BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
The 2023 SEC Baseball Tournament will begin Tuesday in Hoover, Ala., but the league’s Coach of the Year and his Merry Band of co-champion Razorbacks will be watching the diamond instead of playing.
Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn, who was named the SEC’s top coach on Monday, will have a keen eye on Tuesday’s battle between seventh-seeded Tennessee and 10th-seeded Texas A&M.
The second-seeded and No. 4 Razorbacks (39-15, 20-10), who had home sweeps of both teams this season, will play Wednesday around 1 p.m. against the winner of Tuesday’s single-elimination contest between the Volunteers (38-18, 16-14) and Aggies (32-23, 14-16).
Van Horn was named the SEC Coach of the Year for the third time in his career (2004, 2021 and 2023), which ties Vanderbilt’s Tim Corbin and Florida’s Kevin O’Sullivan for most by the league’s active coaches.
He led the Razorbacks to the fourth SEC overall championship – all coming since 2018 – and the second title in three seasons.
Four Arkansas players earned all-league honors with pitcher Hagen Smith (8-1, 2.56, 2 saves) named as a first-team selection and also name to SEC All-Defensive squad.
It was also announced late Monday that Smith is one of the 25 finalists for the Golden Spikes Award, an award given to the nation’s top overall college player and previously won by former Razorbacks Andrew Benintendi and Kevin Kopps.
Smith was also named as a semfinalistf or the College Baseball Foundation National Pitcher of the Year Award.
He has struck out a team-high 93 batters and limited opposing hitters to a meager .191 batting average this season.
Kendall Diggs (.314, 10 homers, team-leading 56 RBIs) was named to the All-SEC second team.
Tavian Josenberger (perfect 1.000 fielding percentage in 116 total chances) was named to the All-Defensive team and pitcher Gage Wood (2-0, 3.81, 5 saves, 41 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings) to the SEC All-Freshman list.
The Razorbacks won the Western Division outright title by a half-game over heavily favored LSU (42-13, 19-10) while the Gators (42-13, 20-10) nabbed the Eastern Division by a game over Vanderbilt (37-17, 19-11).
All four of those teams earned first-round byes into Wednesday’s quarterfinal round, which begins three days of double-elimination action.
The Saturday semifinal winners will play for the championship on Sunday at 2 p.m.
The 12-team tournament begins Tuesday with sixth-seeded South Carolina (38-17, 16-13) playing 11th-seeded Georgia (29-26, 11-19) at 9:30 a.m. and the Tennessee-Texas A&M game set for 30 minutes after the first contest ends.
Tuesday’s other single elimination games have eighth-seed Kentucky facing ninth-seed Alabama (36-17, 16-14) at 4:30 and fifth-seeded Auburn (33-19-1) and 12th-seeded Missouri (30-23, 10-20) battling in the day’s final match up.
Mississippi State (27-26, 9-21) and Ole Miss (25-29, 6-24) – the last two national champions – did not qualify for the SEC Tournament.
Photo by John D. James