State of the Hogs: Boom

Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn let his team have it after a Friday night loss. No one will give the exact details, but it must have been a classic explosion. The Hogs came alive the last two days to win the series over Georgia.

First came the "boom." Then came the crooked numbers -- and two victories over Georgia.

That's the result of Dave Van Horn's explosion in the Arkansas locker room Friday night after his team had lost its fourth straight SEC baseball game.

The Hogs lost a 4-2 decision on Friday night -- the third straight game without an inning with more than one run. Some of that can be explained by Georgia pitcher Alex Wood. He put the Hogs down on seven hits in his complete game performance.

But that's not what stood out in my mind as I watched the game. It was what happened afterwards. Van Horn, the veteran UA head coach, marched his team straight through the locker room, up the stairs to the club house and not to the usual post-game spot in left field.

My first question Sunday was simple: You didn't go out to the outfield this time, but, boom, straight into the club house. What happened in there?

"I went boom on them, that's what I did," he said. "I got after them."

Van Horn said it's the kind of explosion a coach can have only once or twice a season.

"Then you have to move on," he said. "I said what I needed to say."

Van Horn said the game on Friday bothered him because it was a "game we could have won. I was disappointed because we were not playing the way I want our team to play."

The Hogs had not scored more than one run since early on Friday night last week at LSU when the Tigers made some mistakes in the field. They had scored one, two and two in the three games since then, never more than one run at a time.

After Van Horn's explosion, the Hogs whipped Georgia by 8-3 and 8-0 counts. They put together 24 hits in the last two games of the series. Some of that had to do with the insertion of freshmen Joe Serrano and Brian Anderson in the bottom of the order.

"Anyone could see it was time to make a move," Van Horn said. "Those guys at the end of the order helped us. They bring us a boost. They have speed and the eye.

"We did a great job (at the plate) the last two days. It's usually tough on Friday night. You are facing the best pitcher and that's under the lights and it's harder to see. You are going to have some strikeouts on Friday night. But we did a good job the last two days, taking the pitcher deep in the count and hitting some balls hard."

What did Van Horn say Friday night? Dominic Ficociello received that question Sunday afternoon. He was fiddling around on how to answer it when his freshman teammate, Anderson, whispered into his ear the right answer.

"Yeah, right, it stays in the locker room," Ficociello said. "He did explode. But we handled it well. We talked amongst ourselves after the coaches left. Me, DJ Baxendale and Tim Carver talked. We said it was the start of a new season. A week ago we were the No. 3 team. We aren't now, but we need to keep playing like it. We need to keep each other accountable."

Maybe Van Horn's explosion helped, but there were some mechanical adjustments, too. Baxendale got his arm slot and leg kick fixed and was locating his fast ball. Obviously, that helped the junior ace return to form. He looked more like a Friday night guy, his old role, than a Sunday pitcher.

Ficociello got something fixed, too. He said hitting coach Todd Butler had been telling him he was striding across his body at the plate making it tough to get to an inside fast ball. It was an inside fast ball that Ficociello turned around for a two-run homer on Sunday, sending it over the bullpen, an obvious no doubter.

"Butler helped my mechanics," said Ficociello, who had six hits on the weekend. "Usually, he just tells me he doesn't want to mess with my swing. But he said we needed to make that adjustment on Monday. He said it was good timing. I was blocking myself off. This helps me get my hands to it."

Scoring 16 runs makes a difference with this pitching staff. They had been pitching like one mistake would cost them the game. Baxendale was superb on Sunday. Some of it might have been the added run support.

"I tried to relax and jut be loosey goosey today," Baxendale said. "When your team scores runs, you just can go out there and try to pound the zone. It's a huge advantage."

You know that one bad pitch doesn't mean the whole thing is going to go boom.

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