It would be easy to think that Missouri might be a listless opponent for Arkansas this weekend seeing as how the Tigers have lost 12 straight SEC games.
Missouri is just 20-30 overall, 6-21 in league play and the only one of 14 teams already mathematically eliminated from playing in the SEC Tournament.
But all that stuff does is make Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn and his Razorbacks (32-22, 13-14) – who will still be a little shorthanded health-wise – cautious going into Thursday's series opener.
"They are the only team that is mathematically out of it now and that can be dangerous," Van Horn said. "They are practicing, but they have a different mindset. They are thinking about next year, getting through the weekend, finishing up.
"There is probably a lot of emotion with the upperclassmen and different things," Van Horn added. "They are very dangerous. We have already talked about it."
Arkansas must win at least one game or have one Georgia loss to clinch a spot in next week's SEC Tournament in Hoover.
"I told them that we just need to take care of what we can take care of," Van Horn said. "If we play well, we've got a chance to win. If we don't, we won't. Then we will move over to the tournament and it's probably going to be a one-game situation and we'll need to win that game."
Razorback pitcher Trey Killian will go to the mound on Thursday in a series where all three will be televised by Cox Sports Television.
"It seems like they don't have much to lose," Killian said. "A lot of times teams like that can be dangerous. So they don't have anything to hold back so they are going to do everything that can - hit-and-run, steal, bunt, whatever they can to try and scrap over a few runs against us."
Arkansas won two of three games against Texas A&M last weekend – blowing leads in all three games, but coming back to win the first two before suffering a Sunday loss.
"It's that time of year that if you stay focused and play hard, it can be a real fun time of year," Van Horn said.
The Razorbacks had hoped to have designated hitter/catcher Blake Baxendale back for this three-game set in Columbia, but he was still hobbling around on Tuesday.
"He's still pretty stiff," Van Horn said. "We knew it was going to be a week-plus and it's definitely a week-plus. I don't see him playing this weekend. I think he might be ready to play in the (SEC) Tournament. Hopefully we will get him back."
Shortstop Brett McAfee, who has missed all of SEC play – is still not ready while pitcher Jalen Beeks will not pitch for a second straight week due to a sore elbow.
"McAfee – it's still the same," Van Horn said. "The back's still not in great shape and he's not traveling with us.
"Beeks, he'll start playing catch tomorrow on flat ground and through the weekend," Van Horn added. "If we can get into that tournament and stay into it for awhile, you will probably see him if all goes well."
Arkansas should have a healthier Jake Wise, the catcher who missed Friday night's game due to concussion. He did play on Saturday and Sunday.
"I think he looked very rusty to me offensively," Van Horn said of Wise. "I know he hadn't had a great year offensively, but the swings weren't as good as they have been. His swings today in practice were a lot better. I think that probably affected him more than the concussion affected him offensively than defensively. To me he still wasn't as sharp as always back there."
Van Horn did like what he saw with Clark Eagan in the lead off spot this past weekend.
"He does a good job of hitting left-handed pitching," Van Horn said. "If you look at his numbers, he wears out left-handed pitching and that just shows you a hitter that really stays to the baseball and doesn't pull off. He does a good job against rightys, too.
"He has really learned how to bunt," Van Horn added. "He is a kid from the north that played a couple of three months of baseball and that's it and then went into other sports. I think he is really getting better. I see him bunting and hitting and running and running the bases – all the parts of the game.
"What I like is he is a threat, he can mishit a ball and beat it out," Van Horn said. "He showed he could go out of the park to the opposite field, which was pretty fun to watch. I didn't expect that at all. That kind of caught me off guard actually. But it is good building his confidence. He has brought energy to the top of the line up."
Arkansas will send out Killian on Thursday, Chris Oliver on Friday and possibly Dominic Taccolini – who started Sunday – for the series finale on Saturday.
"I thought he threw really well," Van Horn said. "He had really good stuff. We figured probably three-plus (innings) would be good. We left him in there for that last hitter – or second to last hitter – because he is a double play type guy. He got him out and then the next pitch was a wild pitch and we go get him. I wish we had got him a pitch earlier, but he is a guy that throws a lot of ground balls and he was throwing a lot of strikes and they were having trouble with it.
"Everything he throws, when he throws it belt high or lower, it sinks hard and it runs into right hand hitters," Van Horn added. "I was really impressed with him and I thought he did a great job under the circumstances.
"I guess there is a possibility that we could start him," Van Horn continued, "but if we need him Thursday or Friday to close out a game or middle relief or just to get a hitter or two, we'll use him that was as well."
Dave Van Horn
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