Arkansas junior Chad Spanberger / ArkansasRazorbacks.com
Sometimes pulling out a victory in a game that appeared to be already lost can ignite an underperforming team.
Unfortunately for the No. 19 Arkansas Razorbacks last weekend, the underperforming team that got a confidence boost was the No. 9 LSU Tigers.
Saturday night it appeared Dave Van Horn’s Diamond Hogs had the Tigers by the tail with an 8-2 lead after seven well-pitched innings by right-hander Trevor Stephan. The night before Blaine Knight also sizzled on the mound, leading the Razorbacks to a 9-3 victory.
It appeared the Hogs (25-8, 8-4 SEC) would be looking to sweep the Tigers (22-11, 7-5) on Sunday.
However when Stephan exited with the game in hand, the Tigers had just begun to swing the bat. Arkansas let the game slip away, giving up three runs in the eighth and five in the ninth to fall 10-8.
On Sunday, LSU parlayed that come-from-behind win into a series victory thanks to a stellar pitching performance by Tiger freshman Eric Walker, who shut out the Hogs, 2-0.
Josh Alberius started for the Razorbacks and gave up just one run through four innings. Jake Reindl took over and pitched just as well, surrendering just one run himself, but neither pitcher got the offensive support they needed.
Walker kept the Hogs virtually silent, holding Arkansas to just four hits on the afternoon. Arkansas got the tying run on the base path and at the plate on several occasions, but never could break the game open with a clutch hit.
Strong southerly wind kept the ball down all day, and the Hogs hit into three double plays in the middle innings, killing any thoughts of a rally.
Compounding the situation, umpire Seth Buckminster threw Razorbacks coach Dave Van Horn for arguing balls and strikes in the second inning.
Some speculated that Van Horn might have orchestrated his early exit to light a fire under his team, but that was not the case.
Van Horn said after the game that it’s usual protocol is for the umpire to issue a verbal warning before tossing a coach, but that Buckminster did not offer such consideration on Sunday. Van Horn also commented about Buckminster being a first-year umpire, but that he couldn’t say much more.
Even though Van Horn probably wanted to say more, he probably said enough. He definitely walked up to the line of the SEC rule that prohibits coaches or player commenting on officiating to the media. But sometimes a coach needs to speak out.
Until Sunday, the Razorbacks proved to be resilient in SEC play this season. Despite losing the second game of the Missouri and Alabama series, Arkansas rebounded each Sunday to take the series.
Too much shouldn’t be read into the series loss. Though LSU had not played as well as expected in SEC play this season, the Tigers boasted top-10 potential coming into this season, and they may reach it before all is said and done.
The weekend was tough on the teams atop the SEC standings. No. 10 Auburn (24-10, 8-4) and No. 15 Kentucky (22-11, 8-4) who were tied with the Razorbacks for first also lost their league series to Texas AM (22-11, 5-7) and No. 13 Mississippi State (22-12, 8-4) respectively.
The weekend’s results leave the SEC knotted in a four-way tie for first between Arkansas, Auburn, Mississippi State and Kentucky at 8-4. LSU and No. 17 South Carolina are just a game off the pace at 7-5. No. 16 Florida, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss are still in striking distance at 6-6.
There is still a ton of baseball left to play with six series remaining on each squad’s docket. No team has proven to be dominant yet. This could end up being a dog-eat-dog race to the finish.
The Razorbacks visit Missouri State for a 6:35 p.m. game Tuesday. The Razorbacks then play host to the Georgia Bulldogs (14-19, 4-7.
The series runs Thursday through Saturday because of Sunday’s Easter holiday. First pitch on Thursday is 6:30 p.m., with Friday and Saturday’s games set for 6 p.m. and 2 p.m. respectively.
Spring practice stats don’t give full picture
After a particularly stinging loss when he was coaching the Arkansas Razorbacks, Lou Holtz quipped, “Statistics are for losers.”
In a sense, Holtz is right. The scoreboard is what matters, not the stat sheet, but for fans stats do matter.
They help us break down a game. Stats give us something to discuss, fuss and even cuss about between games and during the long lull between seasons. They help us understand the game in ways that we can’t by just soaking in the game with our five senses. Stats also fuel fantasy leagues, for all that are worth.
However, stats don’t always give us the full picture on their own. That’s certainly the case with stats a spring football scrimmage.
Don’t get me wrong. As a fan, I appreciate reporters keeping stats at a scrimmage. It’s tedious work for them. But fans want the states, and I admit they were the first thing I read in Sunday morning’s paper.
But, we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that those stats mean much or that we can glean a ton from them no matter how much we do or don’t know about football.
No doubt, the coaching staff tracks the stats from a scrimmage, but they are going to pay a lot more attention to the video of the scrimmage than a compilation of numbers.
Their eyes will tell them how well a player performed in the scrimmage, not the stats.
But as fans all we have are stats, quotes, and observations reported to us. So, of course, we dote on them.
The Hogs’ offense compiled what on the surface seem to be some impressive rushing numbers in the scrimmage. Rawleigh Williams gained 189 yards on 19 carries, Maleek Williams went for 88 yards on 18 carries, and Devwah Whaley picked up 86 on 14 carries.
We could jump to conclusions that the coaching staff has the running game fixed offensively, but that the defense continues to offer little run resistance, which was a key issue during last season’s mediocre 7-6 campaign.
However, when considering the Razorbacks did not work on short-yardage situations and that the defense was not allowed to tackle below the thighs in hopes of keeping skilled players healthy, we know the stats gave us a false picture.
For now, we have to take the word of the coaching staff that offensive line is performing much better than last spring and that the defenses’ efforts in switching to a 3-4 alignment are going well.
For the most part, I like to hear positive word coming out of spring ball. It excites me and gives me hope for the upcoming season. Head coach Bret Bielema is one of the most positive coaches in talking about his players that I’ve encountered.
However, the praise Bielema heaped on the Razorbacks’ defensive line last summer didn’t jibe with the results the Razorbacks had on the field last fall.
Some have postulated that Arkansas’ offensive line was so green last spring that it gave the coaches a false picture of how good the defensive line actually was.
There have also been rumors of issues between players and/or defensive coaches last season that exacerbated the issues the defense faced. It’s been said football was no fun for the defensive players last year. I don’t guess defense ever is fun when teams run all over you.
The point is spring football, while vitally important to the growth and development of a team, can be very deceptive, particularly to fans. No doubt, the coaches will have a much better idea where the team stands coming out of spring football, but as fans, we probably won’t.
All we’ll have to go on is what is reported, but all things considered, that’s definitely better than nothing.