The University of Arkansas built Charlie Baum Stadium for weekends just like this one.
The No. 11 Hogs are right where they want to be on the first weekend of June, hosting an NCAA Baseball Regional in their home stadium.
The buzz around town is heightened, and the energy is building for what should be an outstanding showcase for collegiate and Razorbacks baseball.
“They’ll see when the crowds come in and they feel the electricity in the air,” Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said about the players participating in the regional. “Obviously, I think our crowd will dominate, but there will be fans from the other three schools because they are so close.”
The four-team, double elimination tournament opens at 2 p.m. Friday when No. 2 seed Missouri State (40-17) tangles with No. 3 seed Oklahoma State (30-25). The No. 1 seed Razorbacks (42-17) then take the stage at 7 p.m. against No. 4 seed Oral Roberts (42-14), which boasts the best winning percentage in the tournament.
The games are not televised, but they will be streamed on the internet by ESPN.
The field is tough, and while Razorbacks fans will fill the majority of the seats, no doubt, Cowboys, Bears, and Golden Eagles fans will be spilling over the border to support their clubs, as well.
Arkansas has hosted six other NCAA Regionals, but this is the first since 2010. It has to be gratifying to former Razorbacks coach Norm DeBriyn, who guided Arkansas to prominence as its coach for 33 seasons, to see the Razorbacks host once again. What the teams and fans will experience this weekend is his dream and vision for the program being fulfilled once again.
DeBriyn not only coached the Hogs, but also was the baseball program’s chief fundraiser for many years. DeBriyn’s affable personality coupled with his focus and intensity inspired a grassroots effort that ultimately yielded Razorbacks baseball one of the finest on-campus stadiums in the nation.
DeBriyn fostered relationships throughout the community with his loyalty and integrity, and that allowed his vision for Razorback baseball to not only come true but to continue to bear fruit for the Hogs 15 years after he stepped away from the dugout.
Van Horn, who played for DeBriyn, has continued to build and grow the program during his 15-year tenure as the head of the program. Baseball at Arkansas not only totes its own note, but also generates revenue, which is not the case for many programs around the nation.
If you’re among the throng at Baum Stadium this weekend, tip you’re ball cap in honor of Norm and the house that he built, and cheer on Van Horn’s Hogs to another successful weekend.
Like Hogs from the Ashes
It’s no secret the Razorbacks missed out on postseason play last year for the first time in Van Horn’s tenure as the Hogs’ coach.
Arkansas’ skipper has been reminded of it nearly every week this season when taking questions from the media. Oddly enough, he doesn’t seem to mind.
The reason why likely is because his squad and staff responded to last season’s struggles in a positive and constructive way. Their response has paid dividends this season that will hopefully continue to add up as postseason play continues.
“I remember last year at this time, it was tough to watch the games,” Van Horn said. “We felt like we should be playing.
“I think the kids all came together last year after the season was over and decided they were going to do something about it. I know we talked about it. What happened to us last year helped us to prepare a little harder for this year.”
Failing to make postseason play last year gave the Hogs’ a greater appreciation for playing winning baseball.
“Two years ago, most of these guys got to play all the way to Omaha, and then last year nothing,” Van Horn said. “I think they see how special it is to play in a regional.”
Van Horn said the team’s attitude has been great since fall practice, but with the pressures of schoolwork lifted with the end of the spring semester, he’s seen his team grow even closer.
“I think we have a bunch of guys that want to win and play together as long as they can this year,” Van Horn said. “I think the longer we go, the more the guys want to win for each other.”
SEC Tourney Preps Hogs for NCAA Stage
Some wonder whether a long run in the SEC Tournament does more harm than good for a team like the Razorbacks.
The Hogs were a lock for the NCAA field before ever going to Hoover, Ala., for the SEC Tournament. Many feel like Arkansas had already accomplished enough by finishing second in the SEC West to host an NCAA Regional.
So did the Hogs’ run to the finals in the SEC actually help them or could it have been a drain on them going into this weekend’s regionals?
Van Horn believes playing for the SEC Tournament title was a positive in more ways than one, despite their 4-2 loss to LSU in the title game.
“We’re disappointed that we lost Sunday,” Van Horn said. “The only good thing that came out of [the loss] is that we were able to play in front of that crowd. It was 14,000 strong and mostly LSU fans, and we handled it well. The game was close. We were only one big hit away. I think that will help our players in handling the regional atmosphere.”
Overall, though, Van Horn felt the Hogs got a confidence boast from playing at Hoover. Over its five-game stretch in the tournament, Arkansas hit .309 as a team with 42 runs scored, 51 hits, and 10 home runs, which were the second-most in tournament history and most in the last 20 years. Arkansas enters the NCAA Tournament as one of the most potent slugging clubs in the nation.
The Razorbacks’ pitching staff looked more focused than it has all season for the bulk of the tournament. Aces Trevor Stephan and Blaine Knight each lived up to their billing with fine performances on the mound.
The bullpen did let Mississippi State pull out a 4-3 victory in the Hogs’ opening game, but then it bounced back to combine for the first no-hitter in the tournament’s history, thanks to the work of Dominic Taccolini, Josh Alberius, and Matt Cronin. Casey Murphy then took the mound against No. 4 Florida and hogtied the Gators in a two-hit, 16-0 whipping.
Van Horn said he plans to start Stephan and Knight in the Hogs’ first two games as usual, but the third starter is up in the air.
However, his options for a third and even a fourth game seem better today than at any time during the season after the staff’s strong work in the SEC Tournament.