For a college baseball team, reaching Omaha is the pinnacle of the season. The historic location of the College World Series, nestled into the eastern border of Nebraska, signifies the end of a long, arduous journey that could lead to the ultimate goal of a championship.
In 2015, the Razorback baseball team reached Omaha by winning the Fayetteville Super Regional over Missouri State, 2-1. The Razorbacks were not expected to advance to the Cornhusker State, but players such as former Southeastern Conference Championship and National Player of the Year outfielder Andrew Benintendi and right-handed pitcher Zach Jackson led the Hogs, who finished the year with an overall record of 40–23 (17–12).
Another World Series contender that season was Texas Christian University, which reached Omaha in 2015 and in 2016. Redshirt junior Zack Plunkett was a catcher for the Horned Frogs at that time.
Plunkett was only four years old when he started to play baseball, the sport he loves. He watched TCU play as a kid but eventually ended up playing for his dream school in his freshman and sophomore years.
“I grew up going to the games, and my mom went there,” Plunkett said. “It was close to home, and it was a really good program at the time.”
Even though college athletics was important to him, academics came first for Plunkett. He had offers from TCU and Rice University, located in Houston, Texas.
“I thought the college experience would outweigh the benefits of a better degree,” Plunkett said.
Plunkett’s family roots ran deep within the school, but he wanted a chance to play for a competitive program, so after his sophomore year, he transferred to the UofA. He had a month to find a school because of post-season meeting with the TCU coaching staff. The best decision was to transfer, Plunkett said.
Now that he has been in Fayetteville for over a year and his decision to play for the UofA was the right one, he said.
“Fayetteville is more of a college town [compared to Fort-Worth],” Plunkett said. “The sports programs just feel bigger, and the whole state is Razorback fans.”
Plunkett made the right decision to wear a Razorback uniform, according to pre-season polls.
The Hogs are considered a contender for a national championship this year. The team was ranked No. 3 in the first NCAA Division I preseason poll in Collegiate Baseball Magazine, Regardless of preseason estimates, the team is focused on one game at a time, Plunkett said.
“It’s not something we focus on because it reaffirms our confidence and what we have,” Plunkett said. “It makes us excited for season.”
He credits coach Van Horn for bringing in a talented team and developing the staff. Van Horn will begin his 16th season with the Razorbacks, Plunkett said.
“My expectations are the same as the team,” Van Horn said. “We need to get better every week. We’ve got more depth as far as who to play than we have the last couple of years.”
Assistant coach Nate Thompson is also ready to compete and help the Hogs grow.
“I am loving being here and this is the only place in the country where I would have left my position for,” Thompson said. “The opportunity to learn from coach Van Horn, and coach Johnson is really fun.”
Today, the Hurst, Texas native wants to go back to Omaha with the Hogs and compete for a title.
“Our team is incredibly deep. We are super talented and we had a lot of guys come back that we didn’t think we would get back,” Plunkett said. “Everyone is super focused and super dedicated.”
While the team doesn’t talk about Omaha, everyone knows that’s at stake, he said.
“The city itself revolves around baseball for the 2-3 weeks it’s played there,” Plunkett said. “I’m hoping to go back for sure.”
The Hogs will open up the 2018 season against Bucknell on Feb. 16-18 in Baum Stadium. First pitch for Game 1 is set for 3 p.m.