By Otis Kirk
Arkansas was one out away from winning the national title last season, but lost a lot of players off that team.
The Hogs entered the season with high expectations remaining, but lot of question marks. Gone were six position starters and two of the weekend’s starting pitchers.
Arkansas’ Dave Van Horn has pushed almost all the right buttons this season. The result is Arkansas earned the second seed in the SEC Tournament. They tied with Mississippi State for the SEC West title, but the Hogs owned the tiebreaker since they swept the Bulldogs in Fayetteville during the regular season.
They are one win away from advancing to the College World Series again and having a chance to win what narrowly escaped them in 2018. The truth is Arkansas probably shouldn’t be in this position.
Losing as much experience and talent as they did last season it just seemed unlikely this team would have the pitching depth and consistent hitting to return to Omaha.
But yet if they beat Ole Miss today they will do exactly that. If the Hogs win today they will get to go up against Florida State in the first round in Omaha.
The returning position players who started last year were Casey Martin, Dominic Fletcher and Heston Kjerstad. Van Horn added Trevor Ezell, Casey Opitz, Matt Goodheart, Jack Kenley, Christian Franklin and Jacob Nesbit.
Isaiah Campbell has been the steadying force on the team. If Arkansas wins today one of the reasons very well could be the 8.1 innings Campbell pitched Saturday saving the bullpen. He has been joined in the rotation by two freshmen Connor Noland and Patrick Wicklander.
Wicklander will get the start today, but has a lot of bullpen weapons available if he struggles. As noted the big reason for that is Campbell’s performance on Saturday saved the bullpen even with Noland struggling on Sunday.
Matt Cronin has been excellent as expected in the closer role. Many others in the bullpen have done a good job. Among them are Cody Scroggins, Zebulon Vermillion, Kevin Kopps, Jacob Kostyshock, Marshall Denton, Kole Ramage and others.
So win and go to Omaha or lose and start building to next year, Van Horn has been magnificent this season. Arkansas has accomplished a lot this season no matter what the scoreboard has on it at the end of today’s game.