For Van Horn, win No. 701 has to wait

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Saturday, March 28, 2020
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn is shown during a game against Grand Canyon on Wednesday, March 11, 2020, in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks won 10-9 to give Van Horn his 700th victory at the school.
Photo by J.T. Wampler
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn is shown during a game against Grand Canyon on Wednesday, March 11, 2020, in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks won 10-9 to give Van Horn his 700th victory at the school.

FAYETTEVILLE — The last play of the Arkansas’ Razorbacks’ 2020 baseball season was a defensive masterpiece.

Diving stop by third baseman Jacob Nesbit in the hole. Strong turn at second base by Robert Moore with a baserunner bearing down. Classic stretch and catch by first baseman Cole Austin on a low throw. The replay review confirmed an out on the bang-bang play at first.

The double play put a bow on the Razorbacks’ 10-9 victory over hot-hitting Grand Canyon on March 11.

No one knew it that night, but the rapidly evolving events surrounding the potential spread of the coronavirus would suspend and then end the season just before the Razorbacks headed to Starkville, Miss., for their SEC opening series at Mississippi State.

Coach Dave Van Horn hit a milestone in that win over Grand Canyon with his 700th victory at Arkansas, so he’ll be stuck on that big, round number for many months.

Van Horn reacted to that 700th coaching victory at Arkansas about like he did for his 699th a day earlier.

Even keeled. Low key. Eye on the bigger picture.

He was asked if the 700-win milestone meant anything to him.

“Yeah, I guess so,” Van Horn said. “I mean, it’s better than 600.”

After the 10-9 win over Grand Canyon, UA officials showed a brief video of some highlights of the Van Horn era, which has led to six College World Series appearances, including a runner-up showing in 2018, in his first 17 seasons.

“I appreciated it,” Van Horn said of the tribute. “I’ve had a lot of good players. It’s like I told the players after the game, they’re congratulating me and I’m congratulating them, telling them, ‘I didn’t play in any one of those games.’”

Van Horn, who is 700-389 at Arkansas, triggered a $100,000 bonus in his contract with the milestone win.

The 59-year-old was seemingly in full stride when the coronavirus lull hit. He went from 600 wins to 700 wins in 145 games, the shortest stretch of games he’s needed for any of the 100-win increments at Arkansas, edging out 148 games for his first 100 wins.

Recruiting is booming and the school is in the midst of building a 49,000 square-foot facility beyond the right-field fence with a price tag of around $27 million.

Curiously, Van Horn’s previous four 100-win milestones occurred away from home after he notched No. 200 with a 9-0 victory over Albany to open the Fayetteville Regional in 2007. He secured wins 300, 400, 500 and 600 at Mississippi State, Rice, Auburn and San Diego State, respectively.

Van Horn has a lot of winning to catch one of his mentors, Norm DeBriyn, atop the Razorbacks’ all-time victories list. DeBriyn had a record of 1,161-650 in his 33 seasons.

But clearly, the Arkansas alumnus, who paid his dues with 13 seasons as a graduate assistant and smaller-school coach before hitting the Power 5 ranks, has made a mark on the game. Van Horn is the active leader with eight College World Series appearances. He has been a valuable asset to USA Baseball, having served as head coach for Team USA in the summer of 2014 and as an assistant for the program before that.

He coached a Golden Spikes Award winner with Andrew Benintendi in 2015, who rose quickly to the major leagues with the Boston Red Sox.

Van Horn has collected his greatest number out of the 700 against a pair of SEC West rivals: Alabama and Auburn. The Razorbacks are 31-21 against Auburn under Van Horn and 31-24 against the Crimson Tide.

Van Horn has a winning record against 10 of the other 13 SEC teams, with losing marks against only nemesis LSU, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. He has a single-season record five wins against South Carolina in 2018 (5-2) and Florida in 2009 (5-0).

His record vs. the current SEC membership is 304-269 (.531), including a 4-3 mark against Missouri and Texas A&M before those schools joined the SEC for the 2012-13 season.

The Razorbacks played Ole Miss eight times in 2019 and split the series 4-4 while winning the most important set, an NCAA Super Regional at Baum-Walker Stadium.

Van Horn also has a growing coaching tree, having seen assistants Matt Deggs, Todd Butler, Chris Curry and Tony Vitello all take head coaching jobs, and pitching coach Wes Johnson make an unprecedented move from the Razorbacks to the Minnesota Twins as their pitching coach after the 2018 season.

Van Horn reflected for a few moments on the 700-win milestone at Arkansas on a recent teleconference, sharing some of his top moments.

“There’s been a bunch of them,” Van Horn said. “There’s been so many, oh gosh.

“You could start back to the first game of the year in 2003 when we beat Creighton. This was a game that was not scheduled. I knew they had a good club. I had just come from up that way. We beat them pretty good. That was exciting.”

That’s a reference to Van Horn’s debut as DeBriyn’s successor, a 9-5 win over the Blue Jays on Feb. 11, 2003, after a successful stint at Nebraska that included the Cornhusker’s first two trips to the CWS in 2001 and ’02.

“The 2004 season was magical,” Van Horn added. “That was a team that didn’t have a bunch of big leaguers. Had a bunch of winners on that team.”

The “winners” went 45-24 and won the SEC regular-season championship with a 19-11 record after being picked to finish 11th in the 12-team SEC. Catcher Brady Toops hit a grand slam with two outs in the ninth inning to propel the Razorbacks to an 11-9 win over Wichita State in the NCAA Fayetteville Regional before the Razorbacks went on to qualify for their first College World Series in 15 years.

“Obviously the big one was when Brady Toops hit the home run,” Van Horn said. “That’s something that you couldn’t hardly draw that one up with all that went down.

“Wichita State leaving their closer in the bullpen who is left-handed. Brady Toops hits left-handed.”

Instead of bringing in their southpaw closer and possibly forcing a move to a pinch hitter, the Shockers left their right-hander in the game.

“I’m thinking, ‘Wow, he’s leaving him out there,’” Van Horn said. “The first pitch leaves the park and we’re winning. I think that was one of the biggest wins in program history to kind of jumpstart us. That led to another win and then two more wins and we found ourselves in Omaha.”

Van Horn’s mind shifted to a year for another unlikely CWS run. In 2012, the Razorbacks were pitching heavy and light hitting and they persevered in the scalding Texas sun to qualify for their third trip to Omaha under Van Horn.

After winning the Houston Regional at Rice, the Hogs lost 8-1 in the super regional opener at Baylor before rallying for a 5-4 win and a 1-0 win in 10 innings to upset the Bears. Baylor led by a run in the ninth inning of Game 2 before committing a defensive error to load the bases and then hitting two batters in a row for a walk-off win.

“The Baylor series, the super regional down there, it was a 100 degrees and the game started at 8,” Van Horn recalled. “At 8 o’clock it was still 100 degrees, 99 degrees. The dugout we were in, the sun was right in our face. They smoked us in Game 1, we came back and won the next two games. That was amazing.”

The Razorbacks have not had great success against SEC kingpin LSU during Van Horn’s 18 seasons, but a magical moment in 2011 by catcher James McCann helped the Hogs pull off a three-game sweep in early April.

Trailing 3-0 entering the bottom of the ninth, Arkansas rallied against closer Kevin Berry. Collin Kuhn was hit by a pitch, stole second and scored on Sam Bates’ single. A one-out single by Dominic Ficociello set the stage for McCann’s game-ending home run over the left-field fence for a 4-3 win.

“You know James McCann’s walk-off home run against LSU,” Van Horn said. “The game was 0-0 going into the ninth. The wind was blowing straight in. They scored three runs in the ninth and they think it’s over. Then we come back and I don’t know we ended up scoring four or five. … That was huge for us.”

Van Horn also brought up a 2008 game against South Carolina in which freshman pinch hitter Jacob House hit a two-out grand slam in the ninth inning for a 12-11 walk-off victory at Baum Stadium.

“Brought a freshman in to pinch hit, a left-handed hitter and the wind was slightly blowing to right,” Van Horn said. “He kind of back-spun it and it blew out of the park. Instead of losing on Friday night we won Friday and then we swept the series against a really good South Carolina team.”

Van Horn didn’t mention them in his couple of minutes of top-of-the-head remarks, but there are many other notable big wins, such as taking the third and final game in NCAA Super Regionals each of the last two years against South Carolina and Ole Miss. Both rubber matches were routs.

The 2018 team squashed the Gamecocks 14-4 with a five-run first inning fueled by Carson Shaddy’s three-run homer. Last season Arkansas took Game 3 from Ole Miss 14-1 with seven runs in the second and third innings and 4 1/3 quality relief innings from Cody Scroggins.

Then there’s the Razorbacks’ recent post-season success against Florida.

In 2018, Arkansas dumped Florida into the loser’s bracket of the SEC Tournament with an 8-2 win behind Blaine Knight, then eliminated the defending College World Series champions from the CWS with a 5-2 win behind Isaiah Campbell on June 22.

The 2018 Razorbacks also went 5-0 against former Southwest Conference rivals Texas and Texas Tech, and beat both at the College World Series, with Heston Kjerstad supplying an unforgettable moment by blasting the Texas first baseman onto his rear on a collision at the bag.

Here’s a keeper for Van Horn: A 10-6 win over Cal State Fullerton on June 13, 2009, for his first College World Series victory with the Razorbacks. First baseman Andy Wilkins homered and drove in five runs in that game, while third baseman Zack Cox homered and drove in three.

Four days later, Brett Eibner hit a two-out, two-run home run in the ninth inning to tie Virginia 3-3 and send the game into extra innings. The Razorbacks had three future big leaguers — Drew Smyly, Mike Bolsinger and Dallas Keuchel — pitching to another big leaguer, James McCann, in that game. Andrew Darr’s 12th inning double gave the Razorbacks a 4-3 lead and Keuchel closed it by striking out the side with a runner in scoring position.

Who can forget the Razorbacks’ run at the 2017 SEC Tournament? That team fell 4-3 to Mississippi State in their tournament opener, before blitzing Auburn 12-0 in a seven-inning run-rule game behind a combined no-hitter from Dominic Taccolini, Matt Cronin and Josh Alberius, and Chad Spanberger’s three home runs and seven RBI.

After eliminating Mississippi State 9-2, the Razorbacks destroyed Florida 16-0 in seven innings, with Spanberger homering in the first and second innings to back Kacey Murphy’s two-hitter.

Missouri State has provided some of the most memorable moments for a nonconference team during Van Horn’s watch, including an epic NCAA Super Regional in 2015 when the national No. 8 seed Bears could not use their home park.

The teams split the first two games in front of the two largest crowds in Baum history, 11,869 for Arkansas’ 18-4 victory in Game 1 and 12,167 for the Bears’ 3-1 victory in Game 2. Arkansas won the rubber match 3-2 behind 3 2/3 innings from closer Zach Jackson, who was on the bottom of the celebratory dog pile.

Two years later, the teams were back at it in the postseason. The Razorbacks’ lone victory in three meetings at Baum Stadium was an all-timer. Arkansas won 11-10 in a game that lasted nearly six hours, had a rain delay of 1 hour, 25 minutes, and ended at 3:10 a.m.

“There have been so many games over the last four or five years that have been super exciting,” Van Horn said. “I would probably have to sit down and think about it a bit, but it’s like I say, I’m proud of the 700 wins at the University of Arkansas, but I’m just proud of the players.

“They get it done on the field. We just try to put them into position to succeed. We’ve had a lot of guys succeed here. It’s been a lot of fun.”

DVH vs. the SEC

Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn has a 304-269 (.531) record vs. the current SEC lineup, with winning records against 10 of the other 13 teams in the conference. Here’s a glance at the head-to-head records vs. other SEC members, sorted by winning percentage

Opponent Record Pct. Note

Missouri* 12-3 .800 Tigers have one series win since joining SEC

Kentucky 26-13 .667 UA up 10-3 in series’ count, with 3 sweeps

Tennessee 24-13 .649 Hogs up 20-6 since last UT series win in 2005

Auburn 31-21 .596 Auburn hasn’t won the season series since 2014

Texas A&M* 15-11 .578 Arkansas up 14-8 since Aggies joined SEC

Georgia 21-16 .568 Arkansas won 4 straight series 2012-17

South Carolina 26-20 .565 Hogs went 5-2 in series in 2018

Alabama 31-24 .564 Arkansas up 7-2 since Tide sweep in 2016

Florida 25-20 .555 5-5 in last 10; UA won last 3 postseason games

Miss. State 28-27 .509 Tightest series under DVH, 4 straight sweeps

Vanderbilt 19-22 .463 Hogs 9-3 first 12 games, 10-19 since

Ole Miss 26-38 .406 Rebels had won last 4 series before 2019 Super Regional

LSU 20-41 .328 UA won season series in 2019 for first time since 2011

*The Razorbacks were 3-0 vs. Missouri and 1-3 vs. Texas A&M under Van Horn before those teams joined the SEC for the 2013 season

Van Horn milestones

A glance at some of the milestone victories during the Dave Van Horn tenure (2003-current) at the University of Arkansas

1 Arkansas 9, Creighton 5 on Feb. 11, 2003

50 Arkansas 8, at Florida 2 on March 20, 2004

100 Arkansas 14, at Centenary 1 on March 23, 2005

200 Arkansas 9, Albany 0 on June 1, 2007

250 Arkansas 12, at Auburn 6 on March 22, 2009

300 Arkansas 8, at Miss. State 3 on April 9, 2010

400 Arkansas 1, at Rice 0 on June 2, 2012

500 Arkansas 6, at Auburn 4 on April 5, 2015

600 Arkansas 5, at San Diego State 2 on Feb. 24, 2018

700 Arkansas 10, Grand Canyon 9 on March 11, 2020

100-win increments

Here’s a breakdown of the number of games it took Dave Van Horn to reach the 100-win segments during his 18-year Arkansas career.

Segment Games Record Pct.

1-100 148 100-48 .675

101-200 160 100-60 .625

201-300 156 100-56 .641

301-400 156 100-56 .641

401-500 165 100-65 .606

501-600 159 100-59 .629

601-700 145 100-45 .690

OVERALL 700-389 .643

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