Final five weeks of Diamond Hogs’ SEC season should be interesting

Arkansas baseball players celebrate after a seven-run comeback that led to a 9-8 win over Texas Tech at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville, Ark. on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (Arkansas Athletics)

It wasn’t easy, but the No. 2 Arkansas Razorbacks regained their swagger and panache for winning close games in their midweek contests against the formidable Texas Tech Red Raiders.

After dropping their first SEC series of the season to Alabama last weekend and losing back-to-back games for the first time this season on that trip to Tuscaloosa, Ala., Dave Van Horn’s Hogs grunted through two solid victories, defeating the Red Raiders, 9-8, in a stunning seven-run comeback Tuesday night, and then topping Texas Tech, 5-4, on Wednesday.

The victories extended the Razorbacks’ home winning streak to an amazing 25 games. The Hogs are undefeated in midweek games (9-0) with only three regular-season mid-week games to play. Arkansas hasn’t gone undefeated in midweek games since 2005, giving this Hogs squad a goal to shoot for as they attempt to stay focused outside of SEC play.

The sweetness of taking both games from Texas Tech can’t be savored long with a road trip to South Carolina on deck for the weekend. Today is a travel day and the focus is now on the No. 20 Gamecocks who are 26-11 on the season and 8-7 in SEC play.

The Razorbacks are a strong 32-6 on the season and 12-3 in SEC play, leading the Western Division by a game over No. 1 Texas A&M (33-4, 11-4 SEC).

Yeah, the Hogs lead the West but are ranked second to the Aggies in the national polls. It’s odd, but I guess national voters had to punish the Razorbacks for dropping a road SEC series to a ranked Alabama team last week.

Take nothing away from the Aggies, though. They are good and are crushing the baseball. I guess poll voters dig the long ball, too?

Pitching and defense might not be as sexy, but it is an equation that works just as well in garnering victories.

Personally I hope the Razorbacks and Aggies continue to work their way through their schedules with success to set up a great final series of the regular season down in Aggie Land on May 16-18, but there is a month of baseball before then, and with the narrow way the Razorbacks have been winning games, the Hogs can ill afford to overlook any squad in SEC play.

But that is what has made this season and this team exciting to watch. The Razorbacks don’t just roll over opponents. They have to work for it each and every game, but like in Tuesday’s victory over the Red Raiders, they have proven to be a highly resilient squad that keeps scrapping no matter the situation.

Up next for the Razorbacks

Opponent: at South Carolina
When: 6 p.m. Friday, April 19
Where: Founders Park, Columbia, SC.

Next few games:

April 20 – at South Carolina, 2 p.m. (SEC+)
April 21 – at South Carolina, 12:30 p.m. (SEC+)
April 23 – UAPB at North Little Rock, 6 p.m. (SEC+)

Coming back from 6-0 and 7-1 deficits like the Hogs did Tuesday not only makes the latter innings of that one game exciting, but it also builds the confidence in the squad that they can make some amazing things happen if they continue to grind and trust in one another.

After holding the No. 1 ranking for more than a month, it’s not necessarily bad to have that pressure lifted off the Hogs for a time. It’s hard to characterize a team as strong as Arkansas as an underdog right now, but whatever works as motivation in a long season is worth tapping into.

The polls aren’t the end all and be all in baseball or any of the college sports any longer, which is probably a good thing for an assortment of reasons, but based on D1 Baseball’s RPI equation, the Razorbacks are No. 4, behind No.1 Clemson (30-6) of the ACC, No. 2 Texas A&M (33-5, 11-4 SEC), and No. 3 Kentucky (31-5, 14-1 SEC), which is leading the SEC East by four games over No. 7 Tennessee (31-6, 10-5 SEC).

South Carolina comes in at No. 13 in the RPI, setting up a tantalizing series for Hogs and Gamecocks fans this weekend.

In the grand scheme of things, the argument can be made that one SEC series is not any more important than any other. From a numbers perspective, they all count the same.

There is no denying that, but for the Razorbacks to keep their momentum rolling through the back half of their league schedule that stacks up to be more difficult than the front end, a Razorback series victory this weekend over South Carolina is critical. But, every series, every weekend is. That’s what makes all of this so fun.

After this weekend, the Razorbacks will have four SEC series remaining on the schedule. Two at home against Florida (April 26-28) and Mississippi State (May 10-12) and two on the road at Kentucky (May 3-5) and the aforementioned trip to Bryant-College Station to play the Aggies (May 16-18).

The Razorbacks’ pitching staff should be strong and deep enough to make this a very interesting five weeks. Arkansas’ hitting has been on an uptick of late, if you discount the Alabama series.

We’ll see how that trend holds up this weekend in what should be an outstanding series against the Gamecocks.