Arkansas sophomore Isaiah Campbell / Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com
An artist is usually his own toughest critic, and sometimes fans can be that way with their teams.
For some Arkansas Razorbacks’ fans this has been an up-and-down season for their Hogs because they’ve negotiated every wave — minor and major — with their team, getting lost in each and every moment.
The Razorbacks were picked to be among the best teams in college baseball, and lo and behold, they are every bit as good as they were expected to be going into their final regular-season SEC series at Georgia. First pitch for Thursday’s and Friday’s game is 6 p.m. Both games will be streamed on WatchESPN.com. Saturday’s 11 a.m. finale will be televised by the SEC Network.
The No. 5 Razorbacks are 36-15 overall and 17-10 in the SEC, which positions them a game ahead of the No. 4 Ole Miss Rebels (40-13, 16-11 SEC) and the No. 12 Bulldogs (35-16, 16-11 SEC) in the league standings, and three games behind No. 1 Florida (41-12, 20-7 SEC).
Mathematically, the Hogs could still tie Florida this weekend for the regular-season title, but it would take Arkansas sweeping at Georgia and Mississippi State (28-24, 12-15 SEC) sweeping the Gators at Starkville, Miss. Neither seems very likely to happen. As competitive as the SEC is, Florida has run away from the rest of the league this year.
However, it has just seemed like an up and down year for the Hogs. Really, the sailing has been pretty smooth. No, Arkansas hasn’t won a road SEC series, but as big as that may seem to some Arkansas fans, it’s not that big of a deal when you consider the Razorbacks have been ranked in the Top 10 all season long, are ranked No. 5 in the NCAA’s current RPI, and are projected to be the No. 3 National Seed by Division 1 Baseball. Thus far, the Razorbacks have had a great season.
Arkansas’ three-game sweep of then No. 20-ranked Texas A&M last weekend showed further evidence of how strong coach Dave Van Horn’s team is. Despite playing without starting short stop Jax Biggers and starting catcher Grant Koch for portions of the series, the Razorbacks won 9-3 Friday, 3-1 Saturday, and 6-3 Sunday. Biggers and Koch aren’t just starters. They are both All-SEC caliber players. Koch was a pre-season All-American. While freshman Casey Opitz really just mopped up the final game when Koch went out with what has been reported as an ankle injury, Jack Kenley looked like a veteran in place of Biggers, who injured a finger attempting to bunt last Friday.
Van Horn also shuffled the deck at first base last weekend with Hunter Wilson moving in as the starter. Wilson acquitted himself well enough to get the nod again for the Georgia series. Opitz and Kenley will also start against the Bulldogs on Thursday.
All of that shows the strength, talent, and depth of the Razorbacks, and it’s a big reason why the Hogs are sitting in such a pretty position with the postseason knocking on the door. The Razorbacks will certainly host a Regional this season and are in excellent position to garner one of eight National Seeds, which would guarantee that Arkansas would host a Super Regional if the Razorbacks advance that far.
Now, nothing about the postseason is set in stone. That is why the Georgia series is so meaningful. The Bulldogs are in line for a National Seed, too. Florida’s getting one for sure. There is no guarantee the SEC will get three National Seeds, although it might.
So the stakes for the Razorbacks this weekend are a possible National Seed, winning the SEC West, and finishing second to Florida for the overall SEC title. That should have the Razorbacks’ competitive fervor at a fevered pitch at Athens.
So, it’s been a great year for the Razorbacks, thus far, and if the Hogs can win the series over the Bulldogs, it will only get better.