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 four times and has been inducted to the Arkansas Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame.
Diamond Hogs hope to gain from trip to Hoover
Dave Van Horn, Arkansas head coach, looks on in the 4th inning vs Georgia Thursday, May 23, 2019, during the SEC Baseball Tournament at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in Hoover, Ala.
FAYETTEVILLE — Whatever the Arkansas baseball team does at the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., this week — goes 0-2 or wins it — doesn’t figure to dramatically impact the Razorbacks’ NCAA Tournament seed.
Arkansas (39-15, 20-10 SEC) should be assured of a top eight national seed based on sharing the SEC regular-season championship with Florida, its No. 2 ranking in the USA Today Baseball Coaches Poll and being No. 4 in the NCAA’s Ratings Percentage Index.
As a top eight seed the Razorbacks will host a regional at Baum-Walker Stadium and, if they advance, a super regional.
Having wrapped up a top eight seed doesn’t mean the Razorbacks don’t have some things to gain from playing in the SEC Tournament, where they’ll open on Wednesday against the winner of Tuesday’s Tennessee-Texas A&M game.
Playing at least two games in Hoover means more at-bats for Arkansas outfielders Tavian Josenberger and Jared Wegner as they continue to work to regain their hitting strokes after being out with injuries and opportunities for some freshmen pitchers to gain postseason experience.
After Josenberger, a switch hitter, missed eight games because of a hamstring injury, he went 2 for 17 against South Carolina and at Vanderbilt the last two weekends to drop his batting average from .324 to .301.
The right-handed-hitting Wegner, who didn’t get an at-bat in the previous four SEC series after fracturing his left thumb, returned against Vanderbilt and went 1 for 11, dropping his average from .351 to .328.
“Getting those two guys going would be big for our offense,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said.
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Josenberger and Wegner still contributed offensively while struggling to get hits.
Josenberger combined for 9 walks, 4 runs and 2 stolen bases against South Carolina and Vanderbilt. Wegner had 5 runs, 2 walks and 2 hit by pitches against the Commodores.
“Coming off of injuries, it’s just all about timing,” Razorbacks senior first baseman Brady Slavens said. “I think them getting at-bats this weekend really helped, and they’re going to jump right back into it this week, and that’s really good for them.”
Wenger’s lone hit of the series was a double off the top of the wall on Saturday in the Razorbacks’ 7-6 loss to the Commodores, just missing a home run.
“Tough weekend for him to open back up after being off for a month,” Van Horn said. “He’s facing arms that are 95, 96, 97 [miles per hour] from the right side and lefties that are moving it around pretty good.
“I think his swing got better every day. Even in pregame, I could see it. I like to stand out in center field behind second base and watch the swings, and his swing looked a lot better [Saturday] than it did [Friday] in pregame.
“He said it’s less sore than it was a few days ago. So a few more days of resting it [should help]. We won’t let him swing too much. He could make a jump for us.”
Among the freshmen pitchers who can benefit from pitching in Hoover are Gage Wood, Parker Coil, Christian Foutch and Ben Bybee.
Wood, a right-hander from Batesville, has emerged as a closer with five saves in SEC games, but he struggled at Vanderbilt and allowed five runs in 1/3 of an inning in the Commodores’ eight-run eighth on Friday when they rallied to win 10-8 after trailing 8-2.
In Vanderbilt’s victory on Saturday, Wood and Coil both balked in runs.
Foutch hasn’t gotten an out in his last three appearances while allowing three runs. He last pitched on May 2 against Lipscomb.
“The guy that needs to get on the mound is Foutch,” Van Horn said. “We need him. I feel bad that we didn’t throw him [at Vanderbilt].
“I know he’s had a couple rough outings in a row, but he’s got really good stuff and we need to get him on the mound and get him going a little bit. Need to get Bybee an opportunity to pitch some.
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“We’ve got to get Wood out there. We need to get him going. We have to have him throwing like he’s thrown before for us a lot.”
The Razorbacks figure to use plenty of pitchers in Hoover.
“I’m going to spread it out as best I can,” Van Horn said. “We’re not going to overdo it with anybody and we’re going to try to win as many as we can and get ready for a regional.”
Losing the last two games at Vanderbilt after winning Thursday night’s opener 8-2 kept the Razorbacks from winning the outright SEC championship.
But Arkansas claimed a share of only its fourth SEC title since joining the conference in 1992. The Razorbacks won outright titles in 1999 and 2021 and shared the 2004 championship with Georgia.
“It’s amazing to be able to say you’re an SEC champ,” Arkansas junior pitcher Will McEntire said. “We fought hard all season long, but I think [what happened at Vanderbilt is] kind of a good thing. I think this might leave a salty taste in our mouth and have us coming out fired up for the postseason.”
After Saturday’s game, the Razorbacks bussed from Nashville, Tenn., to Hoover, where they had Sunday off and will practice the next two days.
“It’s a fun experience. Fun atmosphere there,” Slavens said. “Lot of fans from different schools.”
Peyton Holt, a redshirt junior from Greenwood who has taken over at second base with Peyton Stovall’s season-ending shoulder injury, went 13 for 21 the last two weekends batting seventh. He was 7 for 11 against Vanderbilt.
“Peyton Holt was huge for our offense this weekend,” Van Horn said. “He looked more like a guy that should be hitting in the three-hole, and that may happen.”
Van Horn said he and pitching coach Matt Hobbs haven’t decided on a starting pitcher for Wednesday’s or Thursday’s games.
“As far as the games, we’re going to try to win them,” Van Horn said. “But definitely going to mix it up a little bit.”
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