Fun In The Sun

Second-seeded Arkansas (38-20) will face Atlantic 10 regular season and tournament champ Charlotte (42-14) Friday at 4 p.m. in the opening round of the NCAA Regional in Tempe - where old nemesis and top seed Arizona State (39-16) and New Mexico (20-39) will also be competing.

Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn thought his team would be hosting an NCAA Regional this weekend, but it isn't and he's over it.

Instead he has turned all of his attention to Tempe, Arizona, where the Razorbacks will begin their quest to reach the College World Series in the very same place that quest ended last season.

Second-seeded Arkansas (38-20) will play third-seeded and Atlantic 10 regular season and tournament champ Charlotte (42-14) at 4 p.m. CST while top-seeded Arizona State (38-16) faces fourth-seeded New Mexico at 9 p.m. in a pair of Friday games.

"When our name didn't pop up (as a regional host), initially I was kind of shocked because I thought for sure we would be hosting, but then I moved on," Van Horn said. "You just have to move on. That's just the way it is. Sometimes you get the draw, sometimes you don't.

"But I think we are just excited to head out to Tempe and play Charlotte," Van Horn added. "It (heading West) didn't surprise me. I thought we might go to Oregon State, thought we might go to TCU. Those were the two I was thinking. I was getting a little nervous there at the end when there were only a couple left and we hadn't seen our name. Just wanted to go."

The Razorbacks – fresh off a SEC Western Division championship and 2-2 finish in the SEC Tournament - will go to a place they are very familiar with in Tempe having now played there three of the last four years.

Arkansas' 2010 season ended in Tempe when Arizona State downed the Razorbacks in the Super Regional in Tempe.

"We know all about it," Van Horn said. "We know about the heat. We have already checked it and its 99 there right now approximately. I am sure we will be the first game and it will be around 100 degrees at game time.

"We have to take care of ourselves," Van Horn said. "We have to get hydrated well before we get there. We know kind of what the field is all about, how the wind blows during the day, the surface, even all the way down to the dugouts. We know what to expect. That always helps. Doesn't hurt for sure."

Van Horn was just starting to learn about Charlotte, but knew one thing for sure.

"I have followed Charlotte a little bit this year and they have won a lot of games down the stretch," Van Horn said. "Every time I look up, they are winning. It's going to be a good ballgame."

Charlotte will come into the tournament hitting .302 as a team compared to Arkansas' .270.

There is certainly no looking ahead to Arizona State.

"We have got to win game one because if you don't win game one, you've got a battle," Van Horn said.

The 49ers are led by Ross Steedly's .349 average and 31 RBI, power-hitting Corey Shaylor (.310, 5 HRs, 37 RBIs) a pair of speedsters in Justin Wilson (.338 average, 2 HRs, 37 RBIs and 24 stolen bases) and Cory Tilton (.299, 2 HRs, 45 RBIs, 31 steals).

Andrew Smith's 9-4 mark with a 1.85 in 102 innings heads up the pitching staff with Tyler Barnette (9-1, 1.96), Joe Yermal (6-2, 2.34) and Corey Roberts (7-3, 3.18) all having had at least 11 starts on the mound this season.

"I am sure they have a great team and a great pitcher or two," Van Horn said. "There is a reason you win – it's that you are good no matter where you play."

Arkansas will likely go with either ace D.J. Baxendale (9-2, 1.75) or Randall Fant (3-4, 3.74).

"We are still looking at Baxendale," Van Horn said. "He was a little sore, got a little sore in the (SEC) tournament. We will probably make our decision Tuesday because Tuesday is when you throw a bullpen for a Friday start.

"The thing is I feel good about other guys," Van Horn said. "I feel good about Randall Fant. I feel good about D.J obviously. I feel good about (Ryne) Stanek. The other day he was lights out throwing the ball, throwing it hard and locating that fastball. He threw outstanding in the tournament. There are some options.

"DJ has been the guy, but Randall has had some good outings as well," Van Horn continued. "We will just look at it and see if their guys hit right or left handed and dissect the scouting report with all the help that we can get from everyone, make a decision and go with it."

There is no doubt Arkansas would like to oust the Sun Devils to return the favor from last season.

"Obviously there is a lot of respect for Arizona State and it is a storied program," Van Horn said. "They have a lot of kids in the big leagues. They get a lot of players out of their state and they also run over there to Southern California, which is just a few hours away and get great players."

Arkansas has two signees from Arizona in its 2011 signing class in Joe Serrano and Nevin Wilson.

"But it is a good thing (for us),", Van Horn said of playing in Arizona. "I am recruiting kids out of Phoenix. We have a kid coming from Phoenix this year. I have already got him signed and hopefully he shows up. He was the 5A Player of the Year in the state - Joe Serrano, who set a state record for doubles and RBIs. Now I have got to keep him from signing. He'll have a chance to hang around with us a little bit. It's fun going out there."

Van Horn is not that fazed by having to take a team on the road in a quest to get to the College World Series in Omaha.

The Razorbacks did just that by winning as a No. 2 seed in the Oklahoma Regional two seasons ago and then taking out host Florida State in the Super Regional.

"Two years ago we went to Norman to play one of the hottest teams in the country and we got hot," Van Horn said. "It took us eight innings to figure it out against a great pitcher...Once we got that first win (against Washington State) we just took off hitting.

"That's what it takes It's just a little four-team tournament," Van Horn added. "Anybody can win it. Obviously Arizona State is the team to beat. It's their facility. They are a great club."

Arizona State is appealing NCAA sanctions.

"This is a team that didn't even know if it was going to get to be in post-season play until recently," Van Horn said. "You have got to give them credit. They just played hard all year trying to have that chance. They got it and they are going to be tough."

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The winner of the Tempe Regional is matched up with the winner of the Austin Regional for the Super Regionals.

Texas is hosting the Austin Regional with second-seeded Texas State (40-21), Kent State (43-15) and Princeton (23-22) also involved.

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Van Horn admitted that he thought his team's resume was good enough to be a host.

I think probably the RPI (13) and us winning the West, winning a couple of games in the tournament, beating some Top 10 teams in the Eastern Division four or five times this year was good enough," Van Horn said.

"But six or seven weeks ago, we just wanted to get in," Van Horn continued. "I am more disappointed that we are not hosting for the fans, but I am just glad we are in the tournament. It's hard (for the fans) to get to Tempe, it's expensive."

Van Horn suspects it was likely Arkansas or Pac-10 champ for the last hosting bid.

"I was disappointed because I truly thought we were going to be hosting, but it's a tough choice and it came down to probably Baum Stadium and UCLA and maybe one other. UCLA finished pretty strong and they were preseason ranked one or two and I think the committee probably looks at that.

"They (the Bruins) feel like they have a chance to win the national championship and even some commentators predicted that," Van Horn added. "They earned it by winning the Pac 10."

Van Horn was surprised that the SEC only got seven teams in the NCAA Tournament and especially that LSU (36-20, 13-17) was left out.

Georgia (31-30, 16-14) ) and Mississippi State (34-23, 14-16) were included, but Ole Miss (30-25, 13-17) joined LSU in not being selected after neither one made the SEC Tournament.

"LSU was a really good team – 24 RPI, swept (Cal-State) Fullerton at home early in the season," Van Horn said. "They went through a slump there but came out of at the end of the year. They were one of the teams that you really didn't want to run into those last few weekends. Their back was against the wall and they battled and almost got into the tournament. I really thought they would get in."

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