Diamond Hogs likely to hit road

By: Tom Murphy Tom Murphy's Twitter account
Published: Sunday, May 29, 2022
Arkansas players gather after a 4-3 loss to Alabama at the SEC Tournament on Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in Hoover, Ala.
( Charlie Kaijo)
Arkansas players gather after a 4-3 loss to Alabama at the SEC Tournament on Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in Hoover, Ala.

HOOVER, Ala. — Riding a four-game losing streak with six losses in their past eight games, the Arkansas baseball team seems destined to be traveling to an NCAA regional next week.

Hosting a regional at raucous Baum-Walker Stadium seemed like a lock after the Razorbacks won a series at No. 18 Auburn, which was No. 4 in the Ratings Percentage Index rankings at the time, with a 7-4 win in the Sunday rubber game. A top 16 national seed even seemed possible at that time for a University of Arkansas team that led the SEC West for 29 games until dropping its regular-season finale in stunning fashion, 18-5 at Alabama last Saturday.

Now the national forecasters see the Razorbacks (38-18) as a No. 2 seed, on the road at potential destinations like Stillwater, Okla., or Austin, Texas. The NCAA selection committee will announce the 64-team bracket Monday.

SEC champion Tennessee, SEC West winner Texas A&M and Auburn, which finished third in the West behind the Aggies and Razorbacks, are projected as national seeds by most analysts.

Coach Dave Van Horn, asked by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette after Friday’s 7-5 loss to Florida if the Razorbacks had an argument to host, pointed out the series win at Auburn, but also recognized the team’s strength of schedule was not stout.

“The only thing is, I see that Auburn is possibly getting to host,” Van Horn said. “I mean, we finished in front of them in league play and beat them two out of three on their own field.

“It’s about the whole year. When you’re talking league play, it’s about 30 games. It’s not just the end [of the season]. RPI is what it is. Sometimes you play teams in your area who have good records and do well and their RPI’s higher, and some years it just doesn’t work out that way. This year it didn’t for us.”

The Razorbacks have dropped to No. 40 in the RPI, ninth in the SEC behind three teams from which they won series this season: Auburn (13), LSU (22) and Ole Miss (37).

While 65 of the 68 SEC teams since 2002 that have won at least 18 conference games have hosted regionals, it appears the Razorbacks will join the wrong side of that statistic again. The 2013 Arkansas team won 18 but was sent to Kansas State that season. Each of the 24 SEC teams with 18-plus league wins since then have hosted.

A more important issue for the Razorbacks is how to get the season back on track after losing four games in a row for the first time since a five-game skid in 2020.

Van Horn said he sees a team that will find a way to battle.

“I think they’ll put their best foot forward,” he said. “I think they’re very disappointed in the week we’ve had here. We’ve left a lot of runners on base. We haven’t pitched real well. We just haven’t played well and we’ve got some time to regroup.

“I think that whoever we play, I’m sure they’re going to be really good. The regional is going to be strong. I think we’ll be right in the middle of it.”

Florida Coach Kevin O’Sullivan said Friday the Razorbacks appear to have hit a bad stretch like all teams go through.

“I’ve known Dave for an awfully long time, obviously, and I would expect them to play their best baseball next weekend,” he said, before pointing out how Mississippi State went two-and-out in last year’s SEC Tournament before going on to win the College World Series.

“You just go home and regroup,” he said. “And they’ve got a really good team. They’ve got a long lineup. They’ve got good pitching. They have an older bullpen for the most part. Dave will have those guys ready to play next weekend.

“I don’t think there’s any reason for concern. We all go through it.”

Van Horn made certain each of his starting pitchers got work in Friday’s loss to the Gators.

Hagen Smith and Jaxon Wiggins both worked scoreless innings behind starter Connor Noland and relievers Evan Taylor, Brady Tygart and Zebulon Vermillion.

Van Horn said the logic of using Smith and Wiggins out of the pen was to start setting up the postseason rotation.

“We were losing, four, five runs, and we wanted to get Hagen at least an inning, and then also Jaxon Wiggins an inning, and we wanted to get Tygart some time out there, too,” he said.

“He [Tygart] got a little nauseated, and we don’t know what went on there, so that’s why we pulled him out of the game. But they all got to get on the mound this week. They have a little extra time to rest this week and have a little bullpen session and get ready for whatever gets put in front of us.”


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