CCSU with noth­ing to lose vs. No. 5 Hogs

The Saline Courier - - SPORTS - By Nate Allen Ra­zor­back Report

FAYETTEVIL­LE - As a New Eng­land ac­cented David against an Arkansas Ra­zor­backs base­ball

Go­liath, the Cen­tral Con­necti­cut State Blue Devils seem at the cross­roads of two choices.

The un­her­alded 30-21 North­east Con­fer­ence Tour­na­ment cham­pion seeded fourth of four base­ball teams in the Fayettevil­le Re­gional could ap­proach to­day’s 1 p.m. game at Arkansas’ Baum-walker Sta­dium feel­ing al­ready lost or with noth­ing to lose.

It seems CCSU Coach Char­lie Hickey chooses in­fus­ing noth­ing to lose and ex­pe­ri­ence to gain for his Blue Devils vs. Coach Dave Van Horn’s 41-17

SEC West co-cham­pion Ra­zor­backs.

Arkansas reigns the top seed of this four-team dou­ble-elim­i­na­tion re­gional and is na­tion­ally seeded fifth among the 64 teams at this week’s 16 four-team re­gion­als vy­ing to pare to 16 for next week­end’s Su­per Re­gion­als in turn par­ing to the Elite Eight that will play for the Col­lege World Se­ries.

The sec­ond-seeded Cal­i­for­nia Golden Bears, 32-18, of the Pac 12 and the third-seeded TCU Horned Frogs, only 32-26 but heat­ing up in the tough Big 12 to be a Big 12 Tour­na­ment fi­nal­ist los­ing the cham­pi­onship game 7-6 in 10 in­nings to 11th-ranked Ok­la­homa State, meet at 6 tonight.

Satur­day’s slate marks a noon loser’s bracket game and 6 p.m. win­ner’s bracket game lead­ing into Sun­day’s 2 p.m. loser’s bracket fi­nal and 8 p.m. cham­pi­onship game, and if nec­es­sary a 6 p.m. win­ner-take-all Mon­day cham­pi­onship game.

Odds that the Blue Devils will be still play­ing Sun­day night are slim, but Hickey is telling his squad that has braved win­try weather and small crowds through­out most of the spring to en­joy the pageantry of the big­time at­mos­phere await­ing at Baum-walker and the South­ern hospi­tal­ity.

“It’s a beau­ti­ful ball­park and It’s nice to get out of the New Eng­land weather and get down here,” Hickey, in his 18th sea­son at CCSU, said Thurs­day af­ter the

Blue Devils prac­ticed at Baum-walker. “It’s what I ex­pected, but it’s al­ways fun when you come to a great en­vi­ron­ment.”

Hickey ex­udes more re­spect than trep­i­da­tion about play­ing Arkansas.

“One of the ben­e­fits of win­ning a con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship and all the ac­co­lades you get with it, you then get the plea­sure of play­ing the fifth-ranked team in the coun­try in front of 10,000 peo­ple,” Hickey said. “We’re go­ing to en­joy it, this whole ex­pe­ri­ence.”

How do you pre­pare for an on-pa­per mis­match?

“You just try to en­joy what we’ve ac­com­plished get­ting here,” Hickey said. “This is sup­posed to be fun and I’m go­ing to keep preach­ing that to them. The one thing I do try to stress is that we play well, that’s all you can hope. You can’t con­trol every­thing else. The tal­ent level is go­ing to be higher than we’ve ever played and that’s okay. We’re go­ing to make this a pos­i­tive week­end in

Fayettevil­le.”

While ob­vi­ously not against an SEC team, the Blue Devils over­came a big ob­sta­cle to get here. The 2019 reg­u­lar sea­son North­east Con­fer­ence cham­pion Bryant Bull­dogs, the same Bryant Bull­dogs which up­set Van Horn’s Ra­zor­backs open­ing the 2011 Man­hat­tan (Kansas) Re­gional, clob­bered CCSU 16-4, 15-4 and 7-2 at the

Blue Devils’ New Bri­tain, Con­necti­cut, home and won their first NEC Tour­na­ment game, but the Blue Devils rose from the loser’s bracket to beat Bryant 3-1 and 3-2 and claim the league’s lone post­sea­son berth.

We played some very good base­ball against a very good team,” Hickey said. “Not many peo­ple would hear a lot about schools up north. I know you guys have a lit­tle his­tory

with Bryant be­cause they knocked off Arkansas five or six years ago. They had 40 wins and they were a very good pro­gram. But, we were bet­ter last week­end.”

Hickey has re­lied on right-han­ders Bran­don

Fox, a ju­nior, 3-5, 3.84

ERA, and se­niors Tom Curtin 5-3, 3.96, and Patrick Mitchell, 6-3, 4.58 for starters, right-han­der se­nior right-han­der Mike Ap­pel, 6-0, 2.31 for mid­dle and some, three, saves late re­lief, and mostly se­nior lefty Jared Gal­lagher, 3-0, 1.72, nine saves, as the closer.

Fox will start.

“He’s had a very solid sea­son,” Hickey said. “Bran­don is ac­tu­ally a se­nior aca­dem­i­cally who grad­u­ates, but he has an­other year of eli­gi­bil­ity. When he pitches next year, he’s go­ing to have the ex­pe­ri­ence of pitch­ing (vs. Arkansas).”

Fox was asked if he’s pitched against the tal­ented likes of an Arkansas.

“No,” Fox said. “Hon­estly, I can say I haven’t.”

How­ever the Hogs’ once .311 team bat­ting av­er­age dipped to .299 af­ter five hits in all three SEC Tour­na­ment games.

“I know they’ve been strug­gling, but this is a re­gional in their home ball­park,” Fox said. “So I’m not go­ing to ex­pect them to con­tinue to strug­gle. I know they’re go­ing to come out with a lot of en­ergy but I’m go­ing to stick to my plan no mat­ter who it is.”

Spo­ken like what Con­nor Noland, the Arkansas fresh­man right-han­der from Green­wood start­ing against the Blue Devils, said he was told of CCSU.

“That’s what I’ve heard that they are re­ally scrappy and get af­ter it and play a lot of hard-nosed ball,” Noland said. “That’s the vibe we are get­ting from them right now.”

CRAVEN WHITLOW/NATE Allen Sports Ser­vice

Ra­zor­back sopho­more right-fielder He­ston Kjer­stad climbs the wall to try to bring back a 3-run home run by LSU in a game ear­lier this sea­son. Kjer­stad is hit­ting .329 with 14 home runs and 44 RBIS as the Ra­zor­backs host Cen­tral Con­necti­cut State Univer­sity in the first game of the Fayettevil­le Re­gional to­day at 1 p.m. at Baum-walker Sta­dium in Fayettevil­le.

CRAVEN WHITLOW/NATE Allen Sports Ser­vice

Arkansas fresh­man Chris­tian Franklin lays down a bunt in a game ear­lier this sea­son. The Ra­zor­backs will take on the Cen­tral Con­necti­cut State Blue Devils in the first game of the Fayettevil­le Re­gional to­day at 1 p.m. at Baum-walker Sta­dium in Fayettevil­le.

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