FAYETTEVILLE — To a degree, Arkansas has had a bullseye on it virtually all season as they have been ranked No. 1 for much of the 2021 campaign.
The Razorbacks have handled it very well going 20-4 against the Top 16 seeds in the field of 64 for the NCAA Tournament. Arkansas’ Dave Van Horn feels the schedule has helped prepare the Hogs for what is ahead of them.
” Yeah, it should have,” Van Horn said. “I think I made the comment yesterday after the game that it seemed like every time we looked up we were playing one of the top 25 teams to the point where we didn’t even know anymore. It didn’t matter. We were just playing a good team. I think our schedule was off the charts. No. 1 in the country as far as the strength and it just kept getting better and better and better and we had nowhere to go. I don’t know if we’ll ever play a tougher one. It has to do with your non-conference schedule and different things. It’s just the way it worked out. We were just fortunate we got out to a good start against some really good teams and we kept it up.”
It’s not an accident the culture of the program at Arkansas under Van Horn breeds success. Left-handed pitcher Lael Lockhart is a transfer from Houston who feels coming to Arkansas was best decision he could have made.
“Oh yeah. I know they love it here,” Van Horn said of the transfers. “We work hard here, but we treat our players right. We treat them like men. If they don’t do something right, we’re going to talk to them about it, but we’re not going to try to embarrass them. It’s a different culture here than a lot of places. I’m not going to cut down any other university, but they run their programs maybe a little bit differently. These guys like it here. They liked to be pushed and worked, but on the other end they like the fact the coaches treat them like big boys. We treat them with respect. If we have a problem, we tackle it head on. We don’t just go popping off in the dugout or locker room in front of everybody. I think every one of those guys would tell you that this was a great decision in them coming.”
Arkansas is one of nine SEC teams in the field of 64. Van Horn was hoping for more.
“Yeah, on the teams, it’s great for our league to get nine in,” Van Horn said. “We thought with this year, with some of these leagues not playing out of league and maybe the RPI with their league might be a little skewed that might cost us a bid or two. We didn’t know. I’m glad to see nine get in. I was hoping for 10. I feel bad for Georgia. It’s interesting how they figured out how they were gonna take one of the other. LSU deserved to be in. They sent them way out to Oregon but I’m sure they don’t care.”
Van Horn isn’t sure of the pitching staff he will use this weekend. He said that decision will come later, but will use some matchups out of the pen.
“We will out of the pen a little bit, but as far as who we’re going to start, we need to see what’s going on with the other team,” Van Horn said. “Are they right-handed hitting? Are they left handed? What kind of reports we get before we make a decision on who we throw.”
Van Horn liked what he saw out of the pitching staff, for the most part, in Hoover, but didn’t mention he hopes to get one of his key relievers pitching better than he did this past weekend.
“In a way, just because of the success that the guys had,” Van Horn said. “Getting guys out there, getting Connor Noland out there for nine outs against a really good hitting team and the way he pitched, I thought (Caleb) Bolden gave us a good start, and obviously Lockhart gave us a great start then a really good inning (Sunday). (Jaxon) Wiggins threw the ball extremely well. I mean, I could go on and on.
“The one guy we’ve got to get going a little bit is Caden Monke. He threw great against Florida then he didn’t have a good weekend. We’ve got to have him, so we’ll try to get him straightened up this week. You’ll see him out there. But yeah, I’d say so. I think they should be confident. They get confidence from the other guys on the team and the coaching staff to put them out there.”
Arkansas will play the Friday afternoon game at 2 p.m. and talked about the reasoning for that decision.
“Yeah, that would be my first choice,” Van Horn said. “I haven’t talked to our administration about it yet. They haven’t asked me. But what goes into that is just the fact that it could be weather, more than anything. You get that first game in and then some weather rolls in. You’d hate to play that night game and the two teams in front of you play and then you’re sitting there and next thing you know it’s 2 in the morning and you’re not playing, then you’ve got to get up and play that game and then play another one later that day, whether you win or lose. So it might be a little more difficult on our fans getting to games. But I think our fan base understands it now. I’ve talked to many coaches about it over the years, especially Wayne Graham at Rice. He’s the one who gave me all the details on why they did it and I 100-percent agree with him. Those are the points there.”
Van Horn talked about the team’s routine after getting home Sunday night from Hoover.
“Well we traveled back yesterday and got back in here about 9,” Van Horn said. “Just a stressful week. Today we’re going to give them off again, tell them to relax and get caught up on some rest and get organized. And then we’ll start working out tomorrow or some time. I haven’t made a decision on time yet. You know we have rain moving in so we’ve already tarped the field tonight and if we get a chance to get out there tomorrow we’ll peel that thing off and go. If we can’t, we’ll be inside. But we’ll definitely work out Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and then play on Friday.”
As far as Brady Slavens, who injured his ankle in the first game at the SEC Tournament, don’t expect to see him this weekend and more should be known about Zebulon Vermillion on Tuesday.
“Well on Vermillion, I thought we were going to get him looked at today but we’ll know tomorrow night,” Van Horn said. “He’s going to get looked at tomorrow. Slavens is walking around without the boot today. I would say just looking at him he’s very, very questionable for this week.”
Could Slavens at least pinch hit this weekend?
“I don’t know yet,” Van Horn said. “I don’t know if he could put solid weight on it and get down the line to get to first base so I would say if he can’t get to first base obviously I don’t think we could put him up there.”
With Cullen Smith, Cayden Wallace and others moving around at the SEC Tournament following Slavens’ injury Van Horn feels that could help them this weekend.
“It gives us a little bit more confidence going into the regional because I don’t think we’re probably going to have Brady,” Van Horn said. “It’s going to be difficult for him to get ready between now and let’s just say Saturday to even come in and pinch hit. So I think really what we’re looking at with Brady is maybe this weekend, but if we can get through the weekend, maybe we can have him down the road.”