LITTLE ROCK — Winning on the road will mean more home games for the Arkansas baseball team.
Based on RPI and the SEC’s reputation for good baseball, the Razorbacks are on the cusp of hosting one of the 16 NCAA Regional tournaments on June 2-5. Winning 1-of-3 at Texas A&M this week and they remain on the bubble with a bit more to do in the SEC Tournament next week. Take 2-of-3 and one win in the double elimination tournament secures the bid. Sweep the Aggies and Fayetteville-area businesses will get a bump in business from fans of three visiting teams.
Arkansas’ bid to host was submitted weeks ago, before the Razorbacks lost 2-of-3 at Auburn and 2-of-3 at home vs. Ole Miss. Despite those losses, Arkansas’ RPI did not drop much and, after winning the Vanderbilt series, the Razorbacks’ Rating Percentage Index held steady at 18.
The RPI is not the end-all, but it is important in the selection process. Also a factor is the selection committee’s regard for the conference and the SEC’s RPI is second only to that of the Big 12.
Last year, the committee was so smitten with the SEC that seven teams from the same conference hosted a Regional for the first time. SEC teams seeded in the top eight included No. 1 Florida, No. 4 A&M, and No. 6 Mississippi State. LSU edged South Carolina for the No. 8 spot. Those five were hosts along with Vanderbilt and Ole Miss, both 18-12 in conference play.
This year, the RPI and national polls suggest the SEC does not have as many top-notch teams, improving Arkansas’ chances of being one of the league’s four or five host teams.
SEC East leaders Florida and Kentucky are fifth and seventh in RPI, followed by LSU at No. 11 and Arkansas, three spots ahead of Vanderbilt. Somehow, some polls rank Mississippi State, 24th in RPI, ahead of the Razorbacks although Arkansas swept the Bulldogs in mid-March.
For what it is worth, the RPI of eventual College World Series champion Coastal Carolina was not in the Top 10 last May.
Evident against Vanderbilt, the fact that Arkansas is winning with contributions from various players is a plus.
On Friday, Dominic Fletcher hit a two-run homer in the seventh to tie the game and Luke Bonfield singled with two outs in the ninth to score the winning run. On Sunday, Grant Koch, Dominic Fletcher, and Chad Spanberger hit home runs and Dominic Taccolini and Jake Reindl held the Commodores to six hits.
After the victory in the rubber game of the series, coach Dave Van Horn and some of his players were enthusiastic about a Regional in Fayetteville.
“We don’t think we’re going to get beat at home,” Koch said.
An understandable attitude, but recent history says hosting a Regional does not come with guarantees.
Last year, Coastal Carolina and three other No. 2 seeds won a Regional on the road. So did No. 3 seeds East Carolina and Boston College. SEC hosts were 5-2 on the first weekend.
A week later, with a trip to the College World Series on the line, the home team was 4-4 and Florida was the only SEC team that reached Omaha.
This week’s matchups in the SEC West could not be more meaningful if the league office had arranged the schedule on Monday.
Division leader LSU (18-9) plays at Mississippi State (17-10) while third-place Arkansas (16-10) is 1 1-2 games ahead of the Aggies.
Two decades ago, a former college catcher and former minor league umpire would get together in the Oaklawn Park pressbox and talk major league baseball just days into the season.
No thanks, said a friend of both who never grasped the urgency of MLB standings in the spring. Instead, he dismissed their infatuation with baseball by saying: “Call me in September and let me know what’s going on.”
In the world of Razorback baseball, September is here.
Harry King is sports columnist for GateHouse Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.