Out of the shadows, into the sun
Wins keep piling up for the Arkansas baseball team, as they make their way up the national polls. In the latest polls, the Razorbacks are ranked No. 12 by both Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball Newspaper.
Arkansas swept Kentucky at Baum Stadium last weekend and moved into first place in the Southeastern Conference.
“They were all huge wins,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. “Friday’s game was pretty smooth and not very stressful. Saturday and Sunday’s games we got behind early. We did a good job of hanging in there, and we knew those were games we needed to win if we want to hang around in this league.”
With the Razorbacks on top of the SEC, it might come as a shock to some people, but not Van Horn.
“No one expected us to be here,” Van Horn said. “I’m not surprised we’re around the top. Leading the league by two games, probably, a little bit.”
Ole Miss was swept by Georgia over the weekend to fall behind by two games.
Florida swept Vanderbilt to win their fifth straight SEC game and move into a tie with Ole Miss for second overall, first in the Eastern Division.
Arkansas was picked to finish last in the western division and 11th overall in the SEC when the season started.
“I thought this team was going to get better as the season went on,” Van Horn said. “Whether or not we’re going to win this league or finish in the top half of the bracket, I don’t know. Time will tell, but we’ve done pretty well for having a bunch of young guys. It’s been a fun season so far.”
Two of the young guys that have stepped up for the Razorbacks are Danny Hamblin and Jake Dugger.
“They both dominated high school,” Van Horn said. “Dugger was the Nebraska Player of the Year. Hamblin was the Dallas Metroplex Player of the Year. He quarterbacked the football team; Dugger was the star running back on his football team. They’re competitors. They’re used to winning and being a big part of that winning. They know every day, when they come to the ballpark, they’re playing.”
Hamblin and Dugger are two of the leading offensive threats for the Hogs. Hamblin is hitting .353 with six home runs and 30 RBI. Dugger is hitting .320 with six home runs and 31 RBI.
One glaring weakness the Razorbacks must address is their Sunday starting pitcher.
“We have to find somebody,” Van Horn said. “Somebody’s got to do it. Pitching by committee on Sunday is not going to last very long. You’re going to start getting beat. It’s a situation where we have to have somebody step up and get us five innings on Sunday without giving up too many runs. You can’t go very far with a couple of starters.”
Senior southpaw Jay Sawatski is too valuable to move from the bullpen Van Horn said. “You don’t want to lose games late,” Van Horn said. “You hate to start a guy like Sawatksi, have him go six innings and have a three run lead. Then you get beat late in the game because you don’t have much relief.”
Arkansas is 20-5 at Baum Stadium this season and has two of their final four SEC series at home. Tennessee will visit this weekend and Auburn will be in Fayetteville May 21-23.