Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Diamond Hogs release 2018 schedule
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn instructs his players during practice Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas has finalized its 2018 schedule and several of college baseball’s top teams are on the list.
The Razorbacks will play at least 24 games against at least 10 teams that made the 2017 NCAA Tournament, including road trips to defending national champion Florida on March 23-25 and defending national runner-up LSU on May 4-6.
But the real draw to Arkansas’ schedule is the home slate, which includes long-awaited reunions with former Southwest Conference rivals Texas on March 13-14 and Texas Tech on April 24-25, and an April 17 game against Missouri State, which eliminated the Razorbacks from the NCAA regional at Baum Stadium earlier this year.
“It’s probably the toughest schedule on paper that we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said 16th-year Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn. “You just look at some the teams that are on there, some big-name schools, nonconference teams that are going to be projected to be in regionals or were in regionals last year.
“It’s a great schedule for our team challenge-wise. It’s going to challenge us just about every game. You can’t really just look on there and say, ‘Yeah, they’re going to get that one.’ There might be a couple of those, but other than that we’re going to have to earn them all, which I think is going to keep our players on their toes.”
Texas and Texas Tech will make their first trips to Fayetteville since Arkansas was a member of the Southwest Conference. The Longhorns’ last trip was in 1991 and the Red Raiders’ last trip in 1990.
Neither team has played at Baum Stadium, which opened in 1996.
Texas and Texas Tech were NCAA postseason teams a season ago. The Red Raiders were a national seed, but failed to advance past the regional round.
“Having those types of teams creates a great opportunity for us,” said Carson Shaddy, a fifth-year senior second baseman. “I think if we do what we’re supposed to do, we’re going to have a really high RPI going into the postseason next year. I truly believe that this team can handle what we have coming toward us.”
Arkansas opens the season with a three-game series against Bucknell on Feb. 16-18. The Bison are coached by former Razorbacks pitcher Scott Heather, who also was a graduate assistant at Arkansas and a five-year assistant at Arkansas-Fort Smith.
Other weekend series are March 2-4 against 12-time national champion Southern Cal and March 9-11 against Kent State, the 2017 regular season champion in the Mid-American Conference.
Arkansas is scheduled to play four games in San Diego in late February, beginning with a Feb. 21 date against Arizona, which defeated the Razorbacks at the Frisco (Texas) College Baseball Classic in March. The Wildcats were national runner-up in 2016.
Arizona and Arkansas are part of the field for the Tony Gwynn Classic, which is hosted by San Diego and San Diego State. Other teams in the Feb. 23-25 tournament include Michigan, Grand Canyon and Cal Poly Pomona.
Matchups for the Tony Gwynn Classic have not been announced. Michigan and San Diego State made the NCAA Tournament field last season.
The Razorbacks will play Kentucky, Auburn, South Carolina, Alabama and Texas A&M in home conference series. In addition to Florida and LSU, the Razorbacks will play at Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Georgia in SEC play.
The Ole Miss (March 29-31), South Carolina (April 12-14) and Georgia (May 17-19) series will be played Thursday through Saturday. The other seven SEC series are scheduled to begin on Fridays.
Arkansas’ nonconference schedule includes three games that will be played at minor league parks. The Razorbacks are scheduled to play North Carolina-Charlotte at BB&T Ballpark in Charlotte on March 20; Memphis at AutoZone Park in Memphis on March 27; and Grambling at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock on April 10.
“Getting to play in those big minor league parks, having a change of scenery - it’s a neutral site in some respects - is pretty cool for us,” Shaddy said. “We get to go and kind of feel like…minor leaguers. It’s kind of fun to go into those locker rooms and be in awe of what could be.”
The games in Charlotte and Memphis will be part of nine road games in 11 days for the Razorbacks, with the first five played during Arkansas’ spring break. The four-state road swing will include the SEC series at Florida and Ole Miss.
“You get better playing on the road,” Van Horn said. “If you can win on the road it’s great for your RPI.”
Arkansas' 2018 SEC Schedule
Feb. 16-18: Bucknell
Feb. 21: Arizona (in San Diego)
Feb. 23-25: Tony Gwynn Classic (in San Diego)
Feb. 28-March: Dayton
March 2-4: Southern Cal
March 9-11: Kent State
March 13-14: Texas
March 16-18: Kentucky
March 20-21: at North Carolina-Charlotte
March 23-25: at Florida
March 27: at Memphis
March 29-31: at Ole Miss
April 3-4: Louisiana-Monroe
April 6-8: Auburn
April 10: Grambling (in North Little Rock)
April 12-14: South Carolina
April 17: Missouri State
April 20-22: at Mississippi State
April 24-25: Texas Tech
April 27-29: Alabama
May 4-6: at LSU
May 11-13: Texas A&M
May 17-19: at Georgia
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