Competing in the SEC means every weekend is big for the Arkansas Razorbacks and their boisterous baseball fans who fill every nook and cranny of lovely Baum-Walker Stadium on a regular basis.
Under coach Dave Van Horn, any given weekend could be a top-20, top-10, top-5 matchup against one of the Hogs’ SEC brethren, and even if the opponent is unranked, each SEC opponent is dangerous. Every one of them.
The Razorbacks have to be on their toes and ready to roll every weekend. Big games are common place.
However, NCAA Regional baseball play still remains something special even for a program like Arkansas which plays a schedule full of big games.
There is an electricity about the Baum-Walker Stadium every time the gates open, but like in the hard rock mockumentary movie “Spinal Tap,” the volume goes up to “11” during the post season.
Razorback fans have been lined up for nearly a week outside the stadium to make sure they get the primo spots this afternoon in the Hog Pen.
No. 4 Arkansas (41-16)
Opponent: Santa Clara
When: 2 p.m., Friday, June 2
Where: Baum-Walker Stadium, Fayetteville
As the No. 3 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament — the second highest seed the Hogs have earned in the program’s history — the No. 5 Razorbacks (41-16) proudly host the No. 17 Texas Christian Horned Frogs (37-22) of the Big 12 Conference, the Arizona Wildcats (33-24) of the Pacific 12 Conference, and the Santa Clara Broncos (35-18) of the West Coast Conference in the double-elimination tournament, held Friday through Sunday for sure and possibly Monday if necessary.
The Razorbacks open at 2 p.m. against Santa Clara with the game available to be streamed on ESPN/SEC +. TCU and Arizona meet in the nightcap at 8 p.m. on ESPNU.
TCU and Arizona hail from major conferences, but there are few fan bases outside the SEC that show up and show out like Razorback fans do for baseball.
For competitors like the Broncos, Horned Frogs and Wildcats, no doubt, are, the atmosphere is likely to give them a charge to at first. However as the pressure of the weekend builds, the partisan Razorback crowd will become an annoyance that just won’t go away.
Like that irritating fly that always shows up for a picnic or a barbecue, the Baum-Walker crowd is just pesky enough to throw you a bit off your rhythm and possibly draw your concentration away from where it should be focused. And the irritation just builds more and more because it won’t go away.
At Baum-Walker Stadium, home-field advantage is almost a tangible thing, and that atmosphere has been known to lift the Hogs to some lofty heights over the decades.
Of course, almost all of that has to do with the quality of teams Van Horn and his mentor and predecessor Norm DeBriyn regularly fielded during their legendary careers as Arkansas baseball coaches.
It’s taken for granted by Arkansas fans that their Diamond Hogs are going to play disciplined, tough baseball because that’s the way it’s been at Arkansas for decades.
What might make the atmosphere for this Regional slightly more elevated is the fact that the Hogs’ RPI sent them on the road last season in the NCAA Tournament.
The Hogs advanced to the College World Series on the hostile ground of Stillwater, Okla., and Chapel Hill, N.C. last year, while Hog Nation mostly watched from home.
That ought to have Razorback fans even more revved up for postseason play when the first pitch is released at 2 p.m. this afternoon.
Van Horn announced in Thursday’s press conference that he will send left-hander Hunter Hollan (8-2, 4.06 ERA) to the mound to open the game with the Broncos.
Last week in the SEC Tournament, Hollan pitched in relief of Hagen Smith against LSU to double team and defeat the Tigers’ ace Paul Scenes, who picked up the National Player of the Year honor on Thursday.
The Broncos will throw righty Cole Kitchen (3-2, 4.25 ERA) against Hollan.
The atmosphere and play on the field at Baum-Walker should be outstanding this weekend with the Hogs hosting three programs that are on a hot streak.
All are expecting to play well in a Regional that has been described as one of the toughest and one of the softest by opposing national news sources.
Anyway, it’s time for the talk to subside, and let the players decide it on the field with 11,000 or so rowdy Razorback fans in the stands for every Hog outing.