Road To The Regional

Arkansas' baseball team has had plenty of success the past few years, but junior first baseman Dominic Ficociello and his class would like to use its long upcoming road trip to solidify hosting its first NCAA Regional at Baum Stadium.

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas first baseman Dominic Ficociello said the juniors on the Razorbacks' roster have accomplished plenty in their college careers.

They've played in NCAA regionals and super regionals. They've collected key NCAA Tournament victories. They've played in the College World Series.

But there's one thing Ficociello said Arkansas hasn't done in his time on campus.

"The last thing on the checklist is hosting a regional," Ficociello said. "That's what we're aiming for. That's something we definitely want to do."

The Arkansas baseball team will begin its longest road trip of the season with that goal in mind Wednesday, traveling to Alabama for a three-game series at Auburn and then onto the 2013 Southeastern Conference Tournament in Hoover.

The Razorbacks' success over the next 10 days should have a big say in whether Ficociello and his classmates can accomplish their goal of playing a few more games at home before most move on to professional baseball.

The trip presents two more chances to impress the NCAA, which will announce its 16 host sites on May 26. The Razorbacks believe success means they can spend the following week at Baum Stadium as a host school for the first time since 2010.

Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said his team is confident it can win an NCAA Regional either way after its winding road to the College World Series last season. But he said the Razorbacks do prefer the chance to play home games along the way.

"We want to put ourselves in position to host a regional because we know it would be really important to our fans to get the regional here," Van Horn said. "For us personally and as a team, we just want to get in a regional. We feel like we can win here and we feel like we can win on the road. It would be nice staying home."

The Razorbacks (34-17, 17-9 in SEC) have crawled back into consideration thanks to a late-season surge, winning nine of their past 11 games. It included two home wins against Tennessee last weekend, rallying from a series-opening loss Friday.

It was the seventh time in nine tries Arkansas has won an SEC series this season, which equals its best performance since 1999. But the series success didn't help the Razorbacks in the NCAA's latest Ratings Percentage Index, which factors into the NCAA Tournament selection committee's decisions.

Arkansas fell five spots from No. 39 to No. 44 after going 2-1 against the Vols (No. 98 in the RPI). The Razorbacks — who are third in the SEC standings behind only LSU and Vanderbilt — now rank 10th among conference teams in the RPI.

"I don't know what happened to our RPI except the teams we played and we beat have not had very good years," Van Horn said. "I can't hardly figure it out. You get so much more by winning on the road. We have won on the road. They crush you when you get beat at home. … It does bother me. The RPI isn't good."

There's no debate, though, Arkansas can boost its RPI with wins at Auburn.

The Tigers jumped from No. 50 to No. 28 after grabbing two wins in three games at Florida (No. 23 in the RPI) last weekend. Auburn (31-20, 11-16) started 0-7 in conference play this season, but is coming off two straight series wins.

So senior Matt Vinson said Arkansas can't get caught looking ahead to Hoover.

"You always want to finish strong in the regular season," Vinson said. "Winning the (Tennessee) series the way we did, especially after getting beat up on Friday night, that was big. Going down to Auburn and taking care of business down there would be huge. They're playing really good right now. They're a good ballclub."

Vinson was asked about Arkansas' low RPI on Tuesday and didn't even want to discuss it, saying he couldn't even guess the formula. Other teammates felt the same, insisting the only thing they can do is close strong by winning.

"Our job every day is to go out there and get better and try to win ball games," Arkansas pitcher Ryne Stanek said. "If we go out there and take care of business, win a couple of games, hopefully everything will take care of itself."

The road trip to Alabama will determine if it happens. Ficociello said the Razorbacks, who are 9-2 in SEC road games this season, have been comfortable away from home this season. So they expect the success to continue as they begin their final push to become an NCAA regional host.

"The big thing is winning (Thursday) and we'll go from there," Ficociello said of the Auburn series. "We'll try to win the series and sweep if we can. But if not, then we go into the SEC Tournament and we'll try to win a couple ballgames there and put us in a good position to host. That's all we can do."

Dominic Ficociello

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