The Razorbacks are a gaudy 66-11 over the last two seasons at Baum-Walker Stadium. Ole Miss is 10-13 on the road this year. Stop there and it would seem that Arkansas has a huge advantage coming into this weekend’s Fayetteville Regional. But the Rebels happen to be the only team in the last two years to take a series from the Hogs in Fayetteville. The last two days of this past March Mike Bianco’s guys knocked off their SEC West rivals 4-3 and 10-5. The difference in the series was a ninth inning RBI double by Grae Kessenger off of Kole Ramage in game two.
The two teams have played twice since with Arkansas winning 5-3 on May 22 in the SEC Tournament. Ole Miss came back two days later to beat Arkansas 3-2 on a run scored in the bottom of the 8th. So in two of their three losses to the Rebels, the Diamond Hogs have found themselves suddenly down a run with only three outs to play with.
Arkansas fans again flocked to Baum Stadium in huge numbers as their team zipped through the regional field 3-0 for the second straight season. When the final out was recorded Sunday night in a 6-0 win over TCU the crowd cheered and the players hugged each other. But, as head coach Dave Van Horn noted, there wasn’t exactly a mass celebration. The program has reached a point where this type of success is expected.
“Did you watch the way our players reacted when we won the game?” Van Horn asked reporters in the post game press conference? “It’s like another game. That’s what we want. They know we accomplished something but we haven’t accomplished what we’re really trying to do.”
TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle raved about the national five-seed that had just ended his club’s season, telling the media, “It’s what you expect from a team that played for a national title last year and is certainly set up to do the same thing. They look like a national champion. Their pitching, they smother you with strikes. Guys do multiple things. Right. Left. Some guys pitching off their breaking balls. They all have power arms. They’re fun to watch. Just baseball players. You get guys that compete throughout an entire at bat. May look bad on one swing and then get right back in the at-bat. They’re gonna be tough to beat.”
Hog fans, no doubt, love reading those kinds of compliments from a successful, veteran head coach like Schlossnagle but more than a few were nervously buzzing over the weekend about the offensive numbers Ole Miss was putting up as it rolled through the Oxford Regional. The Rebels will come to Northwest Arkansas winners in eight of their last ten games.
Van Horn described the matchup this way: “We’ve seen each other. We know each other’s tendencies. We know who is gonna pitch. We know advantages, disadvantages. But you can throw the records out the window. It comes down to one weekend. Who’s going to get the big hit? Who’s going to make a pitch? Who’s going to get a bloop single? Who’s going to play defense?”
“Now, how do I feel about them?” Van Horn continued. “They’re really talented and they have older players. They kept some guys from signing last year. They’ve got a freshman who’s the best freshman in the league. They’ve got power. They’ve got a few guys that can run. They’ve got a shortstop that can flat out play. They’ve got some guys who are going to play in the big leagues. They played to the finals of the conference tournament and they smoked everybody in their regional.”
Perhaps some perspective is in order.
The bulk of Ole Miss’ runs came in two games against a Jacksonville State team that also got clubbed 13-2 by Alabama and 14-2 by Auburn earlier this season. The Tide finished at the bottom of the SEC West and failed to make the NCAA Tournament. Arkansas won a road series against both teams. Plus a numbers comparison goes mostly to the Razorbacks. The Hogs are hitting .299 as a team to .284 for the Rebels. Arkansas has more home runs, (81-68) more doubles, (130-109) and a better team ERA (3.84-4.23) while Ole Miss has a slight advantage (459-457) in runs scored.
Arkansas senior first baseman Trevor Ezell believes the Baum-Walker crowd will be the difference in the upcoming Fayetteville Super Regional.
“We have the best fans in the country,” Ezell declared. “They can change the game for us and we really feel that on the field. I think other teams, when they come in to play here, feel that. They’ve (Ole Miss) gotten us three times to our two this year so we’ll be ready to get after them.”