Diamond Hogs prepping for another College World Series run

Rest and reset. That has been the mission for the No. 5 Arkansas Razorbacks since being bounced from the SEC Tournament in two games last week in Hoover, Ala.

Many felt the Razorbacks (43-14) had little to prove in the league tournament, which NCAA Tournament top seed Tennessee won Sunday by defeating LSU, 4-3, in dramatic fashion.

Those thoughts proved to be absolutely on point Monday when the NCAA Tournament made the Hogs the fifth of eight national seeds when it announced the Field of 64.

We won’t know until 2 p.m. Friday if the time off last weekend was good for the Razorbacks or not. That is when they play fourth-seeded Southeast Missouri State (34-25) in the first round of the Fayetteville Regional.

Game 2 of the Regional at 7 p.m. Friday pits No. 2 seed Louisiana Tech (45-17) against No. 3 seed Kansas State (32-24). Both games will be televised by ESPN+.

The regional format is double elimination. Saturday’s action will pit Friday’s losers against each other at 2 p.m. in an elimination game, while the winner’s bracket game will be at 8 p.m.

Sunday’s elimination game will pit the winners of Saturday’s first game against the loser of Saturday’s second game. The winner of that contest will play the winner of Saturday night’s game at 6 p.m.

If necessary, a final game will be played on Monday with the time to be announced later.

Up next for the Razorbacks

Opponent: Southeast Missouri State
When: 7 p.m. Friday, May 31
Where: Baum-Walker Stadium

The Fayetteville Regional is paired up with Charlottesville Regional in the overall NCAA Tournament bracket. The winner of those two regionals will play a best of three-game Super Regional series starting June 7.

If the Razorbacks win the Fayetteville Regional, they will host the winner of the Charlottesville Regional, which features host No. 16 Virginia (41-15), No. 15 Mississippi State (38-21), St. John’s (37-16-1), and Pennsylvania (24-23).

If we want to hook the cart before the horse, which is always dangerous but often too hard to resist, fans can anticipate the Hogs squaring off with the Bulldogs again at Baum-Walker Stadium in a Super Regional. If you remember, the Razorbacks took two of three games from MSU at home during the second weekend in May.

If the Bulldogs do not advance, it could set up a matchup between Arkansas and Virginia of the ACC. The SEC and the ACC both sent 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament, meaning the two conferences combined to make up more than a third of the 64-team NCAA field.

Banter among fans has already labeled the Fayetteville Regional as a weak one. Hog fans are already projecting their Razorbacks into the Super Regionals. SEMO, Kansas State, and Louisiana Tech don’t command the respect in the minds of some that they should.

If that type of thinking were transferred to the Razorbacks themselves, the Hogs might be in line for an upset.

However with Dave Van Horn at the helm of the program, it’s doubtful his squad will take this opportunity for granted.

Van Horn said Monday being any of the top eight seeds was fine with him because of the home-field advantage it affords as long as the Razorbacks keep winning.

He liked the selection of teams sent to Fayetteville because it is a true regional, with teams from the same general area of the nation in all four slots. It’s a fairly easy trip for the three visiting fan bases. The hard part will be them getting tickets.

The regional becomes more interesting by the fact that former Van Horn protégées are the head coaches at SEMO with Andy Sawyers and at Louisiana Tech with Lane Burroughs. Burroughs was an assistant for Van Horn at Northwestern (La.) State and Sawyers played catcher for Van Horn at Nebraskas in 1998 and was a volunteer assistant for him in 2000.

“Lane and Andy are both really good people,” Van Horn said. “Good people, really good dads. I’ve been watching those guys’ careers grow, played them a few times. It’s great that they are having success. Not excited about having to play them, but I’m happy for them, their families and their baseball programs.”

When Van Horn had his press conference on Monday, he and his staff were still in the process of scouting and game-planning for the regional and had not settled on a pitching rotation yet, or at least not to the extent that he was ready to announce a starter for Friday’s game.

While the Razorbacks did have a set rotation for the bulk of the regular season, the last month both right-hander Brady Tygart and lefty Mason Molina had some ups and downs. Both saw limited action last week in the SEC Tournament, but on the whole pitched well.

Left-handed ace Hagen Smith suffered his first loss of the season in just two innings of work against Kentucky in the SEC Tournament, but that outing should have him even more ready when he does get his chance this week.

Van Horn could keep Smith on his regular, first-game schedule and have him pitch Friday, or he might opt to hold him for Saturday, which is usually the most critical game in double-elimination format no matter whether the first game is won or lost.

With a pitcher like Smith, either option is a good one.

It’s always interesting to see what decision Van Horn makes in such situations. He might already know exactly how he plans to deploy his starting pitchers, but we won’t know for sure until he is comfortable letting us know.