Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year twice.
Arkansas Baseball Notebook:
Hogs 'don't push panic' amid hitting struggles
Arkansas shortstop Casey Martin swings the bat during an SEC Tournament game against Georgia on Thursday, May 23, 2019, in Hoover, Ala.
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas’ team batting average has dropped from .311 going into the last regular-season series at Texas A&M to .299.
Including the finale at Texas A&M and three games in the SEC Tournament — where Arkansas played Ole Miss twice and Georgia once — the Razorbacks are batting .157 (20 for 127) in their past four games.
“I just think we really need to evaluate our hitting approach,” Arkansas sophomore shortstop Casey Martin said. “I think sometimes we’ve been trying to do a little bit too much, because we’re not scoring a lot of runs and we’re not barreling up a lot of balls.
“It’s causing us to press a little bit, so I think we just need to relax at the plate. See a few more pitches, and then I think we’ll be good.”
Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said it’s possible the Razorbacks have been pressing.
“I mean, it happens,” Van Horn said. “You’ve got guys that want to win. Sometimes you have to relax a little bit and take a step back, take a deep breath and say, ‘Hey, it’s just baseball. I’ve been having success all year, don’t push the panic button.’
“We’re not. We’re fine. We’re just glad that guys are healthy.”
Van Horn said the rest this week was welcome after the Razorbacks spent 10 days on the road.
“I think they were a little tired, to be honest with you,” he said. “I felt like our swings were maybe just a little bit slower than normal, a little fatigued.”
Earlier this season, Arkansas had a 16-game stretch in which it averaged 10.6 runs per game.
“You’re not always going to be putting up double digits every game,” sophomore right fielder Heston Kjerstad said. “Sometimes you’re going to struggle putting up three or four runs. It’s just the way it works.”
Kjerstad said opening regional play should help the Razorbacks.
“When the postseason comes around, everyone’s a little bit more energized,” he said. “The aches and pains kind of go away because you get a little bit more rest.”
Make it two
Arkansas will be the second school with which Razorbacks senior first baseman Trevor Ezell has played in the NCAA Tournament.
Ezell, a graduate transfer from Southeast Missouri State, played in the Starkville (Miss.) Regional in 2016 with the Redhawks as a sophomore.
Southeast Missouri State went 0-2 with losses to host Mississippi State 9-5 and to Louisiana Tech 9-4, but Ezell was voted to the all-regional team as a second baseman. He was 0 for 5 against Mississippi State, but went 3 for 4 against Louisiana Tech with 1 walk, an RBI and run scored.
Playing in the Fayetteville Regional will be the second time Central Connecticut State Coach Charlie Hickey has brought a team to the state of Arkansas.
The Blue Devils played at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock early in the 2001 season and swept a three-game series from the Trojans, winning 8-1, 7-0 and 11-10.
Nice job, Tony
Tennessee Coach Tony Vitello has led the Vols to their first regional appearance since 2005.
Vitello is in his second season at Tennessee after being an Arkansas assistant from 2014-2017.
“I’m really happy for Tony,” Razorbacks Coach Dave Van Horn said. “Getting to a regional is big for Tennessee because it’s been so long for them.”
Tennessee is a No. 2 seed in the Chapel Hill (N.C.) Regional and will open against Liberty (42-19). Host North Carolina (42-17) plays North Carolina-Wilmington (32-29)
“Tennessee could do some damage at that regional,” Van Horn said. “They have enough pitching and enough good players where they could get to the championship of that regional and have a chance to win it.”
Before Vitello went to Arkansas, he was a TCU assistant coach for Horned Frogs Coach Jim Schlossnagle.
Schlossnagle, whose TCU team plays California in the Fayetteville Regional, said he’s not surprised Vitello has turned around Tennessee quickly.
“He’s a great recruiter, he really knows what a good player looks like, and he’s obviously proven himself as a coach,” Schlossnagle said. “We’re really excited for him.”
Easy does it?
Arkansas is hosting an easy regional, according to Baseball America, with California, TCU and Central Connecticut State in the field.
“The Razorbacks … can feel good about this draw,” Baseball America said in listing Fayetteville as being among the easiest of the 16 regionals. “California, the No. 2 seed, has played a lot of premium teams tough, but it ultimately didn’t win a series against an NCAA Tournament team.
“Texas Christian, the No. 3 seed, was the surprise team in the field of 64, and while the Horned Frogs have some good wins, they also have some bad losses. Central Connecticut State, the No. 4 seed, upset Bryant in the Northeast Conference Tournament championship game and that shouldn’t be taken lightly, but the Blue Devils haven’t played anywhere like [Baum-Walker Stadium] since their 2017 NCAA Tournament appearance at TCU.”
Baseball America also listed Mississippi State and UCLA as having easy regionals. The toughest regionals, according to Baseball America, are being hosted by LSU, Oregon State and Stanford.
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