Hog Calls

Diamond Hogs made remarkable run to SEC title

Arkansas players huddle prior to a game against Vanderbilt on Saturday, May 20, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn.

FAYETTEVILLE — Had the Razorbacks clinched the SEC West and overall championship Friday night, Dave Van Horn insists a different Arkansas lineup would have concluded the SEC season Saturday at Vanderbilt.

Different but not vastly. Regular irregulars define this SEC season Arkansas closed as SEC West champion and SEC overall co-champion with East winner Florida.

Winning 8-2 Thursday’s series opener vs. Vanderbilt’s Commodores, the Razorbacks appeared clinching it all Friday leading Vanderbilt, but they got stunned 10-8 in Nashville, Tenn., by an eight-run eighth.

Arkansas lost 7-6 Saturday, but LSU lost Saturday at Georgia, and Florida lost Friday at Kentucky. The 20-10 in the SEC Hogs edged LSU, who was 19-10 with one rainout, by one-half game and overall tied 20-10 Florida whom Arkansas didn’t play.

A disappointing finish, but a season-long amazing achievement for these Razorbacks, injury-plagued yet 39-15 overall and tied at the top of the nation’s toughest conference.

“Just really excited to be SEC champs,” Van Horn said. “It’s so hard to do.”

More from WholeHogSports: Van Horn named SEC coach of the year by his peers

Especially hard weighing Van Horn assessing Saturday’s what-if lineup had the Hogs clinched everything Friday to rest regulars before their Wednesday start of the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala.

Rewarded first-round byes along with Florida, LSU and East runner-up Vanderbilt, Arkansas opens Wednesday the 12-team Tournament’s double-elimination phase vs. today’s play-in Tennessee vs. Texas A&M survivor.

Had Van Horn rested those position players deemed season-long regulars, only catcher Parker Rowland, first baseman Brady Slavens, third baseman Caleb Cali, right fielder Jace Bohrofen and designated hitter Kendall Diggs would sit.

Center fielder Tavian Josenberger and left fielder Jared Wegner were mainstays until injured. Josenberger (hamstring) missed nine games. Wegner (fractured thumb) missed 18. They haven’t hit to form in recent returns and need at bats before the Hogs, nationally No. 3 last week, host next week’s NCAA regional.

Second base, Arkansas’ Peyton Place, has Peyton Holt admirably replacing out for the season Peyton Stovall. A .295 hitter for last year’s College World Series team but hampered this year playing hurt, Stovall finally underwent shoulder surgery.

Ironically Arkansas’ best play of Friday’s disastrous eighth-inning, shortstop John Bolton’s catch despite colliding with Holt, finished Bolton’s Nashville weekend. His sprained ankle may sideline Bolton the entire SEC Tournament, Van Horn said.

JUCO transfer reserve Harold Coll plays short.

The Hogs have needed super-subs like Holt, hitting .390, designated hitter Ben McLaughlin, .343, left fielder Hunter Grimes and designated hitter Diggs playing right field to reach the SEC top.

That’s without even mentioning the well-chronicled, plentiful pitching injuries infringing but not deterring Arkansas’ ability to bear arms behind stalwarts Hagen Smith and Hunter Hollan.

Ultimately, fans and media presumably will judge these Hogs whether they can advance through regionals and super regionals to another College World Series in Omaha.

Too bad. Because even with a SEC faltering finish they ran a remarkable run.