Mark Kingston said following Monday's game. "They have good leadership and they have great, veteran players. They have power. They don't have a tone of team speed, in terms of stealing bases, but they have great speed on defense and make the routine play and the great play. They have great starting pitching and have some power arms in the bullpen.

"It's just a team that's really hard to find ways to beat."

Arkansas has been toughest to beat in June for most of Van Horn's 1,001 games, which is why he is considered one of the game's best coaches at one of the game's premier programs.

"Coach Van Horn knows how to win and knows how to get us to this point in the season," said Kacey Murphy, a junior starting pitcher. "He does it the best out of anybody. Yeah, I'm biased, but I stick by it because I know it's the truth."

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