A huge weekend is approaching for the Arkansas Razorbacks and University of Arkansas students in general on campus.
The UA will be holding commencement ceremonies for its various colleges this Friday and Saturday, while also hosting the SEC Softball Tournament, which opens tonight at Bogle Park. The Diamond Hogs are also facing South Carolina in their final regular-season home series at Baum-Walker Stadium, Friday through Sunday.
Off campus, Arkansas women’s golf team is competing in the NCAA Regional at Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and the Razorbacks’ track and field teams are competing in the SEC Track and Field Tournament at Baton Rouge, La., this week.
While traffic can be difficult in Fayetteville on any weekend, the area around campus is going to be jammed this Friday and Saturday as the various graduation ceremonies are held.
If you’re planning to eat out especially Friday evening or on Saturday, have patience and expect a greater wait than usual because the town is bound to be hopping with happy graduates, their families as well as with ardent softball and baseball fans.
While the SEC Softball Tournament opens play tonight at 6:30 p.m. with a contest between Missouri and Mississippi State, Courtney Deifel’s Razorbacks do not open play until 4 p.m. Thursday as one of the top-four seeds in the event that runs through Saturday. If you can’t make it out to the park, all the games are being televised on the SEC Network or ESPN2.
No. 3 Arkansas (36-12, 17-7 SEC)
Opponent: No. 6 South Carolina (36-11, 14-9 SEC)
When: 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 12
Where: Baum-Walker Stadium, Fayetteville
TV: ESPN/SEC +
6 p.m. Saturday — South Carolina (ESPN/SEC +)
1 p.m. Sunday — South Carolina (ESPN/SEC +)
In the midst of all of that, Dave Van Horn’s No. 3 Hogs (36-12, 17-7 SEC) host the No. 6 South Carolina Gamecocks (36-11, 14-9 SEC) for what should be an outstanding three-game series between Top-six squads that could have a huge impact on both program’s chances of making a run at the College World Series.
Based on their rankings in the polls and the RPI, both squads are in position to host NCAA Regionals the first weekend of June, but the winner of this series will position itself strongly to be one of the top eight National Seeds, which brings with it the benefit of hosting through the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
Now being a National Seed guarantees nothing.
We’ve seen the Razorbacks advance to the College World Series by playing on the road like they did last year, and we’ve seen them fall short of Omaha while hosting a Super Regional like two years ago.
But playing the host role is an advantage every program would prefer if it had its druthers. Baum-Walker Stadium was built and expanded many times over for just such events. It truly is one of the best on-campus venues for baseball in America.
There are other great venues for college baseball around the SEC and nation, but none are better than Baum-Walker. The venue is top of the line, but Razorback fans make the atmosphere extra special.
Now, let’s look back just for a moment at last weekend. The Hogs went to Starkville, Miss., and swept the Bulldogs.
MSU admittedly isn’t playing the best baseball at this juncture of the season. The Bulldogs, who won a national title two years ago, are mired at the bottom of the SEC West with Ole Miss. Sweeping the Bulldogs isn’t exactly the most impressive feat at the moment.
But when you consider the Razorbacks did that with the usual top third of their batting lineup — outfielder Tavian Josenberger, second baseman Peyton Stovall, outfield Jared Wenger — out with injury, while also trying to nail down an ever-changing pitching rotation because of injury, it was a major accomplishment.
The good news is that those injured every-day players should begin to return to the lineup as soon as this weekend.
Certainly they’ll have some cobwebs to knock off, but the great thing is that now there are experienced Razorbacks behind them who’ve not only played well in the field, but have also picked up the load hitting, too.
First baseman Brady Slavens had an All-American type weekend against the Bulldogs at the plate, homering in each of the three games. Kendall Diggs, who is developing into a sound outfielder since moving into an every-day role, crushed his second grand slam of the season over the weekend. Jace Bohofren followed Diggs’ grand slam on Sunday with his 13th homer of the year, which leads the team.
That kind of timely hitting was something the Razorbacks were missing at points earlier in the season. For instance, Arkansas scored all of their runs in Sunday’s victory with two outs. That just shows the confidence with which the Hogs are swinging the bats at this point in the season.
Van Horn and pitching coach Matt Hobbs have had their ups and downs with all the injuries they have dealt this season with their pitching staff, but they used what the Hogs had masterfully last weekend with Hagen Smith, Brady Tygart, and Hunter Holland in starting roles, and Will McEntire, Gage Wood, Cody Adcock, and Zack Morris combining to provide excellent relief in the three-game series.
It’s hard to imagine those pitchers performing much better or being deployed more expertly than they were.
While the Gamecocks were swept by Kentucky last weekend, Hog fans shouldn’t expect South Carolina to go down without a fight.
As always in SEC play, if the Razorbacks can walk away with a series victory, it will end up being a great weekend at Baum-Walker Stadium.
SEC West Standings
Arkansas 17-7 36-12
LSU 16-5 37-10
Alabama 11-13 32-16
Auburn 11-13 27-19
Texas A&M 11-13 27-19
Ole Miss 6-18 25-23
Miss. St. 6-18 24-23
SEC East Standings
Vanderbilt 17-7 34-13
Florida 15-9 37-12
South Carolina 14-9 36-11
Kentucky 14-10 33-13
Tennessee 12-12 32-16
Georgia 10-14 27-21
Missouri 7-17 27-20