There will be more baseball at Baum-Walker Stadium this year barring a complete collapse by the Arkansas Razorbacks, but that makes the No. 4 Hogs final regular-season series against No. 16 LSU no less special and important this weekend.
Arkansas (37-12, 17-7 SEC) plays host to LSU (30-18, 14-10 SEC) at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, 6:30 p.m. Friday and 1 p.m. Saturday at Baum-Walker Stadium in what shapes up to be an outstanding series between Dave Van Horn’s Razorbacks and Paul Mainieri’s Tigers.
ESPNU is televising Thursday’s game. Friday’s game can be streamed on the ESPN App, and Saturday’s game is being televised by ESPN2.
While LSU fans like to deny it, there is a rivalry between the Tigers and the Hogs across the sports spectrum. There’s no team LSU likes losing to less than the Razorbacks, because when the Tigers take it on the chin from Alabama or Auburn or Florida, they feel like they got beat by equals — particularly in football — but they have a harder time explaining a loss to Arkansas, to whom they feel superior.
As for Hog fans, they don’t have a natural rivalry in the SEC even after being in the league for what’s growing close to 30 years. Razorback fans just enjoy beating any of the SEC’s elite programs in the various sports.
While there are more than a few programs that have and still do play excellent baseball in the SEC, traditionally LSU is among the best in the league, if not the best.
For LSU fans, this has been sort of a lackluster season, yet the Tigers are still ranked in the top 16, and they certainly have the talent to better their standing during the final two weekends of the regular season and in the SEC Tournament, which begins May 21 at Hoover, Ala.
With a series win over Arkansas this weekend, the Tigers could jump to around 12th or 13th in the polls, and their RPI of 19 would no doubt be helped. They could further help themselves the following week in their final regular-season series at home against Auburn.
As it stands now with the RPI, the league and national rankings, LSU is probably on the outside looking in as a regional host, but if the Tigers get hot the next three weekends, things can shift. And there is no doubt the NCAA would love for the Tigers to host a regional as far as ticket sales are concerned.
Expect the Razorbacks to get the best the LSU has to offer especially after the Tigers allowed a chance to win their Ole Miss series slip away, 19-15, after making a massive comeback to tie the game at 15. The Razorbacks will no doubt have their work cut out for them.
But, the Hogs are used to fighting for what they want. Two pivotal points in the season were when the Razorbacks outlasted Auburn in a 15-inning game on April 5 for a 9-6 victory that was the key to winning that series.
A week later in Nashville, the Hogs gave up the series to Vanderbilt with a 3-2 loss on April 12 and 12-2 whipping the next day, but the Hogs outslugged the Commodores on April 14 for a 14-12 pride-saving victory that not only kept them in the hunt for the conference crown but also made their quest for National Seed for the second year in a row a real possibility.
Since then the Razorbacks have swept Mississippi State and Tennessee, and won two of three at Kentucky while chasing Vanderbilt for the overall SEC lead. No. 2 Vandy (38-9, 18-6 SEC) is a game ahead of the Hogs in the overall standing with series against Missouri (33-16-1, 12-11-1 SEC) and at Kentucky (23-24, 6-18 SEC) remaining on their schedule.
It’s going to be difficult for the Razorbacks to overtake Vanderbilt for the overall SEC title. The Commodores are very capable of sweeping Missouri and Kentucky, and even if they lose a game or two in the two series, it’s very unlikely that the Hogs would sweep LSU this week and Texas A&M (32-17-1, 12-11-1 SEC) at College Station the next week.
While an overall SEC title, which the Razorbacks have not won since 2004, would be nice, the real goal is garnering one of the eight NCAA National Seeds that guarantees hosting a regional and a super regional as long as Arkansas advances that far.
Hosting isn’t a guarantee of advancing, but the Razorbacks are 26-5 in home games this season, and the Hogs would much rather spend the early half of June in Fayetteville than on the road as they attempt to return to the College World Series.
Going 4-2 over the next two weekends would go a long way toward locking up a national seed for Arkansas, who’s RPI is No. 4,, and would probably deliver them no less than a tie for the Western Division title and probably better.
The Razorbacks have played so well this season that everything remains on the table for them with two weeks left in the regular season. That is a really special place to be, and it’s been a great gift for Hog fans, who have suffered through what was likely the program’s worst football season in anyone’s memory and a mediocre basketball season this year.
Most analysts and pundits felt this would be a good baseball team because of their faith in Van Horn and the program he’s built, but few expected it to be among the best in the nation as it has proven to be up to this point in the season.
It’s a testament to the players’ dedication and drive that they have positioned themselves to have such a great season.
As Van Horn said a few weeks ago, the Hogs haven’t earned anything yet, but they are on the cusp of doing so if they can take care of business the next two weekends.
That all starts Thursday against LSU.