FAYETTEVILLE — Senior shortstop Jalen Battles came up big for Arkansas at the SEC Tournament.
Battles is known as a slick-fielding shortstop, but also was big at the plate in the four games in Hoover. He hit .538, hit a home run, a double, knocked in five runs, walked four times and played his usual outstanding way in the field with eight put outs and 13 assists. His home run against Tennessee on Sunday put the exclamation point on the victory.
“As you all saw, the first pitch, he quick pitched me,” Battles said. “In my head, I’m like really dude? It kind of made me mad. I was expecting another off-speed pitch, and he hung a breaking ball, and I took my anger out on it.”
Battles talked about what it means to be a key part of Arkansas’ first SEC Tournament championship.
“It’s big, of course,” Battles said. “Just coming here, being able to play. It was huge. It’s been very fun, and I mean I can’t be more blessed to be a part of this special team.”
On a team loaded with stars most wouldn’t have predicted before the tournament that Battles would win the MVP. But he let his game speak for itself as the Hogs went 4-0 in Hoover.
“I’m feeling very confident,” Battles said. “Coming in, I talked to my uncle, and he gave me a lot of inspiration, just getting my head right forward. Honestly, I thought Cullen (Smith) was going to win MVP of the tournament because he was outstanding every game. I’m very blessed to be the MVP.”
With Brady Slavens going down to injury in the opening game, the Hogs had to make some adjustments in the infield. Smith moved to first and both Cayden Wallace (normally right field) and Jacob Nesbit played third.
“Wherever we play anybody, it’s going to be the best defense,” Battles said. “We just kept the same confidence as we’ve had the whole year. It was good.”
Smith, who normally shares third with Nesbit, was big all week with Slavens out and Battles was impressed.
“It was huge,” Battles said. “He probably didn’t like going to first, but it was best for the team. He was very effective and very bought in for the team to play first.”
After the Razorbacks won the regular season SEC Championship some downplayed the importance of the SEC Tournament considering Arkansas had likely secured the national No. 1 seed regardless of what happened in Hoover.
“We just came in having that mindset we’re going to win it,” Battles said. “We wanted it so bad. We got to this last game, and we’re like, why don’t we just win it now. So it was fun.”
Having been ranked No. 1 most of the season, won every series all season, conference and non-conference and now adding the SEC Tournament title the Hogs should have momentum for the Fayetteville Regional and beyond.
“I would probably say it’s just the same as all year,” Battles said. “We’re a very confident team. I know we think we can play with anybody and beat them. Especially if we have our fans as well going into the regional tournament. It’s going to be even more fun.”
Battles is starting to bring his batting average back up after a fast start to season and then a mild slump in the middle.
“For me, I felt like I started out pretty well, and then it kind of went away,” Battles said. “Towards the end, it’s gotten better. It’s just taking one bat at a time and just really lock it in.”
Dave Van Horn is very low key when it comes to games, not getting too high after a win or too low following a loss. However, Battles saw a different Van Horn on Sunday.
“That’s probably the most fired up we’ve seen Coach in a while,” Battles said. “He’s always locked into the game. Seeing that brought the fire to us as well. I guess we were playing for Coach as well.”
Battles and the Hogs are glad to be playing before a packed house at Baum-Walker Stadium this upcoming weekend.