Dave Van Horn loves to take his team on the road early in the season, but even his players admit that this is a little early for a road trip. But maybe the timing is good with snow on the field at Baum Stadium.
"We are happy to get on the road and find out about our team," said Bobby Wernes, the Hogs' third baseman. "It's been huge to have the indoor facility, but we know we are facing a big challenge."
Arkansas, ranked No. 15 by Perfect Game, has a 4:14 a.m. departure at the parking lot at Baum Field on Thursday, a 6 a.m. flight from the regional airport at Highfill. Then, an evening workout when they get to Mobile. The Hogs (3-0) play at 2 p.m. Friday against No. 22 Central Florida, 6:30 p.m. against host South Florida, then at 10 a.m. Sunday in the tournament finale against No. 11 Maryland.
Van Horn will start sophomore Dominic Taccolini on Friday, Zach Jackson on Saturday. It's "to be announced" in the finale on Sunday, based on who is needed out of the bullpen the first two games.
Projected starter Trey Killian is still building arm strength after battling off-season elbow tendinitis. Van Horn said thoughts last week that Kilian was still a long times away from pitching are changing.
"He came to us and wanted to speed everything up," Van Horn said. "He's chomping at the bit. So he's doing some drills with the pitchers now. He'll get a bullpen this week. We'll try to get him an inning maybe against California next weekend."
Taccolini was quick to point out that he's holding down the Friday night slot until Killian is ready.
"I feel like the coaches have me starting first because they think I had the best outing," Taccolini said. "Hopefully I can start off the same like I pitched on Saturday. I feel like they're trying to get a feel until Killian gets back on who's going to be the weekend starters. It's all competition now for whoever can pitch the best. I want to keep throwing well so I can be a starter whenever the season goes on."
The rotation changed from last weekend when the Hogs swept North Dakota. Friday starter James Teague is back to the bullpen, although he could start Sunday if he's not used in the first two games.
"He'd be up Friday if we need him," Van Horn said. "His bullpen this week is set for him to be ready Friday."
As far as the trip, Van Horn said, "It's a big challenge. It's a tough travel day tomorrow and we've talked about that. We are going on the road against some very good teams, but I think the guys like that. I know it's good for us to find out about our team early.
"As far as our pitching, Taccolini threw a lot of strikes last weekend. He had a tough sinker, with a lot of movement. He got in shape and he's ready to pitch. He threw three pitches for strikes and gives us a chance to win. We play good defense and that helps him."
Without question, the Hogs are pleased with their defense and all point to the new Fowler Indoor Center as part of the reason.
"We definitely are less nervous as coaches knowing we have this building," Van Horn said, as the team went through batting practice behind him in four different spots in the Fowler building. "We'd be scrambling with this weather last year with snow on the ground. But we know we can come in here and get in our work."
Taccolini remembers the practices in the football indoor facility last year.
"You didn't know if the distances were all right in that place," he said. "But it's all just what you make of it. We do have a a lot of confidence from practicing in this place and we've been outside a lot, too."
The Hogs don't face the host school until Saturday, but it's clear they have that one circled after losing two to South Alabama at Baum last year.
"We know they are good," Tacollini said. "Nothing against North Dakota, but we know this weekend is a step up. We have a bad taste in our mouth from last year."
Van Horn said he's pleased with the depth in the lineup and will continue to rotate catchers with Tucker Pennell, Carson Shaddy and Alex Gosser getting turns.
"It will be catcher by committee," Van Horn said. "We've got some depth in the infield. We may get Max Hogan back. He's been out with a concussion, but we expect him to be cleared for the weekend."
Van Horn chuckled about the way fans have quickly taken to infielder Rick Nomura, a native of Hawaii.
"I thought they would like the way he plays," Van Horn said. "He's a tough out and can go from both sides. He plays hard. He plays with a lot of energy. He can play second and third for us. He just needs to keep hitting to make me play him. He brings a lot to the lineup. He can bat leadoff, second and we like him at the end of the order, too."
Van Horn got a nudge from a staff member when Nomura reached base last weekend and blow-up palm trees popped up along the first base line by a creative bunch of fans.
"Someone told me, watch this," Van Horn said. "So there were some guys in our dugout who knew it was coming. I give our fans credit."
Nomura has turned heads around campus on a skateboard.
"We've got guys on scooters, bikes, you name it, so now we've got a skateboard, too," Van Horn said, who obviously wishes his players would stay off that kind of transportation during the season.
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