Arkansas Baseball:

Seeds planted: Hogs in position for home-field edge

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Thursday, May 17, 2018
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn watches from the dugout prior to a game against Texas Tech on Tuesday, April 24, 2018, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn watches from the dugout prior to a game against Texas Tech on Tuesday, April 24, 2018, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- The No. 6 Arkansas Razorbacks know they're in the running for a top eight national seed for the NCAA baseball tournament with one week remaining in the regular season.

A national seed, which would be the Razorbacks' third overall and first since 2007, would mean the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville would not have to leave Baum Stadium to reach the College World Series. The Razorbacks are a program-best 29-3 at home this season.

The SEC West-leading Razorbacks (36-15, 17-10 SEC) know they have to take care of business this week to make that happen. No. 13 Georgia (35-16, 16-11) awaits the Razorbacks the next three days at Foley Field in Athens, Ga.

Arkansas ace Blaine Knight (8-0, 2.87 ERA) will face Georgia right-hander Chase Adkins (5-0, 4.46) in the series opener at 6 tonight.

"We haven't talked one time with our team about [the national seed]," Coach Dave Van Horn said Tuesday. "They know. If we just keep playing and win enough games, we'll be in the conversation, that's for sure. If we win a lot of games, it'll be easy."

The Razorbacks have not won a road series this season and will take a 5-11 road record into Georgia, which is No. 4 in the NCAA RPI rankings. Arkansas can clinch a top four seed and a place in the double-elimination portion of the SEC Tournament bracket by winning one game against the Bulldogs.

D1Baseball.com on Monday projected the Razorbacks as the No. 3 national seed.

"We have to win a road series to show what we can do," junior left-hander Kacey Murphy said. "We have to prove ourselves to everybody, so we're not going in to win just one game."

Freshman outfielder Heston Kjerstad said the Razorbacks don't talk about the possibility of earning a national seed, but they can't avoid the speculation.

"It's everywhere," he said. "You can't keep your head out of it. You're going to hear it a little bit. You just have to kind of brush it off and keep playing baseball, and it will take care of itself."

The Razorbacks have a one-game lead over Ole Miss (16-11 SEC) but would lose a tiebreaker to the Rebels based on a series loss in Oxford, Miss.

Arkansas is No. 3 in the most recent RPI rankings and No. 5 in strength of schedule.

"The strength of schedule is not going down," Van Horn said. "It's five or six now, and playing on the road at Georgia, it ought to go to two or three."

ESPN analysts Kyle Peterson and Eduardo Perez liked what they saw from the Razorbacks while covering the Hogs' sweep of Texas A&M last weekend.

The announcers, both former major-leaguers, tabbed the Hogs as a team with a legitimate shot of claiming the College World Series title next month in Omaha, Neb.

"This Arkansas club has everything that you would want to see in a ballclub that could make a run toward the national title," Peterson said. "Eddie and I have had the chance to see them for a few days, but they're pretty complete."

Perez agreed, citing catcher Grant Koch and freshmen Casey Martin and Kjerstad as key components for the Hogs.

"They have two guys in the middle of the order that are young, fast when you're talking about Martin, and talented with the bat when you're talking about Kjerstad," Perez said. "What I really love about this Arkansas team is Grant Koch behind the plate. He is as steady as they come, understands how to catch, how to receive, and that means the world to any national championship-type team to have a catcher that can run through that pitching staff."

Peterson, asked by play-by-play announcer Tom Hart whether Arkansas could win games without relying on home runs, noted how the Razorbacks slugged their way to a 9-3 victory in the opener against the Aggies, then won 3-1 behind Murphy and Barrett Loseke in the second game.

"They have the ability to win games different ways," Peterson said. "The one thing that [not] ... too many in the country have is the ability to quick strike, and they can do it with a lot of different guys."

D1Baseball.com's Kendall Rogers, replying to a question in an online chat Monday, said he thought the Razorbacks would still be in position to claim a national seed by winning just one game at Georgia.

His colleague Aaron Fitt was asked which four teams he thought could challenge defending CWS champion Florida.

"Oregon State, Stanford, Arkansas and, geez, it really feels like that's the top tier, and everybody else has bigger warts," Fitt wrote.

The Razorbacks earned the No. 8 seed in 2004 and the No. 7 seed in 2007. That latter team is the only national seed since the current format started in 1999 with a losing road record, according to Jeremy Mills of ESPN.

"We need to play better on the road, win or lose," Van Horn said. "I felt we've just played OK. We haven't done enough to win, obviously. We've played really good teams on the road that are good at home."

The series will match up Van Horn with one of his better friends in the business, Georgia Coach Scott Stricklin, who worked with him on USA Baseball's collegiate national team in 2011. The Bulldogs are on the brink of their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011.

Arkansas leads the series 33-21 and has won the past five games against the Bulldogs and the past four series in 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2017. Georgia last won a series against the Hogs in 2011 in Athens.

Sports on 05/17/2018

NO. 6 ARKANSAS BASEBALL

AT NO. 13 GEORGIA

WHEN 6 p.m., today

WHERE Foley Field, Athens, Ga.

RECORDS Arkansas 36-15, 17-10 SEC; Georgia 35-16, 16-11

STARTING PITCHERS Arkansas RHP Blaine Knight (8-0, 2.87 ERA); Georgia RHP Chase Adkins (5-0, 4.46)

SERIES Arkansas leads 33-21 overall

RADIO Razorbacks Sports Network

TELEVISION ESPN2

SHORT HOPS

Knight and Adkins are two of the three remaining unbeaten SEC pitchers (along with Ole Miss’ James McArthur) with at least eight starts. … Arkansas LHP Kacey Murphy (6-4, 2.30 ERA) is second in SEC ERA behind Florida’s Brady Singer (10-1, 2.25). He’s scheduled to oppose RHP Emerson Hancock (6-4, 4.82 ERA) on Friday. … Saturday’s 11 a.m. finale is expected to pit Arkansas RHP Isaiah Campbell (4-5, 4.29) against lefty Kevin Smith (7-1, 3.25). … A chance of rain is in the forecast for all three games of the series. … Arkansas is tied for No. 1 in the SEC in hitting (.304), No. 3 in pitching (3.43 ERA) and No. 10 in fielding (.973). Georgia is No. 6 in the SEC in hitting (.286), No. 4 in pitching (3.66) and No. 7 in fielding (.979).

THE WEEK AHEAD

TODAY at Georgia 6 p.m.

FRIDAY at Georgia 6 p.m.

SATURDAY at Georgia, 11 a.m. (SECN)

SUNDAY Off

MONDAY Off

TUESDAY TBD

WEDNESDAY TBA at SEC Tournament

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