Diamond Hogs looking snake bitten going into final home series

If I believed in karma, I might believe it was doing a number on the Arkansas Razorbacks baseball team.

After a slow start last year that saw them stumble to a 13-13 record, Dave Van Horn’s Razorbacks turned their season around and made a surprising postseason run to Omaha, Neb., for the College World’s Series.

A month ago, the Razorbacks faithful were dreaming of a similar turnaround, but with just two weeks left in the regular season that doesn’t seem to be in the cards, tea leaves, crystal ball or whatever type of voodoo you might ascribe to.

Last year’s turnaround was uncommon as Bret Bielema might say, but it wasn’t supernatural. The Razorbacks got their act together and rallied around Andrew Benintendi, who fashioned one of the great if not the greatest individual seasons in Razorbacks baseball history.

While the Razorbacks have talent, there’s not another Benintendi on the squad, at least not for this season. When a squad has a player whom his teammates know they can depend on, it makes all the difference in the world. His high tide lifts all the other boats.

Of course, as much as Benintendi’s play meant to the Hogs, the key to last year’s turnaround was improved pitching as the season wore on. Reliable starting pitching is something else the Hogs haven’t figured out as of yet this season. Stranded runners have also plagued the team all year long.

Issues like those create a steep hill for any team to climb, but playing in the SEC only exacerbates the problem. There are some teams with poor records in the SEC, but if you take the entire landscape of Division I college baseball into consideration, there’s not a truly bad team in the SEC.

The Hogs suffered through another tough weekend in their road trip to Baton Rouge, La. The Razorbacks were within a few plays of winning the series, but wound up being swept, losing 5-4 on Friday, 10-9 in 10 innings on Saturday, and then 7-1 on Sunday.

The Razorbacks had an eight-run lead on Saturday before the Tigers roared back and took the game in the 10th inning. Some are crediting what is being called a rally possum for the victory. The disgusting, little marsupial made its way on to the field and shortly thereafter the tide began to turn for the Hogs. The Tigers claimed the icky little rascal as a mascot, if only for that one weekend. If you haven’t seen the video of the creature, it might give you a laugh.

But this season’s been no laughing matter for Van Horn or the Hogs, who not only get to stew in their juices without a midweek game before hosting Alabama for the final home series of the season, but also have final exams to complete this week.

Going into the Alabama series, the Razorbacks are 26-22 overall and 7-17 in league play. The Hogs are tied with Tennessee and Missouri for last place in the overall SEC standings.

If the season ended today, the Razorbacks would get the final spot in the SEC Baseball Tournament, held May 24-29 at Hoover, Ala., ahead of the Vols and Tigers. Arkansas’ series sweep over Auburn gives the Arkansas a tiebreaker advantage.

But that’s this week. Another winless weekend, and Tennessee or Missouri or both could crawl ahead of the Hogs.

The Razorbacks need to make the most of this weekend’s series with Alabama. Arkansas’ final SEC series of the year is at No. 3 Mississippi State. The Crimson Tide are unranked and have a similar overall record to Arkansas’ at 27-21, but the Crimson Tide have done more damage in league play than the Razorbacks with a 12-12 mark.

The Hogs have dropped six games in a row, dating back to their 9-5 victory over Texas A&M on April 30 in the first game of that series. That’s a long time to deal with the agony of defeat without feeling the thrill of victory.

While the hope of making it to an NCAA Baseball Regional likely rests on the improbability of winning the SEC Baseball Tournament, the Razorbacks should be playing for pride this weekend when Alabama comes to town.

The weather forecast for the weekend looks good so far, and Razorbacks fans will rally around the Hogs if the Razorbacks give them something to rally around.

It will be seniors Rick Nomura, Michael Bernal, Tucker Pennell, and Cullen Gassaway’s final series at Baum Stadium. It would be great if the Razorbacks still have enough fight in them to make it a memorable weekend for those seniors and the Hogs’ loyal fans.

SEC standings

Florida: 16-7 (40-8)
South Carolina: 16-7 (36-11)
Vanderbilt: 14-10 (36-12)
Kentucky: 13-11 (29-19)
Georgia: 8-16 (23-25)
Tennessee: 7-17 (25-23)
Missouri: 7-17 (24-25)

Texas A&M: 16-8 (37-10)
Mississippi State: 15-9 (33-14-1)
LSU: 14-10 (31-16)
Ole Miss: 14-10 (36-13)
Alabama: 12-12 (27-21)
Auburn: 8-16 (21-26)
Arkansas: 7-17 (26-22)

SEC Tournament seedings

1. Florida
2. Texas A&M
3. South Carolina
4. Mississippi State
5. LSU/Ole Miss/Vandy
6. LSU/Ole Miss/Vandy
7. LSU/Ole Miss/Vandy
8. Kentucky
9. Alabama
10. Georgia
11. Auburn
12. Arkansas

OUT: Missouri and Tennessee