SEC Tournament Preview

By Otis Kirk 

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas will face the winner of Tuesday’s No. 7 Tennessee and No. 11 Texas A&M on Wednesday in the second game of the day at the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala. 

The Razorbacks swept both the Vols (38-18, 16-14) and Aggies (32-23, 14-16) in the regular season in Fayetteville. They defeated Tennessee April 14-16 and then A&M on April 27-29. Dave Van Horn’s Arkansas (39-15, 20-10) has the No. 2 seed at this tournament with Florida getting No. 1. 

“We’re going to work out right now, couple of hours, battle the rain a little bit,” Van Horn said. “Hopefully it’s getting out of here. And do what we can do. Then a couple of us will peel off and go watch that game a little later. Not so much scouting. We’ve played those teams three games and we know what they’re all about. But maybe just to get out of the hotel and go watch one of the teams we’re going to play tomorrow.”

Van Horn isn’t sure of his pitching plans at this time though a little is set and not thinking about the Fayetteville Regional at this time.

“Well, not necessarily looking forward to the next weekend because we don’t know who we’re going to play and who we’re going to pitch,” Van Horn said. “All of the guys are going to have plenty of rest so we’ll be able to make that decision after the regional … after the selection committee lets us know who we’re going to play. But we will go (Hagen) Smith in Game 2 and I’m not sure who … Hopefully we’ll get a chance to play a Game 3 or more so we’ll try to get some guys some work.”

Van Horn did note that most of the main pitchers will be limited to one game in Hoover with the exception of Bryant’s Will McEntire.

“Um probably the first few guys (Smith, (Hunter) Hollan, (Brady) Tygart) but McEntire not so much,” Van Horn said. “He’s a guy who we feel like wants to pitch more. If we needed to use him in Game 1, Game 3, Game 4 — maybe not Game 4 — but whatever, a couple of times for sure get him out there and let him go a little bit. Just like the other day. We could have left him in. He was feeling great. He was actually throwing just as well as he did the first ball game he pitched and he felt great. Didn’t want to come out of the game. If it had been a different situation we wouldn’t have taken him out.”

It appears the Hogs are in a great position to be in the Top 8 which would assure them of hosting a Super Regional if they win their regional. 

“Obviously we do want to win,” Van Horn said. “I guess the importance would be to continue to get these pitchers some work but not too much work. Keep them sharp. The same with the hitters. They need some live at-bats, especially with a couple of of the guys who have been injured, to get those guys in the lineup and swinging the bat and try to get them right.”

The Hogs appeared on verge of winning the SEC outright holding an 8-2 lead at Vanderbilt Friday night before allowing the home team to plate eight runs. Arkansas lost that game and then fell on Saturday as well. Van Horn talked about the mindset of the team heading into this tournament.

“It was interesting,” Van Horn said. “We take two buses here, sort of split the team up a little bit. The bus was really quiet. It wasn’t like we just won a championship. They’re disappointed that we lost, and we just feel like we let it slip away. They were probably doing a lot of thinking. Maybe it’ll help us down the road. The team has still got a little edge, definitely got some edge and attitude. I think the mindset right now is ‘we’ve got to get our shortstop healthy, we’ve got to get our pitching lined up.’ You know, we almost lost (second baseman Peyton) Holt on that play, as well. He’s a tough kid and very strong, or he might have been really hurt when they collided. Doing what they do, and that’s putting in an incredible effort to try and make the play in a desperate situation where they inning was just falling apart. But I think they’re glad to be here. 

“All of us, we’re glad that the 10-weekend gauntlet is over with. Just kind of catch your breath. Yesterday, we had a workout. I thought it was very spirited. You could tell they wanted to be out there. Even at the end, we lifted. The pitchers lifted after their workout, and position players lifted. So, there was some waiting around, and they were throwing the football around, running pass patterns. You had managers trying to cover guys and coaches trying to do things. I’m thinking, ‘Well, this looks fun. But man, I hope nobody gets hurt.’ I had to slow down a few guys on a few things. But you could just tell they like being out there. They like each other. The mindset is good. I don’t know how it’s going to go here. I do believe that we’ll play well, but I’m not going to go crazy as far as extending our pitchers to try and win a game. I think they know that.”

The shortstop that Van Horn referred to is John Bolton who is out with a sprained ankle. Van Horn provided a health update on Bolton.

“He won’t play tomorrow for sure,” Van Horn said. “They have tried to accelerate this as far at treatment, lot of treatment, keeping it elevated. He walked with a boot on it and now he is not in a boot and he walked to the bus yesterday. He did not hit or field. I think he will today pr maybe play some catch today.

“If we are here on Saturday, I think there would be an opportunity to play. That’s guessing. If he is not ready, like 90 to 95 percent ready, I am not going to play him. So we will see how that turns out.

“The other issue is if we have another middle infielder go down, then we will see who is playing there. It could get interesting if that happens.”

A reporter asked Van Horn if he has a preference between playing the Aggies and Vols Wednesday to which the SEC Coach of the Year laughed.

“There’s no way that I could tell you that if I did,” Van Horn said. “And you probably know that. Pick your poison, right? They’re both good. We played them both three times in Fayetteville, beat them three times each. I’m sure whoever we get is going to give us their best shot. When I saw that we were playing one of those two, I just kind of shook my head and thought, ‘Wow. That figures.’ But still, it’s just baseball. They’re both good. I can’t really say much more.”

Wednesday’s game marks the beginning of double-elimination play. The Arkansas game will start 35 minutes following the first game of the day. It will be televised on the SEC Network.

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