The second-seeded Razorbacks (37-20) will play third-seeded Bryant (44-16-1) – a school from Smithville, R.I that won the Northeastern Conference – Friday night at 7 p.m. in an NCAA Regional at Manhattan, Kan., this weekend.
The Bulldogs, who set a school-record for number of wins this season, are playing in their first ever NCAA Tournament after winning four Northeast Conference Tournament games last week.
"First off, I am just glad to be in a regional," Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. "That is one of your goals and if you don't get in a regional, you don't have a chance and you are out recruiting.
"I guess my initial thought is that it is probably the closest regional to us and I think that is great for our fans and a lot of our parents" Van Horn added. "This is a region that we recruit from. We are excited to get up there and I am sure it will be an exciting weekend and a tough challenge."
Those two schools will join top-seeded Kansas State (41-17) and fourth-seeded Wichita State (39-26), who will play Friday at 2 p.m. to open the regional.
"I think the team is very confident and looking forward to getting up there and playing," Van Horn said. " We have been waiting on this all year."
"Just that they are from the Northeast Conference, from Rhode Island and they won 44 games so they are a good Division I baseball team," Van Horn said. "You don't win that many games unless you can pitch. Just looking at some numbers on them real quick, it looks like they have three pitchers that have 13, 14 starts each. I don't know who they will throw at us, but they have good numbers on the mound. It looks like their team is a lot like ours."
Van Horn plans to follow his normal rotation of Barret Astin, Ryne Stanek and Randall Fant.
"We are not looking past Bryant by any means," Van Horn said. "If that was the case, I would pick one of those relievers and start them. I am not doing that at all. This is a team that is there for a reason and they scored a lot of runs in their conference tournament."
The winner of the Manhattan Regional will be matched up in the Super Regional with the winner of Corvallis (OR) Regional.
That regional has top-seeded Oregon State (45-10), second-seeded Texas A&M (32-27), third-seeded UC-Santa Barbara (34-23) and fourth-seeded Texas San-Antonio (35-23).
"Or focus right now is just to find out as much as we can about Bryant and the other two teams and just go play," Van Horn said.
Arkansas made it to the College World Series last season without a home game in the postseason.
"I think the team is very confident," Van Horn said. "We have been on the road 11 or 12 days in a row, played six SEC games in a row, won three of them, won two at tournament...We feel like we are playing better.
"Our pitching has been solid all year," Van Horn added. "We had a couple of pretty good offensive games in the tournament, had a bad offensive game in the tournament. We have got to do a better job of manufacturing and driving in runs when we get a shot."
Van Horn thinks he may have a healthy team this weekend. "I guess the quad with (Jacob) Mahan, the groin area with (Joe) Serrano - kind of got healed up over the last couple of weeks," Van Horn said. "Wise basically had some form of walking pnuemonia of some sort and he seems to be just about back strength wise. "So hopefully we can go into this thing 100 percent healthy if we can keep from getting hurt the next couple of days practicing," Van Horn added. The SEC got nine teams into the 64-team field, which was announced Monday morning on ESPNU, with Vanderbilt (2) and LSU (4) earning national seeds and Mississippi State and South Carolina also being selected as part of the 16 host sites.
Van Horn talked about not being selected as a host despite sweeping South Carolina and finishing ahead of the Gamecocks in the regular season race and tournament. "I guess I am never surprised," Van Horn said. "All we can do is control what we can control. We did a great job in league and we ended up with 20 wins against the SEC...We won seven out of 10 series.
"Some of the teams that got to host didn't do as well as we did in league play, but I guess it came down to the RPI and a lot of the teams we played didn't do well and that hurt us," Van Horn added. "We lost a couple of games that we shouldn't have lost that hurt us. But realistically, I felt like we would get one, but we didn't and that's how it goes."
Dennis Farrell, the head of the selection committee, said Arkansas' weakness in out-of-conference strength of play was the difference. "I think in Arkansas's case it really came down to the non-conference strength of schedule," Farrell said. "They had a non-conference strength of schedule of 291 out of 296 teams, and they were just 1-6 in the non-conference away from home. I think that that's probably what played against Arkansas the most from that standpoint."
The field also included Arkansas, which is one of just seven teams to be in the last 12 NCAA Tournaments, along with Florida, Alabama, A&M and Ole Miss.
UCA (39-20) was also selected and sent to the Starkville Regional, where it will open with Mississippi State - a team that lost two of three games to the Bears early in the season.