After losing two games of a three-game series to Vanderbilt last weekend, the Arkansas Razorbacks saw their lead in the SEC Western Division evaporate.
Texas A&M’s series sweep of Mississippi State left the Aggies (33-16, 17-10 SEC) and the Hogs (37-14, 17-0) tied atop the SEC Western Division with one weekend of play left in the regular season.
The Hogs travel to Tuscaloosa, Ala. for a three-game series with struggling Alabama (27-24, 10-16) that opens with a 6 p.m. contest on Thursday. First pitch Friday is at 7 p.m., and Saturday’s finale is at 1 p.m.
Next up for the Diamond Hogs
Opponent: at Alabama
When: 6 p.m. Thursday, May 19
Where: Sewell-Thomas Stadium, Tuscaloosa
Streaming: SEC Network Plus
Radio: 92.1 FM / AM 1590 (more)
Friday, May 20 – at Alabama, 7 p.m. (SEC Network)
Saturday, May 21 – at Alabama, 1 p.m. (SEC+)
Thursday and Saturday’s game can be streamed on SEC Plus/ESPN Plus, while Friday’s game will be televised by the SEC Network.
The Aggies travel to Oxford, Miss. for a three-game series with the Ole Miss Rebels. All three games can be streamed on the SEC Network Plus.
The Hogs will travel to Tuscaloosa stinging from the Vanderbilt series, which saw the Commodores break a 10th-inning tie with a monster three-run homer by center fielder Enrique Bradfield, who performed like an SEC MVP against the Hogs in last Friday’s opener for a 9-6 loss.
The Razorbacks bounced back for an 11-6 victory in the second game, which suffered a rain suspension Saturday and was finished Sunday morning.
However, the Hogs had little in the tank for the finale Sunday afternoon, which was also delayed by rain.
Vandy overpowered the Hogs 5-0 thanks to opportunistic hitting and a splendid performance by freshman pitcher Carter Horton (7-3), who threw his first career shutout in the seven-inning game.
It was the first time in 92 games that the Razorbacks failed to plate a run. The last time was in a 10-0 loss to Alabama in 2019. It also was the first SEC series Arkansas lost at home since 2019. The Hogs had won 14 consecutive SEC home series since.
“Holton pitched ahead all day,” Van Horn said. “He walked us a few times, but when you’re throwing that hard, you’re going to walk some people. His walks obviously didn’t hurt him.”
The Razorbacks have all but locked up a bid to the NCAA Baseball Tournament, and unless the Hogs just fall in the tank at Alabama this week and in the SEC Baseball Tournament at Hoover, Ala., next week, Arkansas will likely earn a host role for an NCAA Regional at Baum-Walker Stadium.
However, dropping the series to Vanderbilt may have cost the Hogs a shot at one of the eight national seeds that guarantees a host role through the first two rounds of the tournament.
We’ll just have to see how things shake out over the next two weeks. There is still a good bit of baseball to be played.
Should the Aggies and Razorbacks tie for the Western Division title, A&M would receive the West’s top seed in the SEC Tournament by virtue of their series victory over Arkansas April 22-24.
The seeding for the SEC Tournament isn’t all that important, but should the Hogs win the West, it might be looked on favorably by the NCAA Selection Committee.
No doubt, the Razorbacks will receive every consideration for national seed. The NCAA knows Hog fans will pack Baum-Walker Stadium for a regional and a super regional.
This. Is. Baseball.
— Arkansas Razorbacks ? (@ArkRazorbacks) May 14, 2022
Because of that support, the Razorbacks will likely get the benefit of the doubt, but Arkansas has to make sure they are part of the conversation by winning every opportunity they get between now and Memorial Day when the tournament field is announced.
The Razorbacks’ starting pitching has shown the wear and tear of the conference season of late with Connor Noland, Hagen Smith, and Jaxon Wiggins having their struggles against stiff SEC opposition.
The Razorbacks’ team batting average of .272 is not where Van Horn would like it to be either, and the last couple of weeks, the Hogs have uncharacteristically had a few errors that we just weren’t seeing earlier in the season.
From the outside looking in, this season has appeared to be more of a strain on the Hogs than the past few. It’s like the team is pressing a little bit.
Granted, the current Razorbacks have a lot to live up to based on the success of last year’s squad as well as 2019’s College World Series team being so close in Razorback fan’s collective memory.
When a program’s been so successful and consistent, it’s easy for supporters to be hyper-sensitive to routine struggles of a team that plays in the best baseball conference in the nation.
Winning the SEC West wouldn’t be as fun and gratifying if there weren’t some tension along the way.