FAYETTEVILLE — The allegedly unimportant SEC Baseball Tournament just gained importance to the Arkansas Razorbacks.
And not for reasons that Coach Dave Van Horn prefers.
The Razorbacks, nationally fourth in last week’s USA Today Coaches poll and 40-15 overall and 20-10 SEC West co-champions with Mississippi State, still seem assured of hosting a Regional next week at Baum-Walker Stadium.
But an ousted two and through in the double elimination SEC Tournament at Hoover, Ala. could jeopardize hosting one of the eight best 2 out of 3 Super Regionals if the Razorbacks do win their 4-team double elimination tournament come to Fayetteville.
Psychologically it seems the Hogs chances for winning their Regional take a hit without winning a game or two in Hoover.
For while they’ve compiled an outstanding year, especially given the regrouping from what they sent to the pro ranks off last year’s national runner-up College World Series, the reality is they’ve lost 3 of their last four games.
LSU beat them 3-2 after Arkansas romped in the first two games two weeks ago in Fayetteville.
And after winning 7-3, Thursday night the first game of their 3-game SEC regular season finale series at Texas A&M, they lost the last two 6-3 and 6-1 on Friday and Saturday.
How they lost, and in some facets even how they won Friday night disturbs Van Horn.
While certainly never turning down a home run and pleased his Hogs lead the SEC with 77, Van Horn was more pleased that unlike last season’s team clouting 98 home runs, this year’s Hogs weren’t so home run dependent.
The 120 doubles Arkansas hit this season in 55 games already exceeds last season’s 115 hit in 69 (48-21).
However against the Aggies the scored all their runs on home runs, with five on Thursday, Jack Kenley’s 2-run home run Saturday and Casey Martin, hitting two on Thursday, hitting a solo the Saturday.
They never hit another double after Thursday’s three 2-baggers.
Most tellingly, they struck out 44 times, including 18 Thursday, 15 Friday and 11 Saturday.
Friday loaded the bases with none out then struck out three times.
They also thrice successively whiffed after putting runners on at first and second in Saturday’s fifth inning.
Those fifth inning base runners were the Hogs’ last in College Station.
Also, they floundered afield Saturday. The Hogs committed four errors including missing a potential doubleplay grounder that would have bailed Arkansas out of the fifth inning tied 1-1 instead of eventually down 3-1 plus another botched potential doubleplay leading to the Aggies adding a sacrifice fly insurance run.
Saturday’s woes led to the Hogs self-inflicting sabotage on some good pitching by hard-luck losing starter Connor Noland and relievers Cody Scroggins, Kevin Kopps and Zebulon Vermillion.
Kopps was part of Thursday’s winning quartet following winning starter Isaiah Campbell with Jacob Kostyshock and closer Matt Cronin applying the finish.
“I thought our pitching did an outstanding job,” Van Horn said of Saturday’s game. “ We didn’t play defense. Defense hurt us. There’s four phases of the game: Base-running, pitching, defense and hitting. The base-running was OK. The pitching was good. The other two were not so good.”
The supposedly unimportant SEC Tournament provides an important opportunity for the Hogs to get their mojo back for the postseason counting most at Regionals.
Earning a first-round bye with their season sweep of SEC West co-champion Mississippi State netting them the SEC Tourney second seed behind SEC Overall and East champion Vanderbilt, the Razorbacks open their double-elimination in Hoover at approximately 1 p.m. Wednesday against Tuesday’s play-in single elimination game between Ole Miss and Missouri.
Arkansas swept three from Mizzou to start the SEC season at Baum-Walker.
Ole Miss was the lone SEC team beating the Razorbacks 2 of 3 in Fayetteville.