The Arkansas Razorbacks’ hard work and fine play paid off for them Monday when the NCAA Baseball Tournament Selection Committee named the Hogs the No. 5 National Seed in the 64-team field.
Now, the home-loving Hogs can use Baum Stadium as the launching point for their quest to return to the College Baseball World Series in Omaha, Neb. where they plan to chase the program’s first baseball national championship.
While the top 16 seeds in the tournament host first round Regionals, the top eight seeds also have the right to host a second-round Super Regional if they advance past the first weekend.
The Razorbacks (39-18) open play at 2 p.m. Friday against No. 4 Oral Roberts (38-10) to get the double-elimination regional underway. No. 2 Southern Miss (43-16) faces No. 3 seed Dallas Baptist (40-19) at 7 p.m.
All of that is great news for Arkansas that garnered 30 of its 39 victories this season in the friendly confines of Baum Stadium. Baum Stadium and knowledgable and rambunctious crowds have always been a security blanket for Dave Van Horn’s teams — and Norm DeBriyn’s before him — but this squad has done everything better at home this season.
That said the Razorbacks’ two victories at Hoover, Ala. last week over South Carolina, 13-8, and No. 1 Florida, 8-2, should have erased all doubts whether the Hogs could compete on a neutral field should they advance to the College World Series.
It took the best outing of LSU pitcher Zack Hess’ career to oust the Razorbacks from the tournament in Saturday’s semifinals, 2-1, adding to the string of heartbreaking one-run losses. The tally is unfortunately at seven against SEC opponents this year.
With all due respect to the rest of the field in the Fayetteville Regional, on paper the SEC Tournament is a tougher draw. It’s a much tougher draw than any of the first-round Regionals.
A nation-leading and record-tying 10 SEC squads made the NCAA Tournament field. Defending national champion Florida was the No. 1 overall seed with SEC Tournament champion Ole Miss taking the No. 4 seed, and Georgia garnering the No. 4 seed.
Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt also made the cut. This ties the record for the most SEC teams in the NCAA Tournament. Ten SEC teams earned bids to the NCAA Tournament in 2014.
Some SEC baseball analysts expected Kentucky to also make the field of 64, but the Wildcats were left out, following an injury-ridden season that kept Kentucky from living up to expectations.
Though the power of the SEC can not be denied, the Fayetteville Regional is difficult. Some have already labeled it among the most competitive of the 16. Van Horn said all of the regionals are tough.
“At this time of the year it’s who is playing the best, and I’ll take it one step further, it’s who is the healthiest,” Van Horn said.
The Razorbacks are dealing with nagging injuries in their middle infield with second baseman Carson Shaddy dealing with an injured hand and shortstop Jax Biggers playing with a broken finger. Both played in the SEC Tournament, but Shaddy, who was leading the team in batting average going into the tournament, struggled at the plate. Razorback catcher Grant Koch also is dealing with a twisted ankle, and top relief pitcher Matt Cronin is pitching, but he missed nearly three weeks with mono.
Van Horn believes his Razorbacks are healing up for what he hopes with be a long postseason run.
“It’s a great field,” Van Horn said. “I haven’t followed Southern Miss as much, but I’ve watched Dallas Baptist several times. Oral Roberts is from just up the road, and they have a great program.”
Van Horn said light work since leaving Hoover has the Hogs legs back under them, and added that it will be important for the Razorbacks to play their best baseball down the stretch.
Van Horn has not fully decided on how he will position his pitchers for the tournament other than that either Kacey Murphy (7-4, 3.15 ERA) or Blaine Knight (10-0, 2.78 ERA) will pitch in Friday’s Regional opener.
NCAA Regional Sites and Seeds
No. 1 seed Gainesville, Fla. Regional
1. Florida (42-17)
2. Jacksonville (39-19)
3. Florida Atlantic (40-17)
4. Columbia (20-28)
No. 16 seed Raleigh, N.C. Regional
1. North Carolina State (40-16)
2. Auburn (39-21)
3. Northeastern (36-19)
4. Army (36-22)
No. 9 seed Lubbock, Texas Regional
1. Texas Tech (39-17)
2. Louisville (43-17)
3. Kent State (39-16)
4. New Mexico State (40-20)
No. 8 seed Athens, Ga. Regional
1. Georgia (37-19)
2. Duke (40-15)
3. Troy (41-19)
4. Campbell (35-24)
No. 5 seed Fayetteville, Ark. Regional
1. Arkansas (39-19)
2. Southern Miss (43-16)
3. Dallas Baptist (40-19)
4. Oral Roberts (38-18)
No. 12 seed Greenville, S.C. Regional
1. East Carolina (43-16)
2. South Carolina (33-24)
3. Ohio State (36-22)
4. UNC-Wilmington (37-21)
No. 13 seed Austin, Texas Regional
1. Texas (37-20)
2. Indiana (38-17)
3. Texas A&m (39-20)
4. Texas Southern (27-26)
No. 4 seed Oxford, Miss. Regional
1. Ole Miss (46-15)
2. Tennessee Tech (48-9)
3. Missouri State (39-15)
4. St. Louis (38-18)
No. 2 seed Stanford, Calif. Regional
1. Stanford (44-10)
2. Baylor (36-9)
3. Cal State Fullerton (32-23)
4. Wright State (39-15)
No. 15 seed Conway, N.C. Regional
1. Coastal Carolina (42-17)
2. Connecticut (35-20)
3 Washington (30-23)
4. LIU Brooklyn (31-24)
No. 10 seed Clemson, S.C. Regional
1. Clemson (45-15)
2. Vanderbilt (31-25)
3. St. John’s (39-15)
4. Morehead State (37-24)
No. 7 seed Tallahassee, Fla. Regional
1. Florida State (43-17)
2. Mississippi State (31-25)
3. Oklahoma (36-23)
4. Samford (36-26)
No. 6 seed Chapel Hill, N.C. Regional
1. North Carolina (38-18)
2. Purdue (37-19)
3. Houston (36-23)
4. North Carolina A&T (32-23)
No. 11 seed DeLand, N.C. Regional
1. Stetson (45-11)
2. South Florida (35-20)
3. Oklahoma State (29-24)
4. Hartford (26-29)
No. 14 seed Minneapolis, Minn. Regional
1, Minnesota (41-13)
2. UCLA (36-19)
3. Gonzaga (32-22)
4. Canisius (35-20)
No. 3 seed Corvallis, Ore. Regional
1. Oregon State (44-10-1)
2. LSU (37-25)
3. San Diego State (39-19)
4. Northwestern State (37-22)