The No. 2 Arkansas Razorbacks will say goodbye to Fayetteville this week, and they won’t be home until they either win the SEC Baseball Tournament in Hoover, Ala. or lose two games there.
On the way to Hoover, the Hogs (38-13, 19-8 SEC), who lead the SEC Western Division as well as the entire SEC after defeating South Carolina two out of three games last weekend at Baum Stadium, have important business in Nashville where they will play a key final regular-season series with the No. 12 Vanderbilt Commodores (35-13, 17-9 SEC) Thursday through Saturday. At stake is the chance to capture the regular-season SEC title along with winning the Western Division.
Now, I might be hooking the cart before the horse, but it appears clear that the Razorbacks will host a first-round NCAA Regional at Baum-Walker Stadium during the first weekend in June. Season ticket holders have already had the opportunity to reserve their ticket orders.
Should Arkansas win that Regional, the Diamond Hogs are in excellent position to host a Super Regional, too, based on where they sit at this moment.
If the Razorbacks were swept this weekend at Vandy and had a very early exit from Hoover, they could fall out of being one of the top eight national seeds, which would likely mean travel for a Super Regional.
However, let’s not have that kind of attitude.
This Razorback squad certainly doesn’t. There is no quit, no back-down, no fear in these Hogs.
No. 2 Arkansas (38-13, 19-8 SEC)
Opponent: No. 12 Vanderbilt (35-13, 17-9 SEC)
When: 6 p.m. Thursday, May 18
Where: Charles Hawkins Field, Nashville, Tenn.
TV: SEC Network
7 p.m. Friday — Vanderbilt (SEC Network)
2 p.m. Saturday — Vanderbilt (ESPN/SEC +)
If they had any of that in them at all, they simply would not be in the excellent position that they have worked themselves into going into the final weekend of the regular season.
This Razorback squad has faced down plenty of adversity already this season in terms of injuries among its pitching staff and every-day players, and we’ve seen them work through, around, and over every one of them.
That’s been incredibly fulfilling to watch as a Hog fan in an athletic year where injuries kept the football and basketball Razorbacks from being the best they could be on the field and the hardwood.
Now, don’t take that comment as a swipe at Sam Pittman’s football Hogs or Eric Musselman’s basketball Razorbacks.
Winning the Liberty Bowl and advancing to the Sweet 16 despite the considerable setbacks both squads suffered through during their regular seasons are notable accomplishments which all Hog fans should take pride.
But this Razorback baseball team has stared adversity in the eye, and, frankly, tore it a new one.
Certainly this Hog team has had its share of setbacks, but when pushed into a corner, this squad has shown the orneriness to come back fighting with hooves and tusks a blazing.
That’s a credit to the no-nonsense manner in which Van Horn manages and coaches this team. Hitting coach and recruiting coordinator Nate Thompson and pitching coach Matt Hobbs are incredible assets in that endeavor. Their work is invaluable and has shown up all over the field in the play of the Razorbacks this season.
It’s been a treat to watch Razorback after Razorback respond so well when given the opportunity. It’s not been instantaneous in every situation, but just about every Hog given a chance has — with a bit of time — risen to the occasion whether that’s outfielders like Kendall Diggs, infielders like Caleb Cali early and Peyton Holt recently, catchers Parker Rowland and Hudson Polk and virtually the entire pitching staff.
At the plate, the bottom of Arkansas’ batting order has found ways to be productive even if their batting averages don’t “wow” folks on paper.
It’s been a lot of fun to watch this team work and improve throughout this season with the grit and tenacity that all true Hog fans appreciate in their heart of hearts.
The Razorbacks have one of the best infields in baseball, leading the nation in double plays turned, and Arkansas’ outfield is deep and will be even deeper when Jared Wenger returns. He’ll certainly bolster the Razorbacks’ batting lineup once he gets back into the swing of things.
After last weekend, it looks like the Hogs have got a starting rotation that will only improve as the pitchers settle into it.
Van Horn has yet to announce his starters for this weekend, but Hunter Holland worked great on Sunday going a complete game for the victory for the first time in his career. His work garnered him SEC Pitcher of the Week honors.
Hagen Smith and Gage Woods worked as a great combo for an opening-game victory, and despite losing a tough one last Saturday to the Gamecocks, Brady Tygart pitched three fine innings as he continues to rebound from an elbow injury. Will McEntire struggled in his first inning on the mound, but found his balance and was tough thereafter.
As for this weekend at Vanderbilt, it should be a fun series however it shakes out. The Commodores have had injuries like the Razorbacks, but they have an outstanding pitching staff, which makes them dangerous no matter the circumstance. They are tough in the field and swing the bat with aplomb.
It no doubt will be a tough series for the Razorbacks. Winning this series would be a huge accomplishment for Arkansas on the Vandy Boys’ home turf.
If the Hogs are able to do it, though, the Razorbacks will win the West as well as the overall regular-season title before heading into post-season play.