Dave Van Horn knows the challenge this weekend. Utah will bring a lot more talent to Baum Stadium than Delaware State.
"This is a step up," Van Horn said. "This is a good team. You figure their coach either really wanted to get some experience or he thinks he's got a good team if he starts the year by going to Cal and then to Arkansas to open the season. That's Pac-10 and SEC right off the bat."
Van Horn left little doubt that he figures Utah coach Bill Kinneberg thinks he's got talent.
"The scouting report we got from Cal was that they can pitch and they also have some talented hitters," Van Horn said. "They have a lefty first baseman, C. J. Cron, who can really hit. He played on the same team in the Cape with James McCann. He told us that Cron is a really good player."
Cron is on the preseason Golden Spikes Award list given to the nation's top collegiate baseball player. He hit .420 last year with big power numbers. He was a preseason All-America catcher, but he's playing first base this season. he led Utah with three hits in the two games at Cal.
The Utes lost 7-0 and 6-5 in a Sunday doubleheader after waiting on rain for two days. The Utah held a 5-2 lead in the finale before Cal rallied for four runs in the bottom of the ninth.
"I know from experience what that does to you," Van Horn said. "It leaves a bad taste and you can't wait until the next time out after you lose a lead like that. They are going to come in hear wanting to win this series.
"They are a good team. The Mountain West is good baseball. They have TCU in that league and they are in the top three in the country."
Van Horn knows Kinneberg.
"We've talked on the phone through the years," Van Horn said. "He's highly respected. He was the coach for Team USA a couple of years ago. I think I saw where they were advertising that they wanted to play an early series and I called him."
Kinneberg talked about his respect for Arkansas in the school's sports information release this week.
"We are going in to play one of the best baseball programs in the country year-in and year-out," he said. "They are a power in the SEC and have played in the World Series many times. This will be a really good experience for our guys and hopefully we play well and learn some things."
Van Horn wants to learn more about a young pitching staff. He's moving true freshman Ryne Stanek into the starting rotation. He'll get the start against Utah ace lefty Rick Anton (five shutout innings against Cal) on Friday night with DJ Baxendale moving into the bullpen. Junior lefty Geoffrey Davenport will go on Saturday for the Hogs with Brandon Moore, another true freshman, scheduled to start on Sunday.
"DJ pitched great last weekend," Van Horn said. "He's our best pitcher. We want him for the end of games. That's when the fireworks starts. You lose a game like Utah did last weekend and it never leaves you. It just makes you sick."
Obviously, that's what Van Horn wants Baxendale to do, close out victories. He comes back well on short rest so Van Horn has visions of Baxendale pitching twice on the weekend.
How does Van Horn feel about starting two freshmen pitchers on the weekend?
"I'm not afraid to do that," he said. "I've done it before, I think. I believe we went to South Carolina a few years ago and started two freshmen and won both games. That was Nick Schmidt and Shaun Seibert.
"But this is a little scary. You just have to find out about them now. You have to see what happens when they get behind or struggle a little, how they handle it. You need to see now if it's going to rattle them."
Van Horn used eight pitchers last weekend in what he calls his deepest pitching staff. He's got more that need to see action, but there will be plenty of chances. The Hogs play five games each of the next two weeks.
"Nolan Sanburn and Colby Suggs pitched really well in intrasquad yesterday," Van Horn said. "So did Jeff Harvill. I've said all along we have a lot of great arms on this staff, just not a lot of experience. We'll get 'em all out there and find out about them before long."
However, this weekend won't be about getting to pitch counts.
"We'll watch our starters, but we'll pitch it to win the games," he said. "We'll do what we have to do to win the games."
The lineup will stay the same, although slick outfield conditions might keep Jarrod McKinney on the bench.
"McKinney is still coming back from that knee surgery," Van Horn said. "If it's very wet out there, I might take care of him a little bit. He might not play in the outfield."
The infield will be Dominic Ficociello at first, Bo Bigham at second, Tim Carver at short and Matt Reynolds at third. Collin Kuhn will play center. Matt Vinson and Kyle Robinson will likely be the corner outfielders. McKinney is likely to be the designated hitter.
Van Horn liked the defense in the three games against Delaware State. Ficociello made two errors and Bigham one. However, there were some gems in the field, too, including a diving layout by Reynolds at third.
"That was nice to see that play," Van Horn said. "He got up and threw him out. That gives everyone some confidence. It was a really good play."
Van Horn called it "Brooks Robinson-like" in the post-game interview Saturday. Interestingly, there was only one Razorback who had heard of Robinson, the Hall of Famer who grew up in Little Rock.
"I've got an autographed picture of Brooks Robinson in my game room at home," Van Horn said. "So are you guys telling me that I need to get rid of that because recruits might think I'm over the hill? He's a guy who was a great player from Arkansas."
It sounds like the picture is staying put and a young team is going to get an education on the history of the game.
"Might be," Van Horn smiled. "I think I'll keep it right there. Seriously, that was a great play by Reynolds. Diving for it and then getting up and making that throw should tell him if he can do it once he can do it again."
Arkansas and Utah meet at 3:05 p.m. Friday, then at 1:05 p.m. on Saturday and there's a 12:30 p.m. start set for Sunday.
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