Arkansas hosted military appreciation day Tuesday at Baum-Walker Stadium in honor of those who served and are currently serving and most appropriately  the No. 8 Razorbacks hosted the Army West Point Black Knights.

It was the Razorbacks’  first service academy opponent since beating Navy 10-9 in Memphis back in 2003 and the Black Knights were ready for the challenge despite being in a stretch of 14 straight road games to start the season.

Unweary from the travel, Army came to be appreciated by the Arkansas crowd and showed their grit and what you would expect from future soldiers in what turned into a Razorback 7-5 win.

It was an effort that didn’t surprise Army head coach Chris Tracz, whose defending Patriot League championship program and 2023 preseason favorite squad led its hosts 4-0 entering the sixth inning.

“They have made a decision at 18 years old to basically take a completely different path than every other college student and we are trying to do it while playing at the highest level of Division I baseball,” Tracz said. “Their time commitment off the field is triple or maybe even more than of a regular college student. The amount of time they spend win baseball is minuscule compared to these guys at Arkansas. 

“So there is a lot of toughness and grit and just the mindset that wherever we are, whoever we are playing, whenever it is that we are going to compete and I think they showed that today.”

Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn acknowledged his respect for the Black Knights (5-6), who have made four straight NCAA Tournaments and had 12 hits to 8 for the Razorbacks (10-2) on Tuesday.

“I think our players recognized it,” Van Horn said. “It is a little different when you go to a school like Army. I mean you are representing everybody. You could tell our fans wanted us to win, but thy were probably okay if we lost. That’s kind of the sense I had because we were playing Army.

“You just respect it and you respect those guys over there. I like the way they play – no nonsense with a little attitude and I like our guys to play like that.”

Van Horn stressed that it was an intense game, one Arkansas tied with a three-run homer by Jared Wegner and a solo shot by Jace Bohrofen in the sixth and won on Kendall Diggs’ three-run blast in the eighth.

“It might have looked laid back from the stands, but it was pretty intense on the field,” Van Horn said. “It’s the first time that we have had them in here…I enjoyed it and I hope they will come back in the future.”

Army’s long road trip, which extends to 17 away games in its first 18 contests, is necessary to get in games when the weather is still iffy in West Point, N.Y.

The Black Knights visit Wright State for a three-game series this weekend, host their home opener against the University of Albany on March 14 and then  travel to South Florida for three more road games.

“We were laughing,” Tracz said. “They said these guys (the Razorbacks) are on an 18-game home streak and we are, I think, on the other end of that with 18 on the road. It’s just part of the deal.

“It is good for these guys to get away from West Point and go and compete, but obviously the weather also plays a part of it. This is what we need to do.  For our guys to be able to experience a stadium like this and play against a Top 10 team – and compete with them – it can only bold well for us.”

Arkansas begins a three-game set with visiting Louisiana Tech (8-4) on Friday at 3 p.m.

Photo by John D. James