BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
The two-time defending SEC champion will play host to the team currently leading the race to take the crown this season.
No. 4 Tennessee (38-5, 16-2) is visiting back-to-back conference champ and No. 12 Arkansas (35-13, 11-7) for a three-game set beginning with Saturday’s 4 p.m. contest on ESPNU.
A Tennessee sweep at Bogle Park would clinch the championship for the Vols, who have not lost a SEC series this season.
“They’re outstanding,” Arkansas coach Courtney Deifel said of the Volunteers. “There’s not many holes or weaknesses that you really can find in their makeup, and we knew that from the start of the year.
“We knew who they had coming back, we knew who they added, and they are having the year that we thought they would have.”
Tennessee comes into the game off a sweep at Florida last week the combined score of 30-17 and rallying from six and four-run deficits to win the final two contests.
Arkansas, who took two of three at Kentucky last weekend and picked up a win at Western Kentucky on Monday, has won 8 of its last 10 games.
The series will feature two of the nation’s best pitchers Razorback Chenise Delce (18-5, 1.62 ERA) and Volunteer Ashley Rogers (13-1, 0.80).
It also has two of the players tied with the nation’s home run lead at 19 with Arkansas’ Rylin Hedgecock and Tennessee’ Kiki Milloy.
Deifel believes her team has proven it can play with anybody in the country.
“I think that we’ve learned that we can compete with anyone,” Deifel said. “I think that we know that we’re never out of a game….We’ve learned to be resilient.
“We have learned so many lessons and we’re still learning. I just think that we’re in a really good head space, not only going into Tennessee, but going into the last stretch of our season.”
Arkansas has this series with Tennessee that also has games Sunday at noon (ESPN2) and Monday at 6 (SEC Network), a road series at Missouri next weekend and then hosting the SEC Tournament May 9-13.
“I think that we’ve grown up a ton,” Deifel said. “….I think there’s so many positives that not only has served us well in a really tough SEC season with a really tough six games left in regular season, but I think it’s going to serve us well as we hopefully progress through the postseason.”
Photo by John D. James