Hogs not looking past Blue Devils
FAYETTEVILLE - The Razorbacks baseball portion of the University of Arkansas system prefers forgetting the underdog UALR Trojans coming to Fayetteville and routing the Razorbacks 17-7.
However, Razorbacks Coach Dave Van Horn and the SEC West co-champion Razorbacks themselves say they’ll keep that UALR game in mind. It helps prepare them hosting the four-team double-elimination Fayetteville Regional at Baum-walker Stadium opening against the Central Connecticut State University Blue Devils on Friday.
Nationally fifth-seeded among the 16 four-team regional tournaments ultimately advancing eight to play for the national championship at the College World Series in Omaha, the 41-17 Razorbacks play as the Fayetteville Regional’s top seed for the country’s most powerful conference sending nine of its 14 members to regionals.
Northeast Conference Tournament champion CCSU, 30-21, is its conference lone qualifier among the 64.
But Coach Chris Curry’s UALR Trojans of the Sun Belt were just 10-18 when they forayed Fayetteville and hammered the Hogs.
It’s a reminder, said Razorbacks sophomore shortstop Casey Martin of Lonoke, the freshman third baseman on last year’s
Razorbacks national runnerup at the College World Series, not to look ahead to Saturday’s matchup against the Friday night game between the second-seeded California Golden Bears and third-seeded TCU Horned Frogs.
“We’ve done that a few times this year and we paid for it,” Martin said of looking past a foe. “It doesn’t matter who you are, you’ve got to show up and play.”
Drubbed 19-2 by the Razorbacks on an April Tuesday night at Baumwalker, Northwestern State ambushed Arkansas 10-7 the following day. But it was UALR that Martin most recalls overlooking.
“They’re lower Division 1 level,” Martin said. “We’re SEC and they’re Sun Belt. That shows you it doesn’t matter what level you are playing at. They came in here and proved they can beat anybody. It doesn’t matter how good you are or how bad you are. You can go into any game and win or lose.”
Sophomore right fielder Heston Kjerstad, the freshman left fielder for last year’s Razorbacks national runner-up, concurred.
“It doesn’t matter who you play,” Kjerstad said. “Their conference or what they rank, all that stuff goes out the window. The game starts it’s definitely between the lines and whoever scores the most runs wins.”
Some postseason pratfalls against the unheralded belies the Razorbacks’ rich postseason history. That history includes four College World Series trips under retired Coach Norm Debriyn, his first a national runner-up, and five under Van Horn with one national runner-up.
Bryant, the 2019 regular-season Northeast Conference champion beaten by CCSU in the Northeast Conference Tournament, upset Van Horn’s Razorbacks opening the 2013 Manhattan Regional which Arkansas eventually lost to host Kansas State.
Lemoyne College of Syracuse, New York, upset Debriyn’s 1987 Razorbacks opening the Waterbury, Connecticut, Regional that the Razorbacks rebounded to win and advance to Omaha.
Way back in 1979 but still vividly recalled, Debriyn took the Razorbacks to their second ever regional, a sixteam affair in Tallahassee Florida.
Dick Howser, who would manage the 1985 World Series champion Kansas City Royals and flashed his 1978 World Series ring as the New York Yankees third base base coach, head coached host Florida State.
Media thronged to Howser and the Seminoles’ arch-rival Florida Gators second seeded in Tallahassee.
Media didn’t mob Howser for long. His Seminoles skidded two-and-through without playing Arkansas.
Arkansas felled Florida, 9-1.
But the unheralded George Washington University, 12-11 and Delaware, 4-3 and 8-6, were the ones battling Debriyn’s Hogs to the wire far in Tallahassee far more than heralded Arizona and Texas would at the 1979 CWS falling 10-3 and 9-4 to Arkansas in Omaha.
So whether looking back 40 years or this year, the Hogs have examples to take nobody lightly.
“If you don’t play well, you’ll lose,” Van Horn said. “You have to show up ready to go. You get to this time of year. I shouldn’t have to motivate anybody to be out here Friday at 1 o’clock ready to play I guarantee you.”
Arkansas junior Dominic Fletcher takes a cut in a game earlier this season. Fletcher leads the team in doubles, 22, and is tied for the team lead in RBIS, 53, heading into Friday’s game with Central Connecticut State University in the first game of the Fayetteville Regional at Baumwalker Stadium in Fayetteville.