Hometown hero lifts Diamond Hogs, Anderson plants seeds for hoops return

Carson Shaddy / ArkansasRazorbacks.com

Make no mistake; the Razorback program belongs to the entire state. That’s from Jonesboro to Texarkana, Bella Vista to Helena, Fort Smith to Little Rock to West Memphis and all points in between.

However, when a Fayetteville kid makes a game-clinching play like Carson Shaddy did Sunday for the Hogs, expect the hometown of the Razorbacks to puff out its chest just a little bit.

Shaddy made all Razorback baseball fans proud in the ninth inning with a perfectly placed, opposite-field single to right that drove in the deciding runs in Arkansas’ series victory over Alabama at Sewell-Thomas Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

After Shaddy’s 2-RBI single, the Hogs tacked on an insurance run for an 8-5 victory in the back-and-forth game. Arkansas won the opening game of the series Friday, 7-1, but suffered a stinging loss Saturday by the same score to set up the pivotal rubber match.

The win gave the Razorbacks its third consecutive series win in SEC play. It’s the first time Arkansas has won its first three conference series since 2009.

The No. 20 Razorbacks are now 21-6 on the season and 7-2 in SEC play, which leaves the Hogs tied for first in the Western Division with No. 18 Auburn (23-7, 7-2 SEC). Arkansas, Auburn, and No. 16 Kentucky (21-8, 7-2) are knotted for the overall SEC lead.

Shaddy’s clutch play is even more impressive considering he was 0-3 on the day and 1-12 in series when he stepped to the plate.

Alabama intentionally walked freshmen lefty Dominic Fletcher so its right-handed closer Davis Vainer could pitch to right-hander Shaddy.

Shaddy, who had a sacrifice fly in the second inning for his first RBI, captured the moment. He sat down on Vainer’s slider and drove it hard down the right field line, allowing two runs to score.

It was a gritty, clutch play at just the right moment in a seesaw game that was either team’s game to win with the game tied 5-5 in the ninth.

While too much can be made of one play this early in a long SEC season, Shaddy’s hit is the type of performance in a key moment that makes the difference between a good team and a great one.

Obviously, it’s too early to tell exactly what type of team the Razorbacks have, but plays like that build momentum and confidence that Dave Van Horn’s best Razorback baseball teams have always had.

The Razorbacks have a five-game homestand scheduled this week. The Razorbacks play host to Grand Canyon at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and 3 p.m. Wednesday before hosting No. 9 LSU (19-10, 5-4) for a weekend series. First pitches are at 6:30 p.m. Friday, 6 p.m. Saturday, and 1 p.m. Sunday. The games will be streamed on SEC Plus.

The Razorbacks continue to lead the SEC in home run with 37, followed by Vanderbilt with 29 and Mississippi State and Kentucky with 27.

* Rankings are from March 27 Baseball America Poll

Anderson plants seeds for ‘special’ teams with Hog Hoops

Mike Anderson / ArkansasRazorbacks.com

Call me sentimental, but I bought the gist of South Carolina coach Frank Martin’s tearful statements Saturday night about his Gamecocks basketball team.

Martin, as fiery of a coach as you’ll witness in college basketball today, broke down in the news conference that followed his team’s 77-73 loss to Gonzaga in the Final Four.

As a No. 7 seed in the tournament, the Gamecocks (26-11) weren’t supposed to be in the Final Four. It’s hard to call any member of the lucrative Southeastern Conference a Cinderella, but compared to the other squads in the NCAA semifinals — North Carolina, Gonzaga, and Oregon — the glass slipper fits South Carolina the best.

Had Kentucky or Florida made it that far, it wouldn’t have been that much of a surprise. Their programs have been there before and were ranked in the Top 25 all season. But the Gamecocks were a surprise, particularly after appearing worn down at the end of the regular season.

But, given the chance to dance, the Gamecocks did all the way to their first Final Four. Knocking off Duke, 88-81, in the second round propelled them into the Sweet 16 where South Carolina steamrolled Baylor, 70-50.

The Gamecocks split regular-season games with Florida, but the Gamecocks won the rubber match with the Gators, 77-70, in the Elite Eight when it counted the most. The Gamecocks brought intensity, toughness, and heart that Florida couldn’t quite match.

Gonzaga looked like the better team going into to the semifinal, and looked like the better team through most of the game, but the Gamecocks fought to the bitter end. Gonzaga’s size and comfort on the big stage coupled with South Carolina’s desperate shot selection kept the Gamecocks at arm’s length.

Losing on such a big stage hurts. Going that far and coming that close will likely haunt Martin, his Gamecocks, and South Carolina fans for a long time.

But Martin pointed out how meaningful this team has been and will be to South Carolina’s program and its fans over time.

“There’s something powerful when you impact others,” Martin said, according to a CBS Sports report. “What these kids have done is pretty special. When you get people to travel across the country by the masses because they believe in what you do, it’s powerful stuff. They’ve impacted our community in an unbelievable way, which is worth so much more than the score of a game.

“That’s what it’s all about. These kids are great role models. There are a lot of kids that want to be the next Sindarius Thornwell, Justin McKie. I don’t get to coach them anymore, but they’re part of my life forever.”

Some will say Martin was being overly emotional or even dramatic. I say those folks are too cynical.

What Martin described is how many including me felt when the 1978 Arkansas Razorbacks made it to the Final Four but lost, 64-59, to eventual national champion Kentucky.

That Eddie Sutton-coached squad featuring the Triplets — Sidney Moncrief, Marvin Delph, and Ron Brewer — and a couple of role players in Jim Counce and Steve Schall who became hardwood heroes to a generation of kids that are now in their mid to late 40s and 50s, and lit a passion for Razorback basketball that had never truly existed before.

There wasn’t a basketball-minded kid in the state in the late 1970s who didn’t want to dunk with the ferocity of Moncrief, swish one in from deep like Delph or drop in one of those artful finger rolls like Brewer.

That passion burned through the rest of Sutton’s tenure at Arkansas though he would never guide the Razorbacks back to the Final Four before exiting to coach Kentucky after the 1985 season.

However Hog fans still remember the other great players of the Sutton era like U.S. Reed, Scott Hastings, Darrell Walker, Alvin Robertson, Joe Kleine, Charles Balentine and others.

After a couple of rebuilding seasons, Nolan Richardson had the Razorbacks back in the NCAA Tournament and running in 1988, and that team launched an unprecedented run of success for the Razorbacks basketball program, culminating in back-to-back NCAA finals appearances in 1994 and 1995 and the school’s lone basketball national title in 1994.

While covering those teams almost seems like yesterday to me, more than three decades have past since Richardson took over the program in 1985.

However, those exquisite memories still fill the imagination of Razorback fans who delighted at the exploits of players like Lenzie Howell, Todd Day, Lee Mayberry, Oliver Miller, Corliss Williamson, Scotty Thurman, Corey Beck, Pat Bradley, Kareem Reid, Derek Hood, and Joe Johnson.

While the Razorback program has struggled with mediocrity for too long, it appears Mike Anderson has righted the ship.

The Razorbacks (26-10) improved throughout this season and exited the NCAA Tournament playing their best basketball against their best opponent, No. 1 seeded North Carolina.

A better on-the-court decision here, a kinder bounce there, and the Razorbacks could have upset North Carolina, which plays Gonzaga tonight for the national title.

While it has taken a while, it appears Razorback basketball is in the early stages of a renaissance, and that is exciting.

So call me sentimental, but, yeah, I buy the Martin’s comments hook, line, and sinker. I’ve experienced the impact special teams can have on a college fan base. It’s for real.

Better yet, I believe Anderson has planted the seeds for Arkansas basketball’s return to national significance and am looking forward to those seeds bearing fruit in the near future.