Arkansas splits SEC West baseball championship

By: Matt Jones
Published: Saturday, May 18, 2019
Arkansas shortstop Casey Martin celebrates after hitting a grand slam during a game against Mississippi State on Friday, April 19, 2019, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas shortstop Casey Martin celebrates after hitting a grand slam during a game against Mississippi State on Friday, April 19, 2019, in Fayetteville.

— Arkansas has shared the Southeastern Conference Western Division baseball championship for the second consecutive year.

The No. 4 Razorbacks and No. 5 Mississippi State each finished the regular season with 20-10 SEC records after both teams lost Saturday - Arkansas 6-1 at Texas A&M, and Mississippi State 10-8 at home to South Carolina.

The division title is Arkansas' sixth since joining the SEC. The Razorbacks won conference championships in 1999 and 2004, outright division titles in 2007 and 2011, and split the division title with Ole Miss last season when both teams were 18-12 in conference games.

Arkansas' 20 regular-season conference wins are its most since it won a program-record 22 during its SEC championship season in 1999.

Mississippi State won its second division title, and first since it won the regular-season conference championship in 2016.

The Razorbacks are the first SEC West team to win consecutive division titles since LSU won outright in 2012 and 2013. LSU (seven times) and Arkansas are the only programs to win back-to-back SEC West titles since the league split into divisions in 1992.

The Razorbacks were predicted to finish third behind LSU and Ole Miss in the division by league coaches in the preseason, and Mississippi State was predicted to finish sixth. The division has been highly competitive this season, with six teams expected to make the NCAA Tournament and as many as five teams that could host a regional.

"Our division is the toughest division in the country by far this year," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said prior to the Razorbacks' series loss at Texas A&M. "The SEC East is good, but ours, man, it's been a battle."

Van Horn won his fifth division championship, which is tied with Vanderbilt's Tim Corbin for fifth-most by a head coach since the league expanded in 1992. Only LSU's Skip Bertman (8) and Paul Mainieiri (6), Florida's Kevin O'Sullivan (6) and South Carolina's Ray Tanner (6) have won more.

Division championships can be shared, but by virtue of Arkansas' sweep of Mississippi State by a combined score of 27-10 on April 18-20 in Fayetteville, the Razorbacks will be the higher-seeded team at the SEC Tournament next week in Hoover, Ala.

Arkansas (40-15) will be the No. 2 seed at the tournament and will play a non-elimination game against either Ole Miss (33-23) or Missouri (34-21-1) next Wednesday at approximately 1 p.m. Ole Miss will play Missouri in a single-elimination game the day before.

"The tournament can be very exciting, but it can also be very draining and you have to watch how you handle your pitching and maybe your catching," Van Horn said Monday. "You don't want to wear people down to where it affects you during the regional, but at the same time you want to bring back a trophy.

"We've never won that trophy and people are always getting on me, 'You don't want to win that tournament.' Yeah, I want to win that tournament, but I want to go to Omaha, too. We're going to do everything we can."

The Razorbacks lost two of three games to Ole Miss at home on March 29-31, and swept three games against Missouri on March 15-17 at home.

The Rebels lost five of their final six conference games to finish 16-14 and seventh in the SEC. The Tigers also lost five of their final six in conference to finish 13-16-1 and in 10th place.


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