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.
'This place is bananas': Hogs continue to roll in home park
Fans cheer as Arkansas third baseman Jacob Nesbit runs the bases after hitting a three-run home run in the sixth inning of a game against Mississippi State on Saturday, April 20, 2019, at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE Last spring, Baseball America voted Baum-Walker Stadium the No. 1 college baseball park in the nation.
Arkansas' home might be the toughest park on visitors, too.
For three seasons the Razorbacks have been almost unbeatable at home.
Since 2017, Arkansas has won 84 of its 100 home games at Baum-Walker Stadium. That includes series wins in 20 of 23 three-game series, and eight sweeps of Southeastern Conference opponents.
The latest team to fall victim to a weekend sweep was No. 2 Mississippi State. The Razorbacks defeated the Bulldogs by a combined score of 27-10, including 10-2 in Saturday’s series finale.
Arkansas (30-10, 12-6 SEC) enters the final month of conference play in sole possession of first place in the SEC West, thanks in large part to a 7-2 home conference record. The Razorbacks are 21-4 at home this year.
“It’s super fun to play in this atmosphere,” Arkansas third baseman Jacob Nesbit said. “To have them on our side, it’s a really big home-field advantage.”
Arkansas has been tough to beat most years in its home stadium, but never has the program had a stretch as impressive as this. Prior to 2017, the Razorbacks’ win percentage at then-Baum Stadium was .705.
In the past 100 games, the win percentage is .840.
Arkansas went 29-8 at Baum in 2017 and was a school-record 34-4 last year.
“I think it just kind of comes and goes a little bit,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “Our fans have been incredible the last couple of years. The crowds have been huge. Maybe the teams are a little better; it’s hard to say. We’re catching people at the right time. There’s a little bit of luck involved. We’ve been comfortable at home.”
First-year Arkansas pitching coach Matt Hobbs said the Razorbacks have benefitted from large crowds in SEC play. On Saturday, there were 8,823 tickets scanned, but likely more in attendance with 11,087 tickets sold.
The tickets-sold figure was the ninth-largest for an Arkansas regular-season game at home.
“This was a good crowd, a good college baseball crowd,” Mississippi State coach Chris Lemonis said. “There are good ones all over the SEC, but this is one of the best and they really help and support their team.”
Hobbs said the Razorbacks feel not only comfortable, but confident playing in Fayetteville.
“I told my wife when we played Missouri, ‘I just don’t see this team losing home games,'" Hobbs said. "Those were really close games the whole time, but the fans were not going to let us lose.
“I was looking around in the eighth inning today and thinking, ‘Man, it’s 10-0 and nobody left.' This place is bananas."
With the sweep of Mississippi State, the Razorbacks firmly placed themselves in the discussion to be a top-eight national seed, which would assure home-field advantage in the postseason. There are still 15 regular-season games and the SEC Tournament between now and when that determination is made, but at the very least Arkansas stands a good chance to host an NCAA regional for the third consecutive year.
The Razorbacks have the nation’s No. 5 RPI, a key component to determining postseason seeds and regional hosts. With two home series left against Tennessee and LSU, Arkansas' resumè stands a good chance to improve.
“I think there is a psychological advantage to being at home in this conference when you have a fanbase like ours,” Hobbs said. “Like today, you’ve got nine on the field and then you’ve got what’s in the stands. That’s a big hill to overcome as an opponent."
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