Hogs, Rebels face off for Omaha

The Saline Courier Weekend - - SPORTS - By Nate Allen

FAYET­TEVILLE - The Arkansas Ra­zor­backs and

Ole Miss Rebels ought to know each oth­ers’ base­ball signs like they know their own.

Af­ter all, the two SEC West ri­vals al­ready have played each other five times be­fore th­ese best 2 of 3 meet­ings out of con­fer­ence even more im­por­tant than their oh so im­por­tant SEC games.

At Arkansas’ Baum-walker Sta­dium at 11 a.m. to­day on ESPN, 2 p.m. Sun­day on ESPNU, and if nec­es­sary, 3 p.m. Mon­day on ESPN2, Coach Dave Van Horn’s na­tion­ally fifth-seeded 44-17 Fayet­teville Re­gional cham­pion Ra­zor­backs and Coach Mike Bianco’s 40-25 na­tion­ally 12th-seeded Ox­ford Re­gional cham­pion Rebels, play the Su­per Re­gional de­cid­ing which will be among the Elite Eight play­ing for col­lege base­ball’s na­tional cham­pi­onship at the Col­lege World Se­ries in Omaha.

“We know them and they know us af­ter play­ing them that many times,” Arkansas ju­nior cen­ter­fielder Do­minic Fletcher said.

Arkansas, last year’s CWS na­tional run­ner-up to Ore­gon State, at 20-10 in SEC games shared the SEC West cham­pi­onship with Mis­sis­sippi State com­pared to Ole Miss’ 16-14 fourth in the West.

How­ever, head to head the Rebels for 2019 lead the Ra­zor­backs 3-2.

Fol­low­ing a 5-3 Arkansas vic­tory, the Rebels, winning 4-3 and 10-5, be­came the only SEC team at Baum-walker best­ing Arkansas in a se­ries.

They twice met again in the dou­ble-elim­i­na­tion SEC Tour­na­ment in Hoover, Alabama. Arkansas won its SEC Tour­ney opener 5-3 over Ole Miss, but af­ter a 3-1 loss to Ge­or­gia were elim­i­nated

3-2 by the Rebels in the loser’s bracket.

Ul­ti­mately the Rebels were the fi­nal­ist to SEC Tour­na­ment cham­pion Van­der­bilt, also an NCAA Re­gional win­ner ad­vanced to Su­per Re­gion­als as are six of the SEC West’s seven teams also in­clud­ing Mis­sis­sippi State, LSU, Auburn and

Texas A&M.

“I’ve been say­ing it all year, the (SEC) West­ern Di­vi­sion is the tough­est di­vi­sion in the coun­try,” Van Horn said. “There’s not dif­fer­ence in 1 through 6. Be­cause I can put A&M in there. Ev­ery­body is that good.”

Cer­tainly the Rebels are with­out cause to think there’s a dif­fer­ence un­less per­haps be­liev­ing they are bet­ter than Arkansas.

Af­ter in 2016 sweeping three in Ox­ford from the lone los­ing team in Van Horn’s 17 Arkansas sea­sons, the Rebels in 2017 won 2 of 3 in Fayet­teville against ul­ti­mately the Ra­zor­backs’ Fayet­teville Re­gional fi­nal­ist and last year in Ox­ford won 2 of 3 from the Ra­zor­backs’ even­tual na­tional run­ner-up.

So the Rebels, de­stroy­ing Jack­sonville State twice and Clem­son in be­tween at the Ox­ford Re­gional they hosted, pre­sum­ably come con­fi­dently into Baum-walker.

“They’ve done re­ally well against us over the last five years it seems like,” Van Horn said. “So I’m sure it does give them con­fi­dence.”

And re­newed de­ter­mi­na­tion within Arkansas be­cause of the op­po­nent, what’s at stake and the con­fi­dence from a 3-0 Fayet­teville Re­gional beating Cen­tral Connecticu­t 11-5, TCU 3-1 and TCU again, 6-0.

“We have faced th­ese guys quite a bit so if there is any­body we want to beat it is Ole Miss,” Arkansas ju­nior sec­ond base­man Jack Ken­ley said. “There were a lot of outs we made against them that were un­char­ac­ter­is­tic of us. You look at the Re­gional se­ries we just had and play­ing a team like TCU we had never seen be­fore and still man­aged to play our own game. I think that’s go­ing to be a key in beating Ole Miss if we play like who we are.”

A key, that ju­nior re­liever Cody Scrog­gins said will be un­locked less on grit­ted teeth but with re­laxed con­fi­dence.

“We’ve played them five times and we may play them seven or eight times,” Scrog­gins said. “It’s just about hav­ing fun now. Both teams are click­ing and it’s go­ing to be a fun week­end. Espe­cially in this at­mos­phere.”

The Fayet­teville Su­per Re­gional be­came a sell­out about as quickly as tick­ets be­came avail­able.

So much for the teams’ in­tan­gi­bles. What do the Rebels bring tan­gi­bly?

“On pa­per we are pretty much even for the most part,” Van Horn said. “Their lineup is very ex­plo­sive. They can put up some runs real quick like they did this past week. I know for their three games they hit .400 as a team, which is pretty amaz­ing.”

Bat­ting .284 as a team, the Rebels are led by cen­ter­fielder Ryan Olenek’s .342 bat­ting av­er­age, flaw­less, clutch-hit­ting short­stop Grae Kessinger .332, five home runs and 47 RBIS, first base­man Cole Zabowski, .316, 11 home runs and 48 RBIS, switch-hit­ting cen­ter­fielder Thomas Dil­lard, .312, 13 home runs and 61 RBIS, sec­ond base­man An­thony Servideo, .290 with 23 stolen bases, and power hit­ting third base­man Tyler Keenan .279, 14 home runs and 62 RBIS.

Right-han­der Will Etheridge, 7-6, 2.91 ERA, gen­er­ally opens for Ole Miss, with lefty Doug Nik­hazy, 8-3, 2.98, and the “best fresh­man pitcher in the league,” in Van Horn’s view, pitch­ing the sec­ond game with lefty Gun­ner Hol­land, 3-2, 4.69 a likely Mon­day starter if no­body has swept.

Ole Miss closer Parker Caraci has 11 saves and mid­dle re­liever Austin Miller logs two wins over Arkansas.

The Ra­zor­backs cer­tainly hold their own start­ing ju­nior ace Isa­iah Camp­bell, 11-1, and fresh­man right-han­der Con­nor Noland, 3-4, and fresh­man lefty Pa­trick Wick­lan­der, 6-2, all com­ing off im­pres­sive Fayet­teville Re­gional vic­to­ries, and a bullpen of now Ma­jor League drafted ju­rors Matt Cronin, 12 saves, Ja­cob Kostyshock and Scrog­gins, plus sopho­more Kevin Kopps, also im­press­ing at the Fayet­teville Re­gional.

For hit­ters, the Ra­zor­backs start five bat­ting be­tween Fletcher hit­ting .312 and des­ig­nated hit­ter Matt Good­heart hit­ting .348 with Van Horn pre­dict­ing .287 hit­ting Pre­sea­son All-amer­i­can short­stop Casey Martin, 15 home runs and 53 RBIS, will shake a slump af­fect­ing his SEC Tour­na­ment and Fayet­teville Re­gional at-bats.

CRAVEN WHITLOW/NATE Allen Sports Ser­vice

Arkansas sopho­more Casey Martin makes a play dur­ing the Fayet­teville Re­gional last week. Martin looks to get back on track when the Ra­zor­backs take on the Ole Miss Rebels in the Fayet­teville Su­per Re­gional be­gin­ning to­day a 11 a.m. at Baum-walker Sta­dium.

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