Stars And Stripes

Fresh off a win over Florida and eyeing a big challenge at No. 4 South Carolina on Saturday, Arkansas ace DJ Baxendale (7-1, 1.58) will toe the rubber this weekend with the knowledge that he will be doing the same this summer for the USA Collegiate Baseball National Team.

When Arkansas opens its series at South Carolina this weekend, one of the nation's best pitchers will be toeing the rubber for the Razorbacks in the lid-lifter.

Although that was generally accepted, it was validated on Tuesday when it was publicly announced that sophomore right-hander DJ Baxendale (6-2, 190) had been named to the 2011 USA Baseball Collegiate National Team.

"It's a real honor to be selected for the team and to able to represent the University of Arkansas on Team USA," Baxendale said. "I'm looking forward to playing some tough competition this summer and representing my country on the baseball field."

The selection was actually made a couple of weeks ago, but Arkansas waited to release it until a few days after Baxendale (7-1, 1.58 ERA) had thrown his first career complete game.

"Him making the national team was well-deserved, " noted Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn at his Tuesday press conference. "His numbers back it up."

In an earlier release, Van Horne praised his Baxendale, who will be followed by Randall Fant on Saturday and a hurler to be announced – possibly Cade Lynch - on Sunday.

"He's a great representative for the University of Arkansas and the state of Arkansas" Van Horne said. "I think it's well deserved. He's put up outstanding numbers this year and hopefully he'll continue that for the rest of the season."

The expected role for Baxendale on the national team will be in relief.

"His role on the national team as we have discussed will be out of the bullpen – whether it is in the middle or closing games," Van Horn added. "It could be both, but we have also left it open for him to be a spot starter. If we need a starter, we are going to pitch him."

Baxendale will face the defending national and fourth-ranked Gamecocks (38-10, 18-6) – who downed Presbyterian 6-1 on Tuesday night - fresh off leading the Razorbacks over No. 5 Florida 4-3 last Friday.

In that nine-inning effort, he allowed two earned runs while fanning seven and has now fanned 53 batters in 57 innings, allowed just 10 earned runs and issued only 11 walks.

Baxendale flourished as the Razorback's closer last season with seven saves.

"I am not surprised at all," Van Horn said of his success. "Last year he pitched in his role, which was out of the pen for the most part. You think about his last outing against Arizona State – a big stage, national TV and if we lose we're done. He gave us six, seven, eight innings there and helped get us into extra innings. He pitched great against one of the best teams in the country and at the time, the number one team in the country and at their place, which is a very tough place to pitch.

"I think he kind of showed what the future was all about with DJ," Van Horn added.

The national team will get together on June 22 and play 11 games, including five against Japan on July 3-8.

Those games will be at the home of the minor league Durham (NC) Bulls and the final two in Omaha, Nebraska at the home of the College World Series.

"It is a short summer with the national team," Van Horn said. "It is only about three weeks instead of five or six. It is just the way it works this year. We are staying in the United States the whole time, playing on the East Coast. We play Japan the last five games and the last two games are in Omaha."

The team is still being put together.

"We are still picking it," Van Horn said. "Usually there are trials and it's tough. But with the shorter summer what we are doing is really taking our time and going after the kids that we obviously think we need. We can only have 22 on the roster so we have to pick and choose smart and get guys that are healthy, in the right mindset and really want to play on the national team.

"We have picked four or five or six guys and it's getting ready to take off in the next week or two and get selected and then obviously they have to accept," Van Horn added.

"We might have a player or two more that are on the watch list to be selected," Van Horn said. "Our calls are about every other week and starting this week they are going to be every week."


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