'Lost' Van Horn eyes '17 rebound

By: Bob Holt
Published: Thursday, May 26, 2016
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn walks back to the dugout against Gonzaga Wednesday, March 9, 2016, before the start of the game at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
( Andy Shupe)
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn walks back to the dugout against Gonzaga Wednesday, March 9, 2016, before the start of the game at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- The last time Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn didn't take his baseball team to the NCAA Tournament his youngest daughter, Mariel, was a baby.

She graduated from high school last week.

Van Horn's streak of 17 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances ended this year after the Razorbacks finished 26-29, including 7-23 in the SEC.

At a glance

SEC BASEBALL TOURNAMENT

at Hoover (Ala.) Metropolitan Stadium

WEDNESDAY’S GAMES

Vanderbilt 6, Texas A&M 5

Ole Miss 10, South Carolina 4

Mississippi State 4, Alabama 1

Florida vs. LSU, (n)

TODAY’S GAMES All times Central

Texas A&M vs. South Carolina, 9:30 a.m.

Alabama vs. LSU-Florida loser*

Vanderbilt vs. Ole Miss, 4:30 p.m.

Mississippi St.vs. LSU-Florida winner*

*Game starts 30 minutes after prior game

The streak started in 1999 when Van Horn was at Nebraska and continued through his first 13 seasons with the Razorbacks.

Instead of coaching his team in the SEC Tournament this week and preparing for an NCAA regional next week, Van Horn met with the media Wednesday at Baum Stadium to talk about his first losing season in 28 years as a head coach.

"It isn't normal," Van Horn said. "I don't know what to do. Honestly, I'm a little bit lost right now."

One thing Van Horn can focus on is his search for a new pitching coach to replace Dave Jorn, who announced Monday that he's stepping down.

Van Horn said there's already been tremendous interest in the job.

"I've been getting a lot of calls," he said. "Acquaintances, friends, other coaches that know me pretty well are getting calls and calling me. I've had agents call me about their clients."

Van Horn said he has compiled a list of candidates but is keeping an open mind. He said his hire could be an assistant coach or a head coach with a pitching background.

"It's a big pool," he said. "We're going to get the right fit and the right guy to come to the University of Arkansas and coach pitchers and recruit in the SEC."

Van Horn said the only Razorback with remaining eligibility he's sure will sign professionally after being picked in the major league draft -- which starts June 9 -- is junior pitcher Zach Jackson.

Arkansas' top two hitters, Carson Shaddy (.332) and Luke Bonfield (.304), have two seasons of eligibility remaining but are draft eligible. Van Horn expects both to return next season to improve their draft stock.

"I think if we get those two guys back, mixed in with some other guys, it would really, really help our lineup," Van Horn said.

Van Horn said junior Clark Eagan, who batted .298 this season while playing first, third and center field, might return to Arkansas depending on where he's drafted and his signing bonus offer.

"I don't think there's anything running him off," Van Horn said. "I think there's more calling him back."

Van Horn estimated there's a 70 percent chance junior pitcher Dominic Taccolini will return next season, and his role might change from being a starter to a reliever, possibly a closer.

"He probably doesn't feel great about going out right now because he's not real confident," Van Horn said. "I think he's looking forward to the next chapter, the next guy coming in and working with him."

Van Horn said he's not sure whether junior pitcher James Teague is ready to sign professionally or play for the Razorbacks next season.

"He'll see if anybody selects him in the draft, because he has a good enough arm to be drafted," Van Horn said.

Jorn, who will continue to work with the baseball program through the end of June, said the Razorbacks' freshman pitchers this season -- including Blaine Knight, Isaiah Campbell, Barrett Loseke, Jake Reindl, Anthony Dahl, Kasey Murphy and Weston Rogers -- have bright futures.

"I feel really good about the kids I'm leaving behind," Jorn said. "I think all those guys are going to have a really good opportunity to blossom."

Another returning pitcher is sophomore Keaton McKinney, who Van Horn said probably will focus on his conditioning and building arm strength over the summer.

McKinney, 6-2 with a 3.21 ERA as a freshman, slumped to 1-5 with a 6.66 ERA this season after undergoing hip surgery.

"He's a competitor, and he was disappointed in his year," Van Horn said. "He feels like he let himself down and the team down. I appreciate that.

"Talk's talk, but he said all the right things. He can come back next fall, and I think we'll see a lot better player."

Van Horn is hoping the Razorbacks will be able to keep most of their signees, but he has to see what happens in the draft.

"A couple of these new guys, if they get here, they're going to play," Van Horn said. "They're ready. Same on the mound. A couple of these arms, they come in healthy they're going to help us right away."

Van Horn said he was hopeful the Razorbacks could extend their NCAA Tournament streak when in late April they won a series at Kentucky, won nonconference games against Creighton and Oklahoma State, and won their opener against Texas A&M to improve to 26-16 and 7-12 in the SEC.

Instead, the Razorbacks lost their final 13 games.

"Down the stretch, if it could have gone wrong, it did," Van Horn said.

Van Horn said there were a lot of things he could have done differently that might have resulted in more victories.

"I look in the mirror, it's my fault," he said. "I've told the team that.

"We won't let it happen again next year. We'll get better."

Sports on 05/26/2016

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