Hogs face stormy forecast as NCAA Regional gets underway

If Mother Nature and her stormy skies don’t get in the way, the Fayetteville Baseball Regional is set to get underway at 2 p.m. at Baum-Walker Stadium when the host Arkansas Razorbacks (43-14) face the hard-hitting regional fourth seed Southeast Missouri State Redhawks (34-25 in the double-elimination event.

There’s an 80% chance of rain through the bulk of the day according to the National Weather Service. Showers and thunderstorms are predicted to tail off around 4 p.m., possibly creating an opening for this Regional to get underway if it is delayed.

For once, local baseball fans hope the weather forecast is off base, and the regional can get underway as scheduled.

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

Today’s losers are scheduled to play at 2 p.m. Saturday in an elimination game, while the winners are scheduled to play at 7 p.m. Saturday, if the tournament stays on track. Those games will also be available to stream on ESPN Plus.

After Thursday’s practices, Arkansas announced that left-hander Mason Molina (4-2, 4.04 ERA), would be back in a starter’s role for the Hogs after two solid outings of middle relief against Texas A&M and Kentucky in the SEC Tournament.

Molina was a regular starter for the Razorbacks until beginning to struggle a bit as the season wore on, but he looked sharp last week in limited action in the SEC Tournament.

The Redhawks will also send a southpaw to the mound in Haden Dow (4-1, 4.89 ERA).

As many expected, Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn is holding his left-handed ace Hagen Smith (9-1, 1.48 ERA) back until Saturday’s action when the Razorbacks will either be seeking to stay in the winner’s bracket at night, or fighting to stay in the tournament in an an afternoon elimination game.

Up next for the Razorbacks

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

Van Horn said Thursday that the team took on a more determined demeanor Tuesday when practices resumed after their early ouster from the SEC Tournament. He thought the rest last weekend after a long road trip did the team good, but also indicated that his Hogs know it is the time of season they have been playing and positioning themselves for all season.

Certainly the Razorbacks wanted to win the SEC’s final Western Division title, which they did,

The Hogs also would have been proud of winning an overall SEC title if that had worked out. Arkansas finished third overall in the SEC behind overall champion Tennessee and second-place Kentucky, both from the Eastern Division.

And, yes, the Hogs would have enjoyed winning the SEC Tournament if they could have done so without stressing their pitching staff. That didn’t work out, but in the long run, the break Arkansas’ players got last weekend might be just what they needed to refocus and re-energize for the task at hand.

The goal of every Razorback this entire season has been to be one of the eight teams still standing in Omaha, Neb., in two weeks when the College World Series begins. Then, the Hogs will take their shot at winning the proud program’s first national title.

That process continues today against the power-hitting SEMO today when the weather allows. The Redhawks are a challenge. They’ve stroked 100 homers and 100 doubles this season.

Van Horn said in his press conference that there was a noticeable focus to the Hogs’ workouts leading up to today’s game.

To win a Regional and a Super Regional, even great teams have to be laser focused and switch their level of play up a notch or two. Van Horn indicated that his Razorbacks showed that they understood that with the way they performed in practice this week.

It’s no secret this has not been the best hitting Razorback team in school history. Their batting average is low for an NCAA Tournament team much less one of the eight National seeds.

The Hogs will likely have to hit better in the postseason than they did throughout the regular season to advance to Omaha.

The Razorbacks have been excellent in the field most of the season despite platooning in the outfield in an attempt to find the most-productive hitting lineup.

Some see that as a weakness, but it’s actually a strength. Hitting goes up and down, but great fielding and strong defensive play in general gives a team stable legs to stand.

While Arkansas’ pitching struggled some in their final 11 games against SEC competition, Molina’s resurgence, Smith’s steady excellence, and the Razorbacks’ overall bullpen strength gives them a legitimate shot for a run to Omaha, even with regular weekend starter Brady Tygart out for at least this weekend.

Pitching and defense has been the Hogs’ avenue for success all season. If their hitting can turn a corner, they will be a very dangerous team going forward.

Taking absolutely nothing away from the field in the Fayetteville Regional, playing in the SEC gives the Hogs a distinct advantage. SEC play demands playing at a Regional level for 10 straight weeks. The stress of this weekend will be nothing new for the Hogs.

That doesn’t mean Arkansas will win the Regional. We know anything can happen. Arkansas has lost home Regionals and Super Regionals in recent years with teams that posted similar regular-season records as this one.

But if the Razorbacks perform like they are capable this weekend, then Hog fans should be looking forward to another Super Regional at Baum-Walker Stadium a week from today against Mississippi State or Virginia.