How good is it to be a Razorback this spring?
Everywhere you turn on campus, there’s a sports program kicking rear and taking names.
Even off campus, the Razorbacks are running wild across the SEC. A case in point is Arkansas taking ownership down in Baton Rouge, La., despite the LSU Tigers’ best efforts.
Next up for the No. 1 Razorbacks
Opponent: vs. Georgia
When: 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 7
Television: SEC Network+
Saturday, May 8 – Georgia, SEC Network
Sunday, May 9 – Georgia, SEC Network+
For the longest time that city is where Hogs went to die metaphorically, but Courtney Deifel’s softball squad and Dave Van Horn’s baseball Razorbacks turned the table on that voodoo.
After the No. 1 baseball Hogs (34-8, 15-6 SEC) took two of three from the Tigers over the weekend, the No. 7 softball Razorbacks rubbed even more salt in the wound by sewing up at least a share of the program’s first SEC title Monday with a 4-1 victory over the No. 14 Tigers.
The Razorbacks got back-to-back homers from Linnie Malkin and Kayla Green to take an early lead, and Mary Half gave LSU little breathing room on the mound to nail down the victory and at least a piece of the SEC title.
The Razorback softball squad (40-8, 19-5 SEC) are done for the regular season, but before they head to Tuscaloosa, Ala. for the SEC Tournament, they will be watching the Florida-Texas A&M series intently this weekend.
While they may have to spit first before they do it, Deifel and her Razorbacks will be pulling for the Aggies to win at least one game in the three-game series at Florida to keep the Gators from tying the Razorbacks for the SEC title.
No matter what happens in Gainesville this weekend, it has been a landmark season for Deifel’s program, and she and her squad should be celebrated for bringing at least a share of the SEC title to Fayetteville.
As for Van Horn’s Razorbacks, they exercised some demons of their own in Baton Rouge that had been haunting the program since last winning a series there in 2004 by whipping the Tigers 7-0 Friday, and 17-10 in the first game of the double header before their rally came up a run short in a 5-4 loss in the finale.
The Hogs’ series victory hopefully drove a stake in the heart of that nasty ol’ rally possum, and put that beast out of its misery.
The Razorbacks’ series victory could be a good omen for the Hogs. The last time they won a series at LSU — 2004 — is also the last time they won the SEC regular-season title.
Hog center fielder Christian Franklin broke out of a slight slump in a big way against LSU with 10 RBI and earned SEC Player of the Week honors. He slammed a three-run homer in the opening game, his 10th of the season in a 7-0 victory. Franklin had a three-hit 4-RBI effort in the Razorbacks 17-10 romp over the Tigers Saturday afternoon, while adding a RBI in the Hogs’ 5-4 loss in the nightcap.
As strong as his hitting was, Franklin made one of the most impressive plays of the season Friday, gunning down a Tiger baserunner attempting to take third base with a laser throw from right-center field.
The series victory kept the Hogs on top of not only the SEC but also the nation. Yes, the Razorbacks sit atop every college baseball poll again this week although their advantage is tenuous at best in the SEC race.
No. 2 Vanderbilt (32-9, 14-7) fell a game back of Arkansas by dropping two of three to No. 10 Florida (30-13, 13-8) over the weekend. That series loss left the Commodores tied with No. 5 Tennessee (34-11, 14-7) for the lead in the SEC East.
No. 4 Mississippi State (32-10, 14-7) actually made up a game in the Western Division race on the Hogs with their series sweep of Texas A&M (24-22, 5-16) last weekend, while Ole Miss (33-12, 13-8) sits in third place but still within striking distance.
The tightening of the SEC race shows why Van Horn continues to be concerned about the Razorbacks’ pitching going down the stretch of the league race.
Over the last three weeks, Arkansas’ starting pitching has improved with Patrick Wicklander nailing down the the Friday-night ace role, and Peyton Pallette pitching deeper into ballgames in the second game, but Van Horn has yet to find the right button to push for his third-game starter.
Van Horn and pitching coach Matt Hobbs have usually found the right combination to get the Hogs to late innings where they can call up Kevin Kopps to put the handcuffs on opponents in his closer role. However, a third steady starter would not only help down the stretch in regular-season play, but will be vital for Arkansas’ chances of advancing through NCAA Tournament play in hopes of returning to the College World Series.
It will be interesting to learn which pitcher Van Horn goes with on Sunday this weekend when Georgia (27-16, 10-11) visits Baum-Walker Stadium.
For the final three weeks of the regular season, the Hogs basically become honorary members of the SEC East. Following this weekend’s series with Georgia, the Razorbacks visit Tennessee May 14-15 before closing out the regular season with a home series against Florida May 20-22.
The Bulldogs have played up and down all year, but this might be a series where the Hogs could pull off a sweep before closing out the regular season with two incredibly tough series.
The Vols have been hanging around the top of the SEC East all season, and Florida, which started the season ranked No. 1, looks to be peaking at just the right time.
As strong and steady as the Razorbacks have been all season, nothing is settled at the moment. Van Horn knows his team has to continue to improve to meet the goals they’ve set for themselves as a team.
The Hogs have incrementally improved throughout the season, but finding the right No. 3 starter is going to be key to the Razorbacks’ fortunes to close out the regular season and to advance in post-season play.