Is the glass half full or half empty for the Arkansas Razorbacks as they enter play in this week’s SEC Baseball Tournament?
It’s the classic how you perceive things question.
On one hand, the Razorbacks (40-15) are the co-champions of the SEC Western Division, arguably the toughest division in college baseball. They have the overall No. 2 seed in the tournament thanks to having the tiebreaker after not just beating but sweeping their division co-champs Mississippi State.
The Hogs enjoy a bye today before opening play at around 2 p.m. Wednesday at Hoover, Ala. against the winner of today’s 2 p.m. Missouri-Ole Miss game.
The Hogs remained ranked No. 4 in the latest Baseball America poll, and their D1Baseball RPI is a solid No. 6.
Arkansas is certain to host an NCAA Regional when the NCAA Tournament Field is announced May 27 (Memorial Day), and they are in good position to be one of the eight National Seeds, which would reward the Hogs with a host role for the Super Regional, if they advance that far.
The SEC honored six Razorbacks on Monday as All-SEC selections one fashion or another. That was more than any other team.
First baseman Trevor Ezell, shortstop Casey Martin, centerfield Dominic Fletcher, right fielder Heston Kjerstad, designated hitter Matt Goodheart, and relief pitcher Matt Cronin were all named second team All SEC. Left fielder Christian Franklin and pitchers Patrick Wicklander and Connor Noland made the All-SEC Freshman team. Ezell and Fletcher also made the SEC All-Defensive team.
That’s a mighty full glass, right there. Only a few programs in college baseball wouldn’t trade places with the Razorbacks. When I say few, I mean only two to maybe five programs in the nation.
Hog fans ought to be delighted and most, if not all, are.
On the other hand, the Razorbacks could have done better. After defeating Texas A&M 7-3 last Thursday with a five home run performance, the Hogs dropped Saturday’s game 6-2 and Sunday’s 6-1 to the Aggies.
The Razorbacks had won enough over the course of the season to hold on to a co-Western Division Champion, but with another win, the Hogs could have been Western Division champs by themselves.
It’s hard to know how winning just one more game at College Station would have affected their RPI or poll rankings, but the Hogs might be ahead of Georgia, Mississippi State and East Carolina instead of behind them in the RPI. Two wins over the Aggies, might have leapfrogged the Razorbacks one spot over Stanford to No. 3 in the polls, but that’s about it.
As for the All-SEC selections, none of the Hogs earned first-team honors. Nothing the Razorbacks did or didn’t do against the Aggies last weekend would have made a difference in the voting. As Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said, there’s really nothing to say but “thanks” for the honors.
The most likely first-team candidates were Martin, Kjerstad, and Fletcher. Martin and Kjerstad had good defensive seasons, but honestly not great ones. As for Fletcher, he plays at a loaded position. To me, he has the best argument for being a first teamer.
Razorback ace Isaiah Campbell (10-1, 2.50) not being recognized for the season he’s had is a shame. He’s one of the best pitchers in the SEC, but it’s hard to say who he should replace among the four pitchers named in Ethan Small of Mississippi State, Emerson Hancock of Georgia, TJ Sikkema of Missouri, and Zack Thompson of Kentucky.
The SEC is full of outstanding talent on the mound and in the field, and Arkansas had the most players recognized of any team in the league. That says a lot about the ability and versatility this team, and how dangerous it can be when functioning at its best.
Again, overall the Razorbacks had an outstanding regular season, and that shouldn’t be forgotten.
But, what a bitter taste in dropping two of three to the Aggies, who’ve dealt the Hogs as much woe as any program since they joined the SEC in 2012, on the last weekend of the regular season. Making matters worse, the Hogs played one of their worst games of the season in losing to the Aggies last Saturday with four errors and 11 strikeouts to add to the other 33 Ks in the two previous games.
Now, this is the same Razorback team that played so well all season, but to play so poorly in the final regular-season game does crack the door for some doubt among fans.
In watching the Razorbacks struggle against the Aggies strikeout after strikeout Friday night and Saturday, I have to admit I wondered if Arkansas may have peaked too soon this year?
Some feel the Razorbacks have already staked their claim on a National Seed, even if they go 0-2 in the SEC Tourney and head home from Hoover.
I’m not that confident. Texas Tech, Oregon State, and Georgia Tech are nosing around those top eight seeds, too.
I don’t think the Razorbacks need to win the SEC Tournament or even make the championship game to get a National Seed, but I’d feel better about their chances if they went something like 2-2 in the SEC Tournament before heading home for what will hopefully be a two-week stay before they hit the road to Omaha, Neb. for the College World Series once again.