FAYETTEVILLE — How the Arkansas Razorbacks finish the SEC regular season in their 3-game SEC West series at Texas A&M tonight, Friday and Saturday in College Station, Texas, could determine where they start their NCAA Regional postseason.
Coach Dave Van Horn’s Razorbacks (37-14 overall and 16-10 in the SEC) appear in contention but not assured of hosting one of the 16 four-team regionals beginning June 2.
This series at A&M (35-17 overall and 15-12 in the SEC) and next week’s SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., remain.
Arkansas and the Aggies play at 6:30 tonight and 6:30 Friday night on the Internet’s SECN+ and 11 a.m. Saturday, conventionally televised on the SEC Network.
The Razorbacks with one SEC game rained out at Tennessee, start the weekend third in the West a game and a half behind first-place LSU 18-9 and a two out three winner over Arkansas this season, and a half game behind Mississippi State, 17-10, but swept by Arkansas starting the SEC season at Baum Stadium.
Coach Rob Childress’ Aggies are slightly more long shots but still contending to be a regional host at 35-18 overall and 15-12 fourth in the SEC West.
“Probably if we won a couple of games (at College Station) that would really help us,” Van Horn replied to a question about his Hogs hosting. “If we don’t, we'll have to do real well in the (SEC) tournament.”
There is conjecture, given not only the balance in the West but Florida, 38-14, leading the SEC East and SEC overall, 19-8, and Kentucky, 36-16, and second in the SEC East and tied with LSU for the SEC overall at 18-9, that the SEC’s final regional hosting spot could pare to Arkansas or Mississippi State.
“If we finish ahead of Mississippi State or a half game behind them, we beat them three times,” Van Horn said. “So it would probably come down to some other things, like how we do in the tournament or RPI (ratings power index)? The only thing we control is winning and losing.”
Van Horn has addressed the reality that of course the Razorbacks want to host but also the folly of looking beyond their next game.
“I hope it’s not our last game here,” Van Horn said Sunday after the Razorbacks finished beating Vanderbilt two out of three at Baum. “It’s a great place to play. Our fans showed up again this year. Looks like 240,000 of them (officially 239,382 attended Arkansas’ home games). It would be awfully nice if we could host a regional here. Obviously I don’t want the players to get all worried about it. We’re just going to keep trying to win every inning we play and win games. We hope we’ll go down and take care of business at A&M and then in the tournament.”
Childress, the 12-year A&M head coach previously the pitching coach for Van Horn when UA grad Van Horn head coached Texarkana College, Northwestern (La.) State and Nebraska, before coaching his alma mater in 2003, are apt to talk any of the 51 weeks of the year except this one until tonight’s pregame.
“We'll be friends as long as we're alive I feel like,” Van Horn said. “But when the ( Arkansas vs. Texas A&M) weekend comes we don't talk to each other a whole lot. He hasn't called me, I haven't called him, so we'll probably see him on Thursday.”
The friends also are constant recruiting adversaries on prospects in Texas. Van Horn said that recruiting in Texas the Arkansas and A&M staffs butt heads “probably just about every one they get and we don't and vice versa.”
Given the success of their tenures, both have fared well.
Former pitching coach Childress remains strong into pitching with the Aggies sporting a 3.22 team earned run average.
Their SEC rotation starts three right-handers: Brigham Hill, 7-3, 2.92 with 88 strikeouts vs. 23 walks, Corbin Martin, 5-3, 3.12 and 66 strikeouts vs. 33 walks, and Stephen Kolek, 3-3, 3.46 and 68 strikeouts vs 19 walks.
Right-handed closer Mitchell Kilkenny 3-2, 3.18, with 44 strikeouts vs. 16 walks, has logged seven saves while lefty reliever Kaylor Chafin, 7-1, has a 1.79 ERA and struck out 56 in 55 1-3 innings against 12 walks.
Van Horn counters with right-handers. Trevor Stephan, 5-3, 3.21 and 93 strikeouts vs. 14 walks, starts tonight and sophomore Blaine Knight of Bryant 6-4, 3.50 with 77 strikeouts vs. 16 walks, starts Friday.
Unless needed earlier in relief, Dominic Taccolini, 4-0, 4.58, and last Sunday’s winning starter over Vanderbilt, starts Saturday morning.
Led by catcher Grant Koch with 13 home runs, first baseman Chad Spanberger at 11,and centerfielder Dominic Fletcher with 10, the Razorbacks have hit 66 home runs to A&M’s 41.
However, A&M starts five hitters averaging .300, .303, .304, .313 and .351.
Second baseman Braden Shewmake, the .351 hitter, also leads the Aggies in home runs, 9, and RBI, 61.