Matt Jones is the editor of the Hawgs Sports Network. He is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has a bachelor's and master's degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas.
Fayetteville Regional Notebook: Hogs get preference, Arizona sweats, West Coast lacking
Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn is shown during a game against South Carolina on Saturday, May 13, 2023, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — The perks of hosting an NCAA baseball regional go beyond home-field advantage.
For Arkansas, which is hosting its fifth regional in six postseasons, the spoils include deciding what time to play on the first day.
To no one’s surprise, the Razorbacks will play first Friday at Baum-Walker Stadium with a 2 p.m. first pitch scheduled against Santa Clara. TCU and Arizona are scheduled to play the second game at 8 p.m.
“It means you don't have to sit around all day,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “Then, obviously, if you play a little bit earlier, win or lose, you get a little bit more rest before the next day. The third thing is, this time of year, a lot of the thunderstorms that pop up are in later afternoon, so you might stay away from a delay. Those are some of the things that we talk about.”
Arkansas also played the early game on the first day of its home regionals in 2018, 2019 and 2021. It also played first last year in Stillwater, Okla., when the host, Oklahoma State, opted to play at night.
The Razorbacks won all four opening games, plus the crucial winner’s bracket game the following day, and won each regional championship.
In 2017, Arkansas played the night game on the first day of the Fayetteville Regional and defeated Oral Roberts, but lost the following night to Missouri State in the winner’s bracket game. The Razorbacks were eliminated with a loss in the winner-take-all Monday game — their fifth game of the regional, but Missouri State’s fourth.
In 2021, Van Horn said he was convinced by former Rice coach Wayne Graham that playing the early game at a regional is most desirable.
“It might be a little more difficult on our fans getting to games,” Van Horn said in 2021, “but I think our fan base understands it now.”
No team that made the NCAA Tournament sweat through Monday’s selection show as much as Arizona.
Fayetteville was the final of 16 regional fields announced on the ESPN2 broadcast, and the Wildcats were the third of four teams announced to Arkansas' regional.
“It was a lot of raw emotion,” Arizona coach Chip Hale said in a video posted by the Arizona Daily Star. “Losing to Oregon the other night [in the Pac-12 Tournament championship game], I think a lot of guys thought that was going to make it tough for us. Obviously it went down to the last region that we found out we got in, so the guys were just ecstatic.”
Arizona (33-24) was one of the final four teams admitted to the tournament, along with Oklahoma, Troy and Louisiana-Lafayette. According to D1Baseball.com, Arizona’s 12-18 Pac-12 record is the worst conference mark for any at-large team to make the tournament since 2009.
The Wildcats made the NCAA field over some other Pac-12 bubble teams that had better conference records. Southern Cal finished 17-13 and Arizona State was 16-14 in Pac-12 play, excluding results at the conference tournament.
With an RPI that ranked 45th, Arizona finished higher than the other two teams. The Wildcats were the last of five Pac-12 teams to make the field.
“Their RPI was the fifth-best in the league overall,” Auburn athletics director and Division I Baseball Committee chairman John Cohen said during the selection show. “I think you’re comparing apples to apples with RPI when you’re talking about Pac-12 schools alone. They had 16 [total] wins in the Pac-12 and the fifth-best RPI in a very elite league.
“They make it to the championship game of the league tournament. They had a series win against USC. Their last two outings against Arizona State were really impressive and they have a win late in the year against Irvine. I think it is a very solid resume and it was reflected by the RPI.”
Hale said he thinks his team deserved to make the tournament.
“I just think we finished the year playing our best baseball,” Hale said. “We’ve got one of the top offenses in the country. I think our pitching is pitching as good as it has pitched all year. Those are the teams you want in the tournament. You want the teams that are hot and can give you the best games.”
West Coast boast
Santa Clara is one of four teams from California in the NCAA Tournament, but the only team leaving the state for the regional round.
Stanford will host San Jose State, Cal State Fullerton and Texas A&M at its regional. It is the only regional in a West state.
The San Francisco Chronicle quoted Stanford coach David Esquer, San Jose State coach Brad Sanfilippo and Santa Clara coach Rusty Filter on Monday about the lack of regional sites in the West and how the NCAA Tournament selection committee’s emphasis on RPI affects the postseason.
“There’s got to be a solution to it,” Filter said, “and a better way to measure the type of teams that are being left out that are on the West Coast.”
Arkansas’ ballpark is the third-Westernmost regional site this year, behind Stanford and Oklahoma State. Twelve of the host sites are on SEC or ACC campuses in the Southeast, and a 13th is being played at Coastal Carolina’s home park in Conway, S.C.
On the call
Mike Ferrin (play-by-play) and Greg Swindell (analyst) will call every game of the Fayetteville Regional on ESPN+. Some games will also be carried by ESPN-affiliated networks.
Ferrin is in his first season calling games on ESPN and he hosts a weekly college baseball radio show on SiriusXM.
Swindell, who played 17 MLB seasons, has worked as an analyst for Longhorn Network game broadcasts since 2016. As a left-handed pitcher he helped Texas to two College World Series and was the 1985 Baseball America national player of the year when he had a 19-2 record, 1.67 ERA and 15 complete games.
The top three of the USA Today Baseball Coaches Poll lines up with the seeding for this year’s NCAA Tournament.
Arkansas is ranked third in the poll this week behind No. 1 Wake Forest and No. 2 Florida. The Razorbacks were ranked fourth last week behind LSU, but jumped the Tigers after a 5-4 victory over LSU at the SEC Tournament.
Teams 4-10 in the coaches poll, in order are Vanderbilt, Clemson, Stanford and LSU (tied for sixth), Coastal Carolina, Virginia and Miami.
Arkansas has been ranked in 91 consecutive polls since 2017, and has been ranked in the top 10 in 45 of the last 46. The coaches poll will not update until after the conclusion of the College World Series.
Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.