It’s a special time for the Arkansas Razorbacks and the seven other teams that earned their trip to Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series.
When the college baseball seasons begins each year in the middle of February, Omaha is the buzz word for every team. It’s the dream destination that makes playing in those often frigid conditions worthwhile.
2019 NCAA Men’s College World Series
Who: Arkansas vs. Florida State
When: 6 p.m. Saturday, June 15
Where: TD Ameritrade Park, Omaha
In a sense, every team has a shot at living the dream, but the regular season quickly whittles away at the pretenders until the NCAA Tournament’s field of 64 rises to the top.
Thirty-two teams are eliminated at the Regional level, and only eight survive the Super Regionals to make their way to Omaha.
Some like to talk about destiny when a team gets to this point in the season. I guess that argument could be made. Some talk about luck or good fortune, and I suppose those play a part, too.
However, the eight teams left standing for the final two weeks of the season earned their way to this position. Nothing was given to them. Certainly, the teams that were National Seeds had an advantage by playing at home through two rounds of the tournament, but again they earned that right by playing well all season.
The teams that bucked their seeding assuredly earned their shot at a national title by beating opponents on their home field.
At this point in the process, there are no flukes. Every team is worthy, and every team deserves respect.
And that word respect is what makes playing in the College World Series for the second season in a row so sweet to Arkansas Razorback fans.
Arkansas fans always take pride in their Razorbacks — win, lose, or draw, but in the major sports, the revenue sports, Hog fans haven’t had a ton to cheer about of late outside of baseball.
Basketball has been mediocre for two decades, and on average, football hasn’t even been that for nearly a decade because of instability at the head coaching position.
Hog fans have hope for the future as head football coach Chad Morris and head basketball coach Eric Musselman attempt to rebuild their respective programs, but there really is no guarantee.
A bowl trip this year — any bowl trip — would be a triumph for Morris, and if the Hogs make the Big Dance this year in basketball, Musselman will have accomplished something neither Eddie Sutton nor Nolan Richardson could do.
Under Dave Van Horn, the Razorback baseball program has almost always been a source of pride, and for the Hogs to return to Omaha this year after being picked to finish fifth in the SEC West and barely getting Top 20 recognition when the season began, shows that his program is only getting stronger in his 17th year as coach.
This is the Razorbacks 10th trip to the CWS and the seventh under Van Horn. The Razorbacks were a misplayed foul ball away from winning it all last year, and while obviously that was motivation for Van Horn and his Hogs, Arkansas has another shot at the title because of what they accomplished this season not because of the ghosts of what could have been a year ago.
Of course, ESPN will make too much of what happened a year ago, just as they will celebrate the career of Florida State head coach Mike Martin, who plans to retire as the Seminoles coach after 40 years when this season is done. Martin is one of the legends of the college game as the all-time winningest coach in Division I history with 1,987 wins and 17 trips to the College World Series, but with no national titles.
No doubt, anyone without a rooting interest will be pulling for Martin and the Seminoles, who got hot at the right time this year to squeak their way into the NCAA Tournament.
The Razorbacks (46-18), of course, face the Florida State Seminoles (41-21) at 6 p.m. CT Saturday on ESPN at TD Ameritrade Park. Michigan (46-20) and Texas Tech (44-18) square off at 1 p.m. Saturday on ESPN and are in the same bracket with Arkansas.
On Sunday at 1 p.m., Vanderbilt (54-11) meets Louisville (49-16) on ESPN, while Mississippi State (51-13) faces Auburn (38-26) at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN2 in the other bracket.
Each bracket is a four-team, double-elimination tournament, just like the Regional round of the NCAA Tournament. The winners of each bracket will face each other in a best 2-out-of-3 series for the CWS title, which mimics the Super Regional format.
There is no such thing as an easy bracket in CWS play, but I’m glad the Razorbacks avoided being paired with two other SEC teams in a bracket like Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, and Auburn now face. That’s going to be an SEC bloodbath with a very strong Louisville squad caught in the maelstrom.
That said, Florida State has already eliminated two SEC squads from postseason play. They knocked Georgia from the Athens Regional by the scores of 12-3, and 10-1 before advancing to the CWS by sweeping LSU, 6-4 and 5-4 in 12 innings, in the Baton Rouge Super Regional.
Van Horn has said Isaiah Campbell will start against the Seminoles, but all arms will be on deck in order to win the all-important first game. Who will pitch Monday in the Hogs’ second game will depend on who is available after the first game.
The idea, of course, is to remain in the winner’s bracket. A team that wins Saturday and Monday, would not play again until Friday, while the other squads battle their way through the loser’s bracket and expending more arms.