NASHVILLE, Tenn. – On a weekend when Billy Joel and Stevie Nicks are bringing their mega hit-filled concert to the Music City, Arkansas head baseball coach Dave Van Horn and his staff hope to finish off their of his best regular season classics in Nashville.

Arkansas (38-13, 19-8) can claim its second SEC overall title in three years this weekend against Vanderbilt (35-16, 17-10) in a three-game series that begins Thursday night at 6 p.m. at Hawkins Field.

The Razorbacks have battled injuries all season, but enter the weekend a game ahead of SEC Easter Division-leading Florida (40-12, 18-9) with LSU (40-12, 17-9) Vanderbilt and South Carolina (37-15, 15-11) also still mathematically alive for the crown.

“They (team’s goals) do go behind that, but obviously we want to win,” Van Horn said of a quest to win the SEC title and also the team’s first national title . “I mean, it’s so hard to win. You can have a great team and be in fourth or fifth place at this time of year. Things have fallen into place for us with the guys that have made it happen.”

The Thursday night game and Friday’s 7 p.m. one will both be televised by the SEC Network and Saturday’s 2 p.m. contest will be on SEC Network +.

Arkansas, who will leave after the series and travel next week’s SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., has a main goal each season of being in the eight-team College World Series and giving itself a chance to win a national title.

The Razorbacks, who have won 8 of their last 9 SEC games, have played in three of the last four College World Series and 11 overall.

“Our program is one that looks to the future,” Van Horn said. “What I mean by that is, two or three weeks down the road, I hope we’re still playing. But we’re going to do everything we can to win. I’m sure Vanderbilt is going to do the same thing. I’m sure Florida is going to do the same thing.

“We’ll just see how it clears come Sunday evening and then go from there. We’ll try to continue to get better at the (SEC) tournament and then get ready for the next weekend (NCAA Regional) Tournament.”

While Arkansas officially announced Wednesday that second baseball Peyton Stovall (torn labrum) is out of the season, it will likely benefit from the return of left fielder Jared Wegner.
Wegner was leading the team in average (.351), home runs (12) and RBIs (44) at the time he injured his thumb back on Tuesday, April 11 in a 21-5 win over visiting UALR.

“It went good,” Van Horn said. “He got a lot of swings and then we let him hit a lot extra off the live pitchers that were getting their workout in inside. I mean, he got some at-bats. So he got to see live pitching. If he hit the first pitch, that was that. If he saw seven and walked that was the at-bat. Then taking an at-bat or two off and the other guys would hit, then he’d jump back in. I mean he got extra, a lot extra.”

Peyton Holt will continue to fill in for Stovall, who will have surgery with a goal of returning during fall practice.

“The good thing is he’s got some experience the last few weeks to play,” Holt said. “He’s done a really good job for us defensively and offensively, as well, obviously. So it’s not like… We’ve kind of known this was going to happen. In a way, you could kinda see it coming, some of the tests and different things, so it’s not like it’s a shock to us. We’ve known for a while.”

Arkansas comes into its series with its pitching trending upwards while Vandy, who has lost five of ist last six SEC games, will likely be without its top two guys.

The Razorbacks plan to start Hagen Smith Thursday with the second game tag team of Brady Tygart and Will McEntire tentatively slated for Friday and Hunter Hollan in line for Saturday.

But Van Horn said results of games will dictate things with the SEC Tournament pending.

The SEC Tournament begins Tuesday while Arkansas has a bye and will not play until Wednesday.

“I think you’ll see more teams doing that if they don’t have injuries just to kind of look at the standings and see where everybody sits each day and save somebody for the tournament,” Van Horn said. “That’s what you’re going to see. But in our case we’re going to go exactly the same. We’ll start Hagen on Thursday night and then just leave it open the next two days.”

Vanderbilt will be without pitcher Carlton Holton and may be without hurler Hunter Owen according to head coach Tim Corbin.

The Commdores were without the pair last weekend while getting swept at Florida on a weekend where they went in with the SEC Eastern Division lead, but never had a lead during the entire weekend.

“We’ll be without Holton (against Arkansas), and I don’t know if we’ll be without Owen,” Corbin said in an interview on the Caroline, Willy and D-Mase Show on 102.5 The Game according to The Tennessean. “But they started off as our one and two, and you don’t want to go into any situation limping, but it gives other kids the opportunity to get into those roles … and it could be a great thing for your team, depending on their development.”

Devin Furtrall (6-3, 2.93), the only Vanderbilt pitcher to appear in every SEC series so far this season, will pitch one of the games, but not likely Thursday night as he just pitched in Sunday’s loss at Florida.

Bryce Cunningham, Greyson Carter, Patrick Reilly and Nick Maldonado are other starting options per Corbin.

Vanderbilt has been swept twice in SEC series on the road, but is 11-1 in league games and 23-5 overall at home this season.

Vanderbilt has not scored more than four runs in an SEC game since beating Kentucky 9-3 on April 29.

The Commodores collected just 15 hits, and just three extra-base hit in three games at Florida.

Photo by John D. James