FAYETTEVILLE — No. 1 Arkansas is set to host Florida this weekend and close out the regular season without losing a single series this season.
Arkansas (39-10, 19-8) has been ranked No. 1 virtually all season and has the best record in the SEC at this point. Florida (35-16, 17-10) was the preseason favorite to win it all, but stumbled some and Arkansas took advantage. Dave Van Horn has a lot of respect for the Gators and is also pleased his team controls its own destiny.
“Well it’s a good feeling,” Van Horn said. “At least we don’t have to sit around and watch the scoreboard and hope for things. We have a chance to go out and play our way into the championship or whatever. It’s good. I always tell the guys they all count, 30 games. There’ll be a lot going on this weekend in other games that could hurt us or help us but at least we know we can go out there and control our own destiny.
“Obviously Florida is probably the most talented team in the country on paper. That’s what we’ve been told. People tell us how good they are and we know that we have our hands full with Florida.”
Van Horn feels Florida is playing better baseball now than maybe earlier in the season when they were swept by South Carolina, but then bounced back later to win two of three against Vanderbilt. One reason is their pitching.
“Their overall staff as a whole is dynamic,” Van Horn said. “I mean, they’ve got a little bit of everything. They got left, right, they’ve got sinkers, sliders, changeups, location guys. They can bring a little bit of everything at you.”
Van Horn also knows and respects the Gator coaches.
“Those guys are just really good baseball coaches over there,” Van Horn said. “Sully (Kevin O’Sullivan), I respect him and his staff. They recruit good players and they have a lot of options. They’ve kept a lot of kids from signing the last few years or kids have decided to go to Florida instead of going into professional baseball.
It’s one of the top one or two programs in the country over the last 10 years. It’s hard to maneuver. Get a chance to score, you’d better score. As far as striking out people, strikeouts sometimes are overrated. Yeah, they’re great. You’ve got to get one when you need one, but you’ve got to be able to pitch.
They’ve flip-flopped some guys. They’ve taken some of their starters and put them in the bullpen and have used them at the end or used them in the middle, because for some reason they weren’t getting off to a good start, or whatever. There are different scenarios and they felt like they’d be stronger that way. And I think it’s really helped them the second half of the season. It’s worked out.”
Outfielder Jud Fabian has hit 20 home runs this season. He is hitting .267, has knocked in 46 runs and walked 37 times. He has struck out 64 times as well. Van Horn was asked if teams have pitched around Fabian or tried to attack him?
“A little bit of both,” Van Horn said. “It probably obviously depends on the score and who’s on base. It’s hard to pitch to him because he obviously hits good pitches that are strikes. But he also will go out of the zone and drive it. He has tremendous bat speed. When the bat makes contact with the ball it jumps. When you see him physically, he’s not a real big guy, but he’s got some serious power.”
While he respects all aspects of Florida’s game, Van Horn tried to pinpoint what he feels is the strength of this year’s team.
“That’s a good question,” Van Horn said. “I remember I think it was Aaron Fitt said something, like before the season he went and watched them, and he said this is the most complete Florida team he’d ever seen. I think he said that. Somebody said that that knows college baseball really well.
“I think what he meant by that was man, they can really pitch, they can really hit. They have a lot of options, a lot of weapons. I think that’s probably the strength of their team, is they have options offensively and if some guys aren’t getting it done, they can go to the next two or three and they’re just as good. The same on the mound. That’s why they felt that they could pull maybe some of the guys with more experience that had started and put them in the bullpen and make their team stronger. You have to beat them. You have to play them for 27 outs or whatever it takes. You’ve got to hold them down because they can do it. I just think they’re deep.”
As far as his own team, only two teams in league history have won the first nine SEC series and only one took all 10. If the Hogs win this series they will be the second team to ever pull that off.
“We haven’t discussed that either with the players, obviously,” Van Horn said. “We just play, but if we win this series we know we handle our own destiny. That’s probably the biggest part. We want to win the series because it keeps us at the top. If we don’t, we don’t.
“It’s kind of neat. I think it could be something you talk about down the road. Something you probably don’t expect going into the season because the league is so good. Something’s going to happen. You’re not going to play well one weekend or somebody’s going to play really well. It’s kind of unique obviously with the league being what it is, and it hasn’t been done very much. We’re just trying to win Thursday, and bottom line we’re trying to win the series.”
The rest of this report is from the press release from the Arkansas Communication’s Office.
Thursday, May 20 – 6 p.m. – vs. Florida – SEC Network – Listen – Live Stats
Friday, May 21 – 7 p.m. – vs. Florida – SEC Network – Listen – Live Stats
Saturday, May 22 – 2 p.m. – vs. Florida – SEC Network+ – SEC Network Alternate – Listen – Live Stats
Matchups & History
Florida RHP Tommy Mace (5-0, 4.40 ERA) vs. Arkansas LHP Patrick Wicklander (4-1, 1.93 ERA)
Florida LHP Hunter Barco (9-2, 4.13 ERA) vs. Arkansas RHP Caleb Bolden (2-0, 4.67 ERA)
Florida RHP Franco Aleman (1-3, 5.26 ERA) vs. Arkansas TBA
Thursday and Friday’s contests between top-ranked Arkansas and No. 9 Florida will broadcast nationally on the SEC Network with Dave Neal (play-by-play) and Kyle Peterson (analyst) on the call. Neal and Peterson will also have the call on Saturday’s finale, which will air on SEC Network+ and SEC Network Alternate.
Fans can catch all the action through the ESPN app on smartphones, computers and tablets or via Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.
All three games can also be heard on the Razorback Sports Network from Learfield/IMG, including locally in Fayetteville on 92.1 FM. Phil Elson and Bubba Carpenter will have the call all weekend long.
Conway – KASR-FM 92.7
El Dorado – KELD-AM 107.1 (FM Translator)
Fayetteville – KQSM-FM 92.1
Forrest City – KXJK-AM 950
Forrest City – KXJK-FM 106.5
Fort Smith – KERX-FM 95.3
Little Rock – KABZ-FM 103.7
Marshall – KBCN-FM 104.3
Mena – KTTG-FM 96.3
Rogers – KURM-AM 790
Rogers – KURM-FM 100.3
Stuttgart – KWAK-FM 105.5
Texarkana, TX – KKTK-AM 1400
Death, Taxes, Hogs are No. 1
Arkansas remained the unanimous No. 1 team in college baseball for Week 14 of the season, leading all six major polls released Monday. Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, D1Baseball, NCBWA, Perfect Game and USA Today each kept the Razorbacks atop their respective rankings for the sixth straight week.
It is the eighth time this season that Arkansas is the undisputed No. 1 team in the nation as well as the 12th consecutive week that the Hogs maintain the top spot in at least one of the six polls.