The Arkansas Razorbacks will have to win three games in three days to take their first ever SEC Baseball Tournament championship with the last two games against two top-10 teams in Georgia and Vanderbilt.
That’s a daunting task for any team, but at the moment Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn’s only thoughts are about their elimination matchup with Ole Miss (35-24), at 3 p.m. today in Hoover, Ala. Today’s winner will face the Georgia Bulldogs at noon on Saturday.
Arkansas will start freshman right-hander Connor Noland (2-4, 3.86 ERA). Ole Miss will start freshman right-hander Gunnar Hoglund (2-2, 5.13 ERA).
The Hogs (41-16) dropped into the loser’s bracket of the double-elimination portion of the tournament Thursday when Georgia topped the Razorbacks, 3-1, in a contest where the Razorbacks struggled to get the right hit at the right time throughout the ballgame.
Now the Bulldogs (44-14) rest while Arkansas plays on.
In the other side of the bracket, LSU (36-23) and Mississippi State (46-12) battle for the right to face top-seeded Vanderbilt (47-10) at around 3 p.m. on Saturday.
The SEC Network will televise the action today and Saturday. The championship game will be played at 2 p.m. Sunday, and be televised by ESPN 2.
Bar none — not even the College World Series — there isn’t a tougher journey to a title than the remainder of the SEC Tournament if everything were on the line this weekend, but it’s not.
There isn’t a lot for the remaining teams in the tournament to gain by playing on in the tournament other than pride. At this point of the season there are bigger stakes in play with next week’s NCAA Regional and the Super Regional to follow.
All six remaining teams earned their way into the NCAA Tournament in the regular season, and by now each program has likely locked in every advantage they can for the opening week of postseason play.
The NCAA will announce the field for the 2019 Division 1 Baseball Tournament at 11 a.m. Monday on ESPNU.
D1 Baseball is projecting Vanderbilt, Georgia, Mississippi State, and Arkansas will be among the eight National Seeds, and that Texas A&M will also host.
It’s conceivable if LSU or Ole Miss made a run to the championship game or won the tournament, that they could nuzzle into a host role and root the Aggies or perhaps another team out, but for now the host roles seem to be locked up.
No doubt, each and every team is going to fight to win this tournament, but they are not going to do it at the expense of harming their pitching rotation for next week’s regional tournament.
That’s why some call this tournament meaningless. To me that’s taking it a bit too far.
There has been some outstanding and entertaining baseball played at Hoover this week, and that’s not going to change over the next three days. The competition in and of itself has value the programs and the fans. Whichever program walks away with the title will proudly and triumphantly take that championship hardware home for display.
Beyond that the tournament gives programs like Arkansas’ an excellent evaluation of how they are playing at the moment.
Though stats tend to even out, right now, the Hogs aren’t hitting like they were when they went on their hot streak following a series loss at Vanderbilt on April 13.
The Hogs won 13 of their next 15 games through May 10, and they were stroking the baseball. However, Arkansas’ bats have slowly cooled off.
Maybe, some are trying to tee off too much instead of just getting base hits? Just a thought.
Since May 11, the Razorbacks are 2-4 and hitting has been an issue. Where Arkansas was getting the timely hits before, they just aren’t coming as frequently as they were before.
Georgia outhit Arkansas just 6 to 5 on Thursday, but the Bulldogs made their opportunities count.The Hogs have also made some untimely errors of late that have proven costly.
That is part of the game, too, but it’s not coming at a great time for the Razorbacks.
It’s too early to theorize that Arkansas may have peaked too early this season. That’s something to determine once the season is over. The Razorbacks may have not played, and from a fan’s standpoint hopefully have not played their best baseball yet.
When the Hogs return home to Baum-Walker Stadium for next weekend’s Regional, the Razorbacks might get hot at the plate again in the friendlier environs?
Heck, who knows, the Hogs might surprise us and win the SEC Tournament over the next three days.
They should have a bullpen advantage over Ole Mis this afternoon. The Rebels are playing their fourth game in as many days to the Razorbacks’ third in three games, but that won’t be the case if they advance to play Georgia.
The Razorbacks don’t need to win today’s rubber match with the Rebels, but as the meme taken from 1993 Richard Linklater film “Dazed and Confused” says, “it sure would be better if they did.”