No tears shed for a season ending in Omaha

The Ole Miss Rebels and Arkansas Razorbacks split six games this season, but thanks to a stellar shut-out pitching performance by their ace Dylan DeLucia, the Rebels topped Arkansas 2-0 to advance to the championship round of the College World Series where they will face the Oklahoma Sooners, while the Hogs head home to Fayetteville.

No baseball season that ends in Omaha, Neb. is a disappointment, but the loss was a tough one to swallow for all Razorbacks involved. It’s never easy to end the season on a loss, but all teams in the NCAA Tournament do, save one.

That said the Razorbacks (46-21) have nothing to be ashamed of with this season. It was a great one by any measure, particularly with the way the squad bounced back from some struggles in late May.

Shortly after the conclusion of the game, veteran Razorback coach Dave Van Horn called up his Razorbacks and addressed them on the field. The Razorbacks’ media relations department released the video of his postgame speech, and while Van Horn was clearly emotional, he congratulated his team and told them he wouldn’t shed a tear over a season that ended at the College World Series.

“I’ll tell you what, I’m super proud of this team, man,” Van Horn said with his players gathered in a circle around him. “You guys didn’t quit a month ago. We were struggling. You guys started believing in each other and started fighting. I may be a little upset, but I’m not going to cry. I’ve said I’m never going to cry when a team finishes in Omaha.

“This is where you want to finish, every year. When you come in first place in the league or fourth place, it doesn’t matter. If you can fight your way here, you got a shot. That’s what we talk about. You guys did it. You guys battled your butts off. I’m so proud of you.

“We’ve got a lot of great players here. A lot of great players are going to be gone next year, and we’ve got a lot new players coming in, and a lot of guys stepping it up. And you know where I plan on finishing next year? Right here!

Mississippi first baseman Tim Elko (25) makes a catch for an out against Arkansas’ Robert Moore (1) in the fourth inning during an NCAA College World Series baseball game Wednesday, June 22, 2022, in Omaha, Neb.

(AP Photo/John Peterson)

“So, you guys don’t walk out of here with your head anywhere but up. That’s where it should be. Forty-six wins. That’s hard to do, man. SEC, the toughest league in the country. Every weekend you’ve got to bring it. So, I’m really proud of you guys. What a great effort in this tournament. You had a great year. What a great year! Congratulations fellas!”

There likely will be a rather large changing of the guard with this Razorback team with several seniors and other draft-eligible players matriculating.

Second baseman Robert Moore and third baseman Cayden Wallace are draft eligible. Outfielders Brayden Webb and Chris Lanzilli and catcher Michael Turner have already graduated. Pitchers Connor Noland, Kole Ramage, Evan Taylor, and Zebulon Vermillion are seniors. Shortstop Jaylen Battles is a senior.

That’s a lot of talent exiting the program at one time, but Van Horn and his staff have recruited well. Players are waiting for their chance, and no doubt Fayetteville will be a popular destination for talented players seeking a change through the transfer portal. The success that Lanzilli and Turner had this year as graduate transfers with the Razorbacks will insure that.

Arkansas’ baseball program is on sound footing, and as Van Horn told the team, he’s expecting another run at the College World Series next year. Should the Hogs make it, it would be Van Horn’s 10th trip — two with Nebraska and currently seven with the Razorbacks. His nine trips to the CWS leads all active coaches.

When you consider how consistent the Hogs have been in recent years, it’s hard not to believe they will be in contention again. I sure wouldn’t place a bet against Van Horn and his Razorbacks.

While all three of the major or revenue sports at Arkansas are on sound footing after fine seasons across the board, it’s not been that long ago that the football program was in the worst shape it’s been in since the World War II era, and it was a struggle for the Hogs to make the NCAA Tournament in basketball.

For two decades, baseball has been the only consistent winner among the major three sports for the Razorbacks. That success can only be traced to Van Horn’s leadership.

Just think of the coaches that have come and gone in the other two majors since Van Horn took over the Hogs baseball program in 2003 — Stan Heath, Houston Nutt, John Pelphrey, Bobby Petrino, John L. Smith, Bret Bielema, Mike Anderson, and Chad Morris. If you want to count them, there’s also been several interim head football coaches during that time in Reggie Herring, Paul Rhoads, and Barry Lunney Jr. That’s a lot of instability.

Van Horn’s ship has been steady as it goes.

Just as it was hard to imagine the Razorback baseball program without Norm DeBriyn at the helm a couple of decades ago, it’s hard to imagine Van Horn ever stepping down one day.

My hope is when that time does come well down the line, he’ll have at least one College World Series title ring to take with him.