Unfinished Business

Arkansas pitcher DJ Baxendale and catcher James McCann relish a chance to wipe away last season's disappointment in Tempe by starting this year's quest for a College World Series berth on the same field where it got away from them last season.

It wouldn't be surprising to see Arkansas' baseball players show up in Tempe this weekend with t-shirts featuring the slogan Unfinished Business.

That was certainly the catch phrase Razorback players tossed out on Monday after finding out their NCAA Regional destination was Arizona and first opponent was Charlotte on Friday.

Arkansas (38-20) clearly feels like it left a College World Series berth there last season when it lost in the Super Regionals to host Arizona State.

"I am just really excited and looking forward to getting back on the field," Razorback pitching ace D.J. Baxendale said. "We are looking forward to going to Tempe. We have kind of a little unfinished business there from last year so I am just excited to get the ball rolling."

That was the same type sentiment from Arkansas catcher James McCann, who made it clear that he believes the SEC Western Division champion Razorbacks should be hosting. "It's bittersweet," McCann said. "We felt like we did everything we could to host. We didn't get to host so it's a bitter feeling that we have that we are not able to stay here and play in Baum Stadium, but we are going to go out on the road and do what we can.

"It is something that I take to heart knowing that we got knocked out by Arizona State and now we get to go back there," McCann added. "I feel like we have some unfinished business there. I am looking forward to getting back to Tempe."

Baxendale (9-2, 1.75 ERA) notes that it isn't so much exacting revenge on the Sun Devils.

"It's not so much as a revenge factor with Arizona State as it is getting back there and getting to Omaha," Baxendale said. "We were very disappointed there last year. We had two hard-fought battles in the Super Regionals so we just looking forward to getting back out there and getting this road to Omaha started. That's the main goal and we just want to get this rolling and find our way to Omaha at the end of the year."

Arkansas will get action started Friday at 4 p.m. CST by facing Atlantic 10 regular season and tourney champ Charlotte (42-14).

The Razorbacks should be very familiar with playing in Tempe since they have done so three of the last four seasons.

"It's going to help a lot," McCann said. "We are not going to have home field advantage like Arizona State has, but we have been there before and we know how the park plays and how their fans are. The guys that are going to lead the team know what it is all about and know the atmosphere. I feel like the regional is going to be open for anyone to win just like any regional."

Baxendale also believes familiarity is a big advantage for the Razorbacks.

"That is going to be a huge deal for us – being familiar with the ballpark, the wind and how the ball travels…compared to some of the other teams in the regionals," Baxendale said. "It is a pretty big advantage for us just to know that we have been there and played there."

The heat will certainly be there for the Razorbacks when they arrive as forecasts call for a high of 98 on Friday and 101 on Saturday.

"It is a little different," McCann said. "It is more of a dry heat out there where here it is more humid. But that is just something that comes with the game and something that we are going to have to get over mentally and our mental toughness is going to show there.

"I think the grind of the SEC has really, really prepared us for that," McCann said. "The adversity that we have had to come through and obstacles we have had to overcome throughout the season is going to help us deal with stuff like that."

"Their fans are brutal at times, but we see that all over the SEC," McCann said.

Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said he would likely decide Tuesday whether righty Baxendale or lefty Randall Fant would get the start against Charlotte.

He wants to study Charlotte's split against right and left-handers and go from there.

"The arm feels fine," Baxendale said. "After my start in the SEC Tournament I really worked hard getting some of that soreness out and get it back to feeling good again. My arm feels good and I am just really ready to get back on the mound and get started on our way to Omaha."

Baxendale says he is good for either starting on Friday or the possible match-up with Arizona State on Saturday.

"I am going to leave that up to the coaches," Baxendale said. "I don't really have a preference there. Whatever the coaches feel is what we are going to do."

Baxendale did have a huge confidence booster on this same field last season when he pitched a season-high 6 1/3 innings of four-hit relief while allowing only an unearned run.

It was the capper to a season in which he worked both as a starter and a closer, with an 0-2 record, a 3.58 ERA with seven saves in a team-high 29 appearances.

"It's huge," Baxendale said. "I feel real confident going into it because I pitched well there last year. I am just really excited to get back out there and get another crack at Arizona State after ending the season there last year."


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